Note from BW of Brazil: OK, so the debate over the Brazilian music style known as “Funk” has raged on for a minute now. As in past posts that have touched on the topic of funk, it is necessary to explain that when used in Brazilian vernacular, funk has nothing to do with the rhythmic, heavy bass, chicken scratch guitar and punctuated horn arrangements of the James Brown, P-Funk or Kool & the Gang variety. No, Brazilian funk started off far more akin to the 80s/90s Bass sound associated with Miami and Florida in general in the US. Fast beats, sexually provocative lyrics and scantily clothed women, you know the deal. *
Now whether you like this type of music or you don’t (I’m personally not a fan) is not the issue here. The issue to be discussed on this post has to do race, sexuality and representation. Getting right to the point, the question is: does the color of a woman’s skin change a viewer’s perception of sexuality when that woman performs sexually provocative material? This question goes far beyond the question of the quality of funk beats. As has been repeatedly shown on this blog, the image of white women as the standard of beauty and respectability is dominant throughout Brazilian society. Without making reference to the countless studies that analyze the question of race and representation in Brazilian society and media (and there are hundreds of them) one could safely argue that women of a more European phenotype consistently represent the women featured on magazine covers, on television, billboards, etc,. 90-95% of the time. At the same time, not only are black girls and women consistently made invisible, when they do appear in the media, their image is usually connected the centuries old Brazilian stereotype that connects black women to menial labor and sexuality.
A few months ago, BW of Brazil featured a story about the all-black female funk group known as Bonde das Maravilhas. Having become an internet sensation, the girls video for the song “Aquecimento das Maravilhas” received millions of views on youtube, dominated radio waves and car stereos and the group made a number of appearances on Brazilian variety shows. But the group’s style also became the subject of controversy. In May, the Conselho Tutelar of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais opened an investigation into the sexual nature of the group’s shows. The question raised in this post is if the girls were being unfairly targeted because due to long held stereotypes associated with black sexuality. Over the years, Brazilian singers have routinely used sexual innuendo in their music and performances to garner attention. What makes Bonde any different?
Bonde das Maravilhas, the sexuality of black women and the hypocrisy of our daily lives
by Paula Libence
For some time, I have seen some extremely offensive and uncomfortable repercussions on social networks in relation to a group of young dancers from Rio de Janeiro, known as Bonde das Maravilhas. The girls, teens between the ages of 13 and 20 years old, came to the public to show the unbelievable. Dances so full of contortions that I confess that the first time I saw the video I thought it was humanly impossible to balance oneself on the nape (of the neck) to dance. So much so that I watched it other times and gasped, still unable to believe it.
But what has caused so much controversy, so to speak, in the media, are not the dancing contortions that the girls from the group perform for their audience, but the social awkwardness of seeing young, beautiful, black girls from the slums dancing and singing in such a unique way.
Bonde das Maravilhas 2013 – Aquecimento das Maravilhas
I kept asking myself why the attack on the group has been so severe. Why has this antipathy bitten the girls?
I dug up and pulled from the bottom of the crates some groups that were successful with dances synonymous to that of the Bonde group, which was not necessary because we have women dancing funk and putting their booties up without causing any major estrangement to the public today. But I think it’s worth remembering a few.
I suppose many still remember the group É o Tchan! (1) The group gained fame and notoriety in the mid-1990s with dances performed by dancers Carla Perez and Scheila Carvalho that were just as “suggestive” and “pornographic” as those of the Bonde das Maravilhas girls.
The É o Tchan! dancers held and tied up O Tchan at their pleasure, and nobody reported them to the public prosecutor. I remember Gugu Liberato (2), in his old program Domingo Legal, exploited the image of the group quite a bit and even created a segment called “Banheiro do Gugu (Gugu’s Bath)”, in which women were practically naked on national television and at a time when children were still in the room.
Sheila and Carla Perez of É o Tchan!
So far, no one has said anything. Why is that? Have you perceived the difference?
There is also a more recent funk group, also from Rio de Janeiro, called Gaiola das Popozudas, formed only by women and led by the funkeira Valesca Popozuda (3), that brought to the public dancing rhythms riddled with insinuations – like “balança o rabo (shake your tail/ass)” and “late que eu tô passando (bark when I pass by)” – and they didn’t fall out in public disgust. The girls of this group are white women. They carry with them the heritage of color, which by itself is extremely favorable in the search for fifteen minutes of fame in the media.
