French photographer registers 400 “funk dances” in Rio; provides insight into disparaged and misunderstood community

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Note from BW of Brazil: Over the past few decades, the sounds of “Brazilian Funk” have gained quite a following outside of Brazil. Several countries in Europe have developed a liking for the style and the genre has created its own stars, some with longer lasting careers and others only as “one hit wonders.” The French photographer Vincent Rosenblatt has been documenting facets of the cutlrue for a number of years and was recently featured in an article by the online journal Catraca Livre. This blog has featured a number of articles covering the rise and crossover of the style that was once, and in reality, still is, considered “trash” or music/culture of no value created by the black and poor living in Brazil’s periphery favela slums. Whether one likes the style or not is not in actuality the issue here; at issue is the disregard for the style, its origins and creators as it continues its ascendance into the mainstream.

Rio Baile Funk

Re-visiting this issue brings to mind an interesting documentary called Sou feia mas tô na moda that shined light on the genre and some of its hit-makers back in 2005. The title is taken from the lyrics of a song by popular funk singer Tati Quebra-Barraco and can be loosely translated as “I’m ugly but I’m in style.”

Documentary: "Sou feia mas tô na moda"
Documentary: “Sou feia mas tô na moda”

The documentary and reports on the film allowed funkeiros to speak for themselves on the racial, class-oriented meanings intricately intertwined with the funk style and what it signifies to Brazilians. Below we sample a few comments taken from reports on the film.

“…because one thinks that only because of living in the favela, we don’t have culture. So they think that funk isn’t a culture…. – Raquel

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“Meu cabelo não é liso”…“sou feia” (My hair isn’t straight’…I’m ugly)

Note: These were comments made by funkeira Tati Quebra-Barraco in a 2005 interview. Although the singer is known for her sexually suggestive lyrics, her comments should also be taken into the context of the more than 20 cosmetic surgeries the singer has undergone in the past several years. This concept of beauty, not only of Tati’s apparent view of herself, but the blatant “dictatorship of whiteness” that is the aesthetic standard in Brazil speaks volumes in terms of the daily struggles so many Brazilians of visible African descent have in identifying themselves as black and accepting their own beauty. As Adriana Carvalho Lopes explains…

Funk group As Danadinhas
Funk group As Danadinhas

“In Brazil, the ways of classification of the beautiful and the ugly are intrinsically related with the forms of racial classification. In spite of its majority black population and predominance of black cultural rhythms, in Brazil, the standard of white beauty is the utilized measure to signify and appreciate phenotypic characteristics. As such, Tati is ‘ugly’ and her ‘hair isn’t straight’ in relation to such a white standard.” (1)

Note: Singer Deize Tigrona was born in the São Conrado neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro and her song “Injeção” was used as the basis for the M.I.A. song “Bucky Done Gun”.

Singer Deize Tigrona
Singer Deize Tigrona

“The following comments of Dieze Tigrona (aka Deize da Injeção), a black woman, who was part of the funk carioca (Rio Funk) scene and famous for her sexually suggestive lyrics, stresses that the discrimination against funk is in reality discrimination against the favelado (one who lives in a favela slum), is an explicit example of a discourse denied by prejudice, because those discriminated against are not heard, there is the forfeiture of their voice, and as a result of the subject is disqualified socially and culturally.”

Group Bonde faz gostoso
Group Bonde faz gostoso

Tigrona: ‘The problem is not sex. The problem is that they are discriminating against funk.  The problem is that they are discriminating against the people of the community, that they don’t want to see come up at all.’

“We have no doubt that the social group whose discourse this documentary brings us is that of those discriminated against for being poor and living in the slum. As pointed out earlier, a great part, if not most, of favelados are black people or direct descendants of blacks. Putting these characteristics together, the film highlights various brands of prejudice in being: black, poor, favelado and funkeiro.”

Scene from a "baile funk"
Scene from a “baile funk”

Note: For many Brazilians, the terms “favela” and “periferia” are synonymous with poverty, crime, drug trafficking, low education as well as its majority non-whiteness/blackness status. It follows that for many, when police invade these areas and people are killed by police in the so-called “war on drugs”, the rational is that, “well, they were probably involved in drugs”. This regardless of the fact that many caught in the cross fire between legitimate drug dealers, who are an extreme minority numerically in each favela, and police often don’t have prior criminal records. This “war on drugs” is one of the reasons for what many see as an “occupation” of poor neighborhoods by a special unit of the Military Police known as Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Police Pacification Unit) or UPPs. It is against this backdrop that photographer Vincent Rosenblatt spoke of his experiences covering “bailes funks” (funk dances) in some of the neighborhoods. Rosenblatt took some amazing photos, some of which are featured in this post. For many more of his photos go to his website, Vincent Rosenblatt.

