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Alex Bellos on baile funk:
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the glamorous city of Carnival, the statue of Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana beach. But the poorest fifth of its residents—about a million people, many of them black—live in the favelas, the claustrophobic brick shantytowns that cover the hills and sprawl chaotically out for miles into its outskirts. In the favelas, the city police have effectively relinquished control to armed drugs factions, who run their territory according to their own strict codes. Estimates put the number of young men involved in drug trafficking at between 20,000 and 100,000. It’s just like the movie City of God—only much more violent.
The music of choice in the favelas is “Rio funk.” A hard-edged dance style of screeching raps and booty-shaking beats, it’s the bastard child of Miami bass music (think “Whoomp! (There It Is)”), which arrived here in the mid-1980s and went native. “The heavy bass sounded really good and started to influence us,” says 42-year-old DJ Marlboro, who recorded the first Rio funk album in 1989. Dance music has run through the favelas since the ’70s, when Rio’s first outdoor mega-parties began, playing American soul, disco and funk. These baile [pronounced BYE-lee] funk balls became an established part of Rio’s nightlife, and when DJs like Marlboro started to put out their own records, bailes became the platform for the new sound. Now there are at least a dozen DJ crews with enormous speaker systems putting on more than 100 bailes every weekend. With these parties attracting an estimated 100,000 people per week, funk is the largest youth movement in the country.
Baile funk customizes raw, guttural Miami rhythms with percussive loops of samba drums and a lively and unrelenting Brazilian rapping style. It’s music designed to be played as loud as possible throughout the sweltering tropical night. Recently, however, it has also been finding success in colder climes.
In boutique record stores, adventuresome radio stations and hipster clubs across America, baile funk has become the dance import du jour, an underground equivalent to Jamaican dancehall’s mainstream invasion. For music fans in constant search of exotic kicks, it’s I Heart the ’80s gone gangsta: a retro-minded hedonism borne of violence, drugs and poverty. Dance artists from Sri Lankan darling M.I.A. to British DJ Fatboy Slim have tapped the genre in their own music. “It’s totally undiluted folk music,” says Diplo, one-half of the celebrated Philadelphia DJ crew Hollertronix. A frequent visitor to Rio, Diplo released the excellent Favela on Blast: Rio Baile Funk ’04 mix tape. “The only concern for these artists is, ‘What’s gonna make the girls dance, throw their clothes onto the stage and wanna have sex?’”
There is a certain amount of novelty to Brazilians chanting about sex and violence over hyper-80's beats, I guess, but as far as the hipster contingent goes, I think it's just a symptom of the passion for one-upmanship among music geeks, of seeking out obscure music, especially the sort that comes complete with the tang of 'authenticity' that seems to be lacking from our middle class lives. Woebot called this sort of global web of electronic booty music 'shanty house', and the regionalism of these styles that have emerged from the global influence of black American music (or simply from their mutation here at home) has become a fascination within the circles of the 'underground' music cogniscenti. Which is fair enough in a way...after all, is there anything more boring these days than indie rock? I mean, who cares about Coldplay, really? Even the somewhat lame baile funk is way more exciting than hearing Chris Martin whine on about something or other.
Other styles in this vein include Baltimore club from Baltimore, kwaito from South Africa, reggaeton from Puerto Rico (if you live in the outer boroughs, you will hear a car drive by playing this at Death Star volume approximately every five minutes), screw music from Houston, or grime from London. It particularly helps if these forms of music are coming out of places that are heavily mythologized. Anyways, I digress.
Here's two sample tracks of this Rio stuff, off a compilation called Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats that came out on an Austrian label last year. These two tunes are pretty cool, in my opinion, but a lot of the other stuff is pretty meh. The novelty factor wears off after not very long, at which point you realize that you are listening to Brazilians shouting stuff that you don't understand over fairly average electro beats.