Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Seleção do Gringo, Part 1

I've been a longtime admirer of Blogariddims and its emphasis on dropping serious knowledge jewels in podcast form. So I chomped at the bit when the ringleaders over at The Fear opened it up for a second round.

Unfortunately, I was running on Brazilian time and it all came together past deadline. So grab the mix or better yet the whole series, then take a gander as I try to make some sense of this musical feijoada.

Blogaritmos 28: A Seleção do Gringo

The Beat Diaspora aims to take an ecumenical approach to beats and the cities that inspire them, although over the last year it's largely been usurped by all things carioca. Two consecutive summers of study, research, and volunteer work in Rio de Janeiro have just proved too captivating not to write about. And even if by Northern hype standards I came a year too late to ride the wave of buzz, I was still amazed at how much Rio really does move to the beat of the tamborzão. While there's a small cadre of DJs, MCs, and producers with an eye to the rest of the world (and you'll hear from them at the end), the funk scene doesn't need the rest of the world's attention (nor, for that matter, its crude characterizations, cheap rip-offs, failure to credit artists, and questionable contracts).

In my wanderings around Rio, rolling up to bailes, meeting DJs and MCs, and bartering for pirated CDs, I've amassed quite a bit of tunes. Rather than try to do a "definitive" take on funk, whose inner-workings, trends, ebbs, and flows are still kind of a mystery, I put together a mix of an hour's worth of favorites, roughly divided into funk antigo (old-school) that rides looped Miami bass beats, bangers on the tamborzão (the beat underneath most funk since the late '90s), and a new crop of "pós-baile funk" (post-baile funk), a term coined by Hermano Vianna. Vianna is an anthropologist and music journalist whose book O Mundo Funk Carioca (The Rio Funk World) was the first book-length study of funk waaaaay back in 1988. Granted, it was ahead of its time, but academics (like myself, I must admit) taking their ever-critical eyes to this stuff is going on its 20th anniversary. I don't think I'm in a position to offer any conclusive observations, but it's worth presenting in less sensational terms. Sure, it's wrapped up in the city's complicated and tragic socio-economic-narcotic disparities, and provides an intriguing window into Rio's social relations. But funk has also taken off as national pop music, the tamborzão beat even used for advertising jingles. It's a vast, vast world.

So instead of trying to represent, or re-present, here's my seleção. Selection, literally, but with a more important meaning in Brasil. The seleção is also the national team in a given sport, the proper noun "A Seleção" almost always referring to the national futébol squad. These aren't just any old tracks, but some of my favorites, whether it be for beats, lyrics, samples, community, or an MC or DJ I'm fond of.

As for gringo, that's simple. Rio is a city bringing in millions of tourists a year from the northern hemisphere, and they're all expected to plop down on Copacabana beach and drink caipirinhas. The last place any carioca expects to find gringos is hanging out at bailes funk or, as was the case this summer, actually living in a favela. It's not a term of hostility, just a fact. It's no use trying to act Brazilian, I'll always be the gringo, no matter the circumstances.

Pronto? Vamos.

1. Beto da Caixa Intro / Praia do Leblon

Couldn't resist a few exclusive vocal drops. "Blogaritmos número vinte e oito, é a seleção do gringo, tá ligado? (Blogariddims number twenty-eight, it's the gringo's selection, you understand?)"

c/o Beto da Caixa, one of the MCs I spent the most time with this summer. We hooked up some (digital) dubs for the Liberation Sound System.

And with the generous use of studio time by our main man Sandrinho DJ, who makes an appearance in the mix later on.

Then the soothing sounds of the Atlantic along Leblon beach, a guy hawking cold drinks on a hot Sunday. Everyone congregates here, in theory the beach serves as the city's great democratic space (although that's come under question in recent years). It puts you in the right mood for what comes next.

Part 1: Funk Antigo

2. MCs Júnior e Leonardo - Endereço dos Bailes

Easily my favorite old-school funk hit, "Endereço dos Bailes" (Address of the Bailes) is simple but eloquent.

"No Rio tem mulata e futebol, Cerveja, chopp gelado, muita praia e muito sol, é... Tem muito samba, Fla-Flu no Maracanã, Mas também tem muito funk rolando até de manhã

In Rio there are mulatta chicks [this is a good thing] and soccer
Brews, cold beer, lots of beach and lots of sun
It has lots of samba, Fla-Flu [soccer rivalry] at Maracanã Stadium
But it also has lots of funk rolling through the morning."

After listing all of Rio's tourist attributes, they cinch the quatrain in the fourth line, asserting that funk deserves its place in the city's cultural pantheon. And even at this stage around 1993, they were obviously right, as they go on to rattle off a whole list of bailes that were kicking at the time. Some, like the Clube de Emoções in Rocinha, is still there:

MC Dollares holding it down while the crowd works it out on the dance floor.