French photographer recorded more than 400 dances and shows the funk like you’ve never seen

By Victor Sousa

Vincent Rosenblatt spoke about the pacification of the favelas and the sensuality of funk

Sou Feia Mas Tô na Moda

Heavy beats, sensuality, dance and controversial lyrics. Ostentation and millions of views on Youtube. A rhythmic cry that arose in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and reached the peripheries of the entire country.

Loved or hated, funk is a phenomenon in Brazil. And it was a French photographer who portrayed the movement as no one had done before in the photographic series “Rio Baile Funk! Favela Rap (2005 – 2014)”.

Photos: Vincent Rosenblatt
Photos: Vincent Rosenblatt

Vincent Rosenblatt, 41, has lived in Brazil for 12 years and photographed more than 400 dances – 400 nights spent in almost 100 different locations (see all the photos on his official website).

The newsroom of the Catraca Livre talked with Vincent about how he got interested in the culture of funk carioca, his opinion about the pacification of the favela slums and the question of sensuality in his photos.

Check out an interview with the photographer:

Catraca Livre: How did you get interested in funk?

Vincent Rosenblatt: It came gradually. When I was giving classes to young photographers from Santa Marta (2) and I had already come close to the baile (dance). I lived in Santa Tereza and I could hear the bass down and the lyrics of funk from the bailes of Santa Amaro.

Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt
Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt

There were very strong proibidões (3), either because of sexual questions or (drug) trafficking warriors. And it seemed to me a very ugly truth about what was happening in the city.

Then I bought a Mr. Catra CD with conscious funk songs, called O Fiel. This was around 2005. It was a true survival guide of the transit between the slum and the asphalt that still stands today.

Funk duo in the studio in "Sou feia mas tô na moda"
Funk duo in the studio in “Sou feia mas tô na moda”

I couldn’t resist and fell with a parachute at the door of a baile funk in the west, Castelo Rio das Pedras. I caught a cab and went there. Luckily, the owners of the baile I authorized me to take photos and found something that would occupy me for a long time.

It’s been nine years since I started shooting bailes and I didn’t stop. There are more than 400 nights turned into bailes, besides the photos of the lifestyle and culture of the funkeiros (funkers) and funk culture in general.

Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt
Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt

CL: How did the pacification of the favelas transform the funk carioca?

VR: I see it as a missed opportunity of the State in relation to the local culture and cultural politics of the favela. They didn’t need anyone because the locals are experts in cultural production. They think of the economy, regardless of trafficking, there is a cultural economic link.

The group Bonde Faz Gostoso in the film "Sou feia mas tô na moda"
The group Bonde Faz Gostoso in the film “Sou feia mas tô na moda”

They’re families who lived for sound teams, food stalls, MCs, DJs – thousands of people who live funk and funk is much bigger than trafficking. It’s most important than the traffic being visceral and affecting the entire periphery, all of the Afro-Brazilian youth of Rio de Janeiro. The true face of pacification was to transform slums into dormitories, where the people have no right to listen to their music and have their parties. What was the cost of placing some police and letting the baile go on?

Rolling Stone Germany addition featuring Rosenblatt photo
Rolling Stone Germany edition – Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt

In the favelas, the authorization to put on bailes is at the discretion of the commanders of the UPP. Most of them are evangelical or very rigid and think they know what youth can or should have the right to do.

Cultural policy was in the hand of public safety and, instead of helping the youth to its fullest, to help the slum culture interact with the asphalt (a lot of people came to enjoy the baile), it transformed the slum into a reserve of precarious man power.

Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt
Photo: Vincent Rosenblatt

Many DJs, MCs and families connected to the funk now live in suffocation after the prohibition of the bailes. Every now and then the commander liberates the bailes for a few weeks, but only until 2 am. Cultural production was located in a state of localized dictatorship. The south zone which was full of bailes, today it’s in a “perrengue (difficult situation)”.

Scene from "Sou feia mas tô na moda" documentary
Scene from “Sou feia mas tô na moda” documentary

As a photographer, I had to go to the ends of the north and west zone to continue portraying the funk scene. Funk is an indication of the true face of pacification that is the social and cultural control. The height of absurdity is you go on a nightclub in Ipanema or Copacabana and play the sound of funk. In the favela, where everything was born, youth live in total silence and economic instability – a true cultural apartheid.

Scene from "Sou feia mas tô na moda" documentary
Scene from “Sou feia mas tô na moda” documentary

CL: Sensuality is present in your photos. How do you see this issue in the funk?

V.R: I was once shy and photography cured that. I like to go in a photographic body to body with funkeiros and doesn’t stop being a simulacrum. Sex doesn’t happen, it really doesn’t. If it happens it’s later and in another place. I’ve never caught anyone in the act.

