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Of Musics and Bodies: Embodying the Brazilian Favela Funk
Elena Tiis. Urban Studies MSc. Universiteit van Amsterdam.
‘Moral panics depend on the generation of diffuse normative concerns, while the successful creation of folk devils rests on their stereotypical portrayal as atypical actors against a background that is overtypical.’ (Cohen 1980: 61)
‘All across the favelas, few people listened to the music that outsiders think of as Brazilian. Everyone knows the samba, bossa nova, and Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB) hits. They’re the soundtrack of the telenovelas […]. But the mass of favela dwellers have embraced hard core rap and funk […] as their emblematic sound.’ (Neuwirth 2005: 39)
‘Parapapapapapapa/ Paparapapapapapa/ paraapapapapapa kla que bum/ parapapapapa’; the catchy, rhythmic refrain of ‘Rap das Armas’ (Rap of Weapons) song mimics the discharge of an automatic gun. The lyrics’ allusion to the everyday violence in the favelas (shantytowns/informal settlements) of Rio has given it the status of ‘proibidão’, or prohibited music, due to its alleged condoning of violence (see Yúdice). The debate whether this song condones violence or not (I believe it does not) is eclipsed by the more pertinent question of how and why it is possible for such a song to be written, performed and danced to at parties. The process by which drug violence and gun crime are prevalent enough phenomena to be sung about in the ‘public domain’ is an interesting and complex one.
Arguably, music is primarily a bodily relation. It is not merely the lyrics (if applicable) or the identity of the singer that is attractive in any given song but the things that the beat does to the human body which is a type of seduction. Hence, studying the dynamics and spatial politics of funk music in the favelas of Rio requires thinking in terms of bodies – to examine music as something which is predominately corporal and linked to bodily identity. This essay is only preliminary, little more than a few notes on the subject, and just a very small examination of the complex circumstances that intersect illegalities, criminalities as well as pleasures in the favelas. My aim is only to sketch an approach as concerns the expression of the everyday concerns of favela dwellers through music as well as acknowledge musical expressions as an important field of research.
Brazilian funk is often clearly marked a ‘lower’ status music, cheaply produced and enjoyed by predominately people from poorer, ‘blacker’ neighbourhoods (Caldeira 2000: 297; Yúdice 1994: 204). Funkeiros, or the people who enjoy this type of music, have been maligned in the popular press, especially during the early 90s (see Yúdice). My specifically body-relational reading will take on board the insights of Susan McClary who notes how the policing of music actually involves a polemic against the body which, in the case of favela funk, means that questions of racial identity in specifically Brazilian context come into play.
I will attempt analogical and relational ways of conceptualising the social dynamics of funk music, to which extent I will be using examples such as Teresa Caldeira’s book on policing and the contesting of access to city space in São Paulo and Patricia Marquez’s notions of the objectification of youth in the context of institutional responses to youth criminality in Caracas. These, as well as Tricia Rose’s highly contextualised consideration of the birth of hip hop in the context of the postindustrial city of New York, although far away geographically from my chosen context, offer some relevant theoretical import. Caldeira’s consideration of the privatisation and the shrinking of public space will be invested for the consideration of music as a type of public encounter, a type of resistance to privatising encroachments. In this context, Rose’s discussion of hip hop is interesting, because she considers that it replicates and reimagines experiences of urban life and thus symbolically appropriates urban space (1994: 71). (more…)