There is at least one reason that calls for celebration this year: the 30th anniversary of funk in Brazil. The date is marked by the release of the first “Funk Brasil” LP, by DJ Marlboro. The exact date was lost over time, but the fact is that the then-blooming producer’s collection became widespread and helped boost the genre into the mainstream, setting it as one of the most popular and influential music styles in the country.
Today, funk (as well as Brazilian country music, known as “sertanejo”) is firmly established at the top of the play counters and in the hearts of listeners, according to research data and streaming platforms. At this edition of Rock in Rio, funk was represented by renowned artists (Cidinho & Doca), mainstream performers (Anitta) and also promoted a meeting of different generations (MC Carol, Heavy Baile and Tati Quebra-Barraco).
The style even made it into Netflix in series “Sintonia”, a Kondzilla co-production (a cross-platform production business created by Konrad Dantas, who owns the world’s fifth largest YouTube channel, with 52 million subscribers). “I want to get as much space as possible. If it has been done before, then I can do it, too. That’s what the series was all about. If anyone challenges me, I’ll go and do it myself,” Konrad said in an interview to the newspaper O Globo.
“In the old days little kids used to dream of being soccer players, what is very difficult to become true. Nowadays they want to be DJs,” says Iasmin Turbininha, currently funk’s most influential producer and DJ in Rio de Janeiro. She is also one of the biggest names when it comes to the 170 bpm funk (affectionately nicknamed “accelerated debauchery”). A few years ago, the beats per minute began to increase, and the productions are now far from the electro-house and miami bass beats from “Funk Brasil”, debuted 30 years ago.
DJs Polyvox and Rennan da Penha are the forerunners of the “acceleration”, with the 150 bpm funk. Renan is the creator of the “Baile da Gaiola”. He was recently charged with association with drug trafficking and then sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. The conviction was based on some very questionable evidence.
In 2003, Silvio Essinger, a journalist from Rio de Janeiro, published “Batidão - A History of Funk”. This book, as well as some others, such as “O Mundo Funk Carioca”, released in 1987 by anthropologist Hermano Vianna, are examples of the few number of books on the subject available in the market.
At that time, Silvio dedicated the record to “those who don’t like funk, who see nothing but noise, delinquency and illiteracy.” Fifteen years later, the journalist sees some changes. Still the criticism remains the same: “Funk is definitely part of Brazilian music. You can find it in other styles such sertanejo and arrocha, as well as at the heart of the Brazilian pop spread by Anitta. The criticism is almost always the same, because funk remains free, indomitable and it only does what it wants.”
In 1987, Hermano Vianna became friends with DJ Fernando Luís Mattos da Matta, known as DJ Marlboro. Hermano gave his friend a drum machine he got from his brother, Herbert Vianna, frontman of Paralamas do Sucesso. “He went on the radio and said he was writing about the Rio Funk movement. He asked me to take him to the funk balls (“bailes”). And just like that, he started to follow me and to write. He met a lot of people there, such as Regina Casé, Fernanda Abreu, Fernanda Torres”, recalls Marlboro.
The DJ was one of the exponents of the black balls that made a big part of of Rio’s population shake their booties. Most people seem to agree that the media recognition of the movement came with the report “Black Rio - The (Imported) Pride of Being Black in Brazil “, published on July 17, 1976 in Jornal do Brasil, by journalist Lena Frias. The name “funk” is borrowed from the American genre. The music genre that became widely known as Rio funk was a mix of soul, blues, funk and R&B By the end of the 1980s, it had also been influenced by house, techno, electro and miami bass.
“Funk represents the union of cultures. In the early songs, I used samples. I couldn’t be biased because a base could be mixed with different things,” says Marlboro. Funk is also elastic in topical terms, and nowadays there are several subgenres inside of it: neurótico, melódico, comédia, proibidão, ostentação, feminista, LGBTQIA+, brega, arrocha, and many others.
Female participation was once very limited. Nowadays, however, women are not only the stars, but also essential to the existence of funk. Names like Deize Tigrona and Tati Quebra-Barraco are big references for this new “batch” of female singers and djs.
For Mulher Pepita, a former dancer who is currently a singer and author of the book “Letters for Pepita”, music plays a fundamental role for equal representation. “Funk embraces everyone. But I believe that for women and the LGBTQIA+ community, it plays an even more special role. People have to understand this in the details. Funk is our way of screaming “look, we’re here, respect me, this is who I am and that’s it!”
MC Carol, who has been a funk artist since her adolescence, asserts: “I’m the owner of my body. I sing about my sexuality, about my desires. Men sing about it all the time, but when it happens to be a female voice, they find it shocking. Yes, I am very much going to talk about sex and about what I like".
MC Tha also started out in her teens, in Eastern São Paulo. On her debut album, “Rito de Passa” (“Coming-of-Age Rite”, in free translation”), she creates a delightful mix of melodic funk with a touch of the 1990s and Umbanda drums. In other words, it’s slower than the 150 bpm that is so popular in Rio funk nowadays. MC Tha is the living proof that funk influences much of the pop made in Brazil. “A lot of people get confused, they don’t know how to label me. Funkeira? MPB (Brazilian popular music) singer? You might say I’m an MPB singer, because funk is also Brazilian popular music.
With a 30-year-old history, funk is the sound of the present - and also of the future: it has the unique ability to encompass and express things that are identifiable to people of all kinds. Whether it’s underground or mainstream, on television or abroad, funk bears a piece of national history of the second half of the 20th century.
For DJ and producer BadSista, the mindset of our contemporary youth is more receptive. “Funk is the sound of the future because it has the power to reinvent itself. It is perfectly possible to understand the hypnotic repetition of some beats, which is also a hallmark of house and techno, providing ecstasy, carrying the rhythm and your body. ”
According to a survey published by Spotify in 2018, the consumption of national funk playlists has also grown abroad over the last three years - the United States, Europe and Latin America appear as the regions with a large number of listeners of new artists, such as MC Fioti and MC Kevinho. In the past, the identity of funk was derived from international references. Nowadays, it’s time for brazilian productions to be used by foreign artists. Singers like Madonna and Cardi B often post Brazilian funks on their social networks.
For the next 30 years of funk, Iasmin Turbininha - the booming DJ of the Nova Holanda community in Rio de Janeiro - only has one wish: “We must earn more respect. We have to take care of our legacy. The legacy of people from the favela belongs to us. It’s ours. And funk is culture.”