It is a tribal simulacrum, a rite of passage, playing being man and woman and playing with those boundaries – as in the words and literature. Funk is a good frame exceeding the boundaries of what is cool to say, when it adds limits of what we have the right to express.

Scene from a "baile funk"
Scene from a “baile funk”

It works at the point of the freedom of speech spectrum. It’s always on the edge, whether it’s the trafficking warrior, in political funk or in the pornographic. I believe this has to do with the function of photography that should broaden the spectrum of the “realm of the visible.” What do we have the right to photograph, what do we make a worthy topic of recording and interest? Listening to funk you feel the pulse of society and the relations of genders, classes and races.

Visit Vincent Rosenblatt’s official website and also know a little about his previous project  Olhares do Morro (Views from the Hill) (2002-2008).

Notes

1. One will note how this aesthetic standard has a strong influence on the success and exposure of funk artists. While the favelas are full of artists, many of whom have appearances in which their African ancestry is more obvious, Brazil’s standards of beauty can arguably explain who gains crossover exposure (to audiences that previously rejected the style and culture) as well as how sexuality the sexuality of such artists is judged.

2. Santa Marta is a favela located in the Morro Dona Marta region of Rio de Janeiro between the neighborhoods of Laranjeiras and Botafogo.

3. Type of baile funk where anything can happen where the presence of minors is not recommended. Sexual acts , drug trafficking and gang rivalries are also associated with such dances.

Source: Catraca Livre, Borges,  Roberto Carlos da Silva. Sou feia, mas tô na moda” – o funk, discurso e discriminação (análise discursiva de documentário). Dissertation. Universidade Federal Fluminense , 2007. Lopes, Adriana Carvalho. Do estigma à conquista da auto-estima: a construção da identidade negra na performance do funk carioca. 1985. Trabalho apresentado ao 8. Fazendo Gênero, Florianópolis, 2008. Borges, Roberto Carlos da Silva. “Filmes documentários: uma possibilidade de aplicação da Lei 10.639/03”. Vol. 3, No 7 (3): Revista da ABPN – Volume 3, Número 7, – Marc. 2012 – Jun. 2012

About Marques Travae 2994 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

3 Comments

  1. Okay, A White me taking picture of half naked dancing Black women… is this supposed to be positive?

    @gatasnegras, are you Brasilian or American?

    • A few things here….

      First of all, in terms of American or Brazilian…What does it matter? All of the articles are fully credited and 99% are by Brazilians.

      1. The images coming out of the bailes funks represent a tiny percentage of the posts featured on this blog. It’s not as if BW of Brazil posts photos of “half-naked dancing black women” at every opportunity. There are many blogs out there that do just that…

      2. The topics and images covered on this are not always things that the blog completely supports. Whether one likes or hates funk, it DOES exist. The images on this post are just a snapshot of images one can see any given night at one of these dances. A Brazilian may be quite familiar with, accepts or rejects funk, but as this blog is in English, the objective is to bring a well-rounded perspective to the world outside of Brazil.

      On this blog, you will find many more images of black women who are students, politicians, activists, writers, entertainers, etc. But there are also women who work in prostitution and other areas of the underworld. Bem ou mal, they exist and they also have life stories that we can learn from…

      To get an idea of the dynamics of race, gender, inequality, politics, etc., one cannot ignore funk as major a part of popular (black) culture. If one wanted to make changes to communities in terms of values and identities, how can one approach such changes if they are not even aware of what goes on in the community?

      In a previous post here on the sexuality of black women and funk (http://wp.me/p1XDuf-46t) the question was not actually whether the images are positive or not, the question was if black women were judged differently from white women when they choose to present themselves in this manner. The images presented were not an endorsement of half-naked women but rather a discussion of the inequalities even within a denigrated culture.

      3. Did you read the interview? The photographer captured images and opined on some of the connected, larger issues that affect people living in these communities, many of which have already been discussed on this blog, UPPS for example.

      4. There are various opinions that are posted in the comments area of this blog thus you are entitled to criticize if you find it necessary. You could feel that showing these types of images are counter-productive to the objective of the blog, but wouldn’t showing only one side of any given multi-faceted society be one-sided and also a misrepresentation?

      This blog chooses not to focuses on only “bunda” and “peito” that one can find on any number of blogs that portray stereotypical representations of Brazilian women. But simply reporting on something differs from an endorsement. Featuring an article on funk culture is also necessary for another important issue that will be discussed in a future post.

      I can only hope that you return, read it and come to your own conclusion, whatever it is.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Well said.

        And I for one appreciate the efforts made to publish in English and to provide a deeper perspective to how life is experienced in Brazil.

        Over time this blog is becoming a great resource for me compared to many others (in English) that have very European lenses when describing the country.

        Looking forward to reading more 🙂

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