The version of this song I got on relatively high-quality mp3 ripped from the Sou Funk EP, which I later discovered was 100% pirated, a pretty rough culture-vulture case. Fortunately, Flamin Hotz Records turned out not to be such bad guys, and I helped them track down which artists we could and pay them back. Júnior and Leonardo were one of them.

Reppin' Sou Funk with Rocinha in the background. In a huge coincidence, the house where they grew up (and where Júnior still lives) backs up to the Instituto Dois Irmãos, where I volunteered these last two summers.

3. MC Mascote - Rocinha e Vidigal

Staying in the Zona Sul (South Side), just behind Leblon Beach is Vidigal, something like a little brother to Rocinha (Rio's largest favela).

The unfortunate juxtaposition of a 5-star Sheraton just below it on the beachfront besides (how guests can sip cocktails and play tennis with this behind them I will never understand), Vidigal is home to the amazing NGO Nós do Morro (Us from the Hill), who interestingly enough trained many of the actors in City of God, which made favelas something of world famous.

MC Mascote, who lives in Rocinha now to my knowledge (although he says he lives in Vidigal in the song), keeps the friendly spirit alive with "Rocinha e Vidigal." With a short "Push It" sample he explains in the chorus, "Quem dança no Vidigal dança na Roça também (Whoever dances in Vidigal dances in Rocinha too)." Kind words for both too: Vidigal is a "morro de valor (worthwhile hill)" and Rocinha "uma comunidade linda, a maior favela da América Latin (a lovely community, the biggest favela in Latin America)." Both of these first two songs are really earnest takes on being proud of your neighborhood, and of course of their blazing bailes funk.

4. Unknown - Morro do Cantagalo Proibidão

Of course, not all songs holding it down for the 'hood are so upbeat. Proibidão (extremely prohibited) is the style of funk that's really raised eyebrows–the songs that big ups the local criminal faction (which is usually paying for the baile anyway), incite them to go to war with one another, and memorialize dead gangsters. Even if you can't understand the lyrics (which mostly talk about the righteousness of the Comando Vermelho, who run the favela of Cantagalo), the gunshots punctuating the track are hard to miss.

No surprise, then, that Paul Sneed, founder of the i2i and a prof at UKansas, would title his study of proibidao "Machine Gun Voices." He makes a brilliant case for the proibidão MC not as another part of the criminal apparatus, but a crucial link between the community and the gangs, speaking from to another in really the only public forum the favelas have. The Comando Vermelho doesn't give press conferences (although I believe they actually did once upon a time). "Rap is CNN for black people," says Chuck D. "Funk is TV Globo for favelados," this anonymous MC might say. It's notoriously hard to find artist names for proibidão by the way, since having your name associated with this stuff can get you in trouble with the authorities (or rival factions, for that matter).

Cantagalo is also the baile da comunidade (free favela party thrown by the local faction) I've visited most, presided over by Rio's finest DJ, Sany Pitbull.

5. Júnior e Leonardo - Rap das Armas

"O meu Brasil é um país tropical
A terra do funk, a terra do carnaval
O meu Rio de Janeiro é um cartão postal
Mas eu vou falar de um problem nacional

My Brasil is a tropical country
The land of funk, the land of Carnival
My Rio de Janeiro is a postcard
But I'm going to speak about a national problem."

I wanted to end the old-school tunes on a peaceful note. Back to my boys Júnior and Leonardo, who had a massively popular hit with "Rap das Armas." They run down a list of heavy weaponry because the difference between an Uzi and an AK-47 is a part of their daily lives.

Here's a recording of them on TV . . . this track was a huge, huge hit. Which made it all the more surprising to hear that later in the '90s, they were so hurting for cash that they had a taxi and drove it in 12-hour shifts each, keeping it on the road 24/7. One hit does not equal success for life. They're on a resurgence, though, planning to tour Europe as part of the release Tropa da Elite, which features "Rap das Armas."

That brings the old school section to an end. Tamborzão bangers coming soon.

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At 10/18/2007 4:15 AM, Blogger Funkeiro Da Rocinha said...

e mto engrecado oq vc escreveu sobre o Bonde do Role, Diplo e Manrecording mas e a coisa d verdade, mano..o funk d verdade e os MC q vc tem em sua pagina (seu BLOG)....os classicos d funk sao o "REI'..

vc pode ir a festa em Atlanta pra arrecedar fundos pela ONG d i2i? s vc precisa d informacoes sobre disso, me mande email, ta ligado?

a mixagem d Selecao d Gringo...gostei irmao..

boa sorte em suas obras d universidade..

At 11/08/2007 9:26 AM, Blogger Timo Santala said...

I featured your mix on my blog; good tracks and exellent stories!
But please read my post as there are some issues on your blog that I'd like to talk about.
Cheers, DJ Rideon

At 12/07/2007 1:09 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I have to admit when I first heard Baile Funk music, I thought, O Meus Deus! Isto musica e mesmo do tipo da musica nos temos aqui no Washington D.C. I was hypnotized by the beats, and the artists lyrics. I wanted to ask where you found that book. I have been searching all over for it. O Mundo do Baile Funk. Eu quero ler isto livro. Se voce pode emite um mensagem a mim ao meu endereco na net.

Sua mix foi Otimo Demais.

Ate logo Irmao.


At 12/07/2007 1:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo! This was one of the most informative blogs I have read about Baile Funk! Bem Otimo pra voce Irmao! Eu gosto todos suas palavras sobre todo os MC's tambem sobre as musica. I have one question. Where did you get the book, O Mundo Do Baile Funk? I have been trying to comprar uma pra muito meses. Se voce pode, eu preciso sei onde eu posso comprar.

Otimo Mix! I love Baile Funk!! Quando voce pode tem mais mixs? eu quero escutar a mais. Once again Excellent blog!

At 12/10/2007 11:36 PM, Blogger gregzinho said...

The book "O Mundo Funk Carioca" (NOT "O Mundo do Baile Funk") is unfortunately out of print. I found my copy at my university's library, and I would say the library is the best place to look. Even in Brazil, bookstores didn't carry it.

It's funny you should mention DC -- I can hear the resonance with go-go, certainly. likewise Baltimore club and other bass-heavy party music. it's an international language.

At 12/11/2007 12:33 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Ok! Desculpe-me tambem. Eu certo voce sabe eu estou Americano. But, are you the DJ who mixed this? And… Where are you from? Thanks for responding. I found the website with the link you presented. Now.. As far as GO-GO is concerned, I remember when I was younger and listened to GO-GO faithfully. But since, I have grown into a more internationally diverse person… I have found a love for all different types of music. But to be a FUNKEIRO! E Otimo! Hope I spelled it right. The whole vibe I get from Funk music reminds me not so much the sound but the instances that took place around the music. The music seems to only be listened to in this particular part of the world (as far as I know). People whom have never experienced it compare it to jungle music. Lots of live instruments and grimy people on the Microphone expressing their own interpretation of popular music, which attracts all kinds of youth. Thanks for the response Irmao! Mais tarde.


At 12/11/2007 12:42 AM, Blogger gregzinho said...

Yeah, I put together this mix for the Blogariddims podcast. I'm from Columbia, MD, a DC-boy (of sorts). Although I've spent far more time in "comunidades quentes" in Rio than I have in D.C. Sort of a sad truth -- it's easy to get over prejudices I wasn't raised with about favelas in Rio, but that have been ingrained in my head since childhood when it comes to "certain neighborhoods" of the District (Anacostia/most of Southeast). Where, natch, the go-go is always a-goin'.

At 12/11/2007 12:42 AM, Blogger gregzinho said...

that's a Nats cap in the photo, btw.

At 12/11/2007 1:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

OHH I feel you. And perfectly understood. Do you know where there are Festas aqui? Eu sei so uma. Nos temos uma festa o primera dia do mes nesta clube aqui em Silver Spring Maryland. But it is a variety of music from Forro, Pagode, Baile Funk, and electronica. But the crowd is Totally Brazilian!

At 12/11/2007 9:10 AM, Blogger Timo Santala said...

Hermano Vianna's book is a rarity nowadays even in Rio... However, as it's so hard to find, he posted it on pdf for everybody to download. Check the link from my blog to find it:

Timo / Rideon

At 12/12/2007 9:30 PM, Blogger gregzinho said...


There's a crew in NYC, Nossa Design, that mixes some Brazilian music, including a little bit of funk, into their sets. Not sure of anything in the DC area. I spend more time at school up in Boston -- there are a few parties that mix funk into a wider global urban beat collage with dancehall, bmore club, ghettotech, grime, kudoru, etc.

I didn't know there was much of a Brazilian population . . . do you guys have a link to your party in Silver Spring? I'd love to stop by the next time I'm in Maryland.

At 12/12/2007 9:32 PM, Blogger gregzinho said...

Timo, thanks for passing that on. I'd seen Hermano's blog post but somehow missed the download. It's a fascinating study and I'll be sad to send the book back to the library.

At 12/13/2007 12:22 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Yes Senhor!! As a matter of fact there is a party coming up this weekend of the 16th is the site. Check it out. I think the link is set up for the free passes right now. But the page is pretty decent when it is up and running solo.

At 12/17/2007 11:25 PM, Blogger gregzinho said...

Unfortunately I won't be back in MD this month, and realistically not for more than a couple days in January. Do you have a mailing list? I'd love to stay in the know, and in the event I'm in MD at the same time, I'll be sure to hop down.

At 12/24/2007 1:52 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

cool irmao! Eu entendo. Tambem eu tenho um link ao site. Nao sei se voces ouvir antes mas o nome e, check it out. Videos, and show from weekly shows in RIO, e outra cidades no Brasil. Faz me sintir muito saudade. Mas Ate Logo Gentes......... EU


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