Gaiola das Popozudas – late que eu tô passando
Ah, there’s one more captivating figurine. Do you remember Gretchen (4)? Remember the success that she had in the 1980s with “Conga Conga” that was featured in the current 9 o’clock novela (Salve Jorge) re-mastered for the character of her daughter, Thammy Miranda (5)?
Well, Gretchen gained fame and notoriety with suggestive dances for that time (after all, we’re talking about the 1980s, a period in which Brazil was in the final moments of the dictatorship). And as the 21st century purisms condemn Bonde das Maravilhas, this is an aspect that’s worth remembering. Not did only fame and notoriety in the media boost the career of the singer/dancer Gretchen, this was how she won awards and more awards with this suggestive little dance and purely sexy/ hot sound effects because this was how Gretchen sang. She looked like she was cumming!
Gretchen 1980s – “Conga Conga Conga”
I don’t condemn any of these singers and/or dancers. I only assume what my mother taught me early on: “o pau que dá em Chico tem de ser o mesmo que dá em Francisco (the stick that’s good for Chico has to be the same stick that’s good for Francisco, similar to “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander)”. If one is to demoralize it must be in general, and not what this corrupt, disgusting media is doing, beating up on the Bonde das Maravilhas group. And worst of all is the popular participation of hypocritical, petty people on social networks.
And not to say I’m intolerable (because I really am), the media has thrown under the rug the Panicats (6), the (scantily clad) stage assistants on the TV program Pânico na TV.
Panicats – Sabrina and the Gostosas (sexy girls) – Pânico na TV
Not to mention Annita (7), another young funk singer that quit her college administration major and an internship in a transnational company to follow her dream of becoming an artist and famous. At twenty, she is a national success. Her artistic career and life story won the laurels of the Globo TV network, aired on that mediocre weekly electronic magazine (Fantástico) (8).
Ah! And she knows how to dance the quadradinho, she just doesn’t do it because she has to appear to be refined (or sophisticated) (9). You mean Anitta quit college to pursue a childhood dream, at the same time as those that are currently being dogged out as piriguetes (hoochies), burras (stupid asses) and future single pregnant (women)? Very good. I love the context in which Anitta is placed, in regards to the analysis that the media makes up.
Anitta – Show das Poderosas
It’s difficult to raise this debate without bringing to the fore the interwoven social and racial aspects in theoretical reflective protuberance involving Bonde das Maravilhas. One cannot talk about the sexuality of black women without tending to the subtle details that emanate from the attacks on the group in social networks. Because, saying that doing the quadradinho de oito (little square of eight) brings as a direct consequence a nine-month belly is the extreme of judgement that one can deliberate on black young women who live in the periphery.
After all, only poor black woman have casual sex and get pregnant in this country, and on top of this the sacrilege of become a single mother, right? The white middle-class and good families do it too, dammit! Maria Rita (10), the daughter of (late, legendary pop singer) Elis Regina, had casual sex without the least commitment that a white woman from the social level that she represents may “deserve”, and got pregnant twice, let it be said in passing, from different men.
I return to the question. Why doesn’t anybody dog out Maria Rita? Because she is white, rich, sings MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) and doesn’t live in the slums? Oh, and more, because she was literate? Yes, because doing the quadradinho de oito (little square of eight) is impossible since a little square of eight would not be a square of eight but an octagon. Totally a thing of whoever has not even finished primary education. Isn’t that what they’re uttering out there? Or am I the only seeing this?
Or rather, the girls from Bonde “get impregnated” early because the only destiny of poor, black girls from the favelas (slums) is “open their tail to give birth” (11) at the time that rich and famous, upper-middle class branquinhas (little white girls), line up one child after another and are often times single mothers because they enjoy “independent production”, or even because “they are fertile.” Give me a break!
White middle-class women have children, “from the first and second relationships.” Black women from the favela have children “with one and with another.” Have you noticed this? If it is to throw Bonde das Maravilhas to the dungeon, we should ensure the same destiny for all the others that preceded them in this provocative and pornographic process.
I’m not in any way defending the pejorative representations that may emerge from this musical movement (funk) and representation that the black woman, in turn, is curtailed. I only defend the right of this same black woman to not be condemned for eliciting the same actions that rich, educated white women reproduce without going through the same media scrutiny to which she is exposed.
At most, I believe that there is still much to discuss. This here is just a teaser.
Comments (original and translated)
Mariana 17/05/2013 at 11:16
I respect the opinion of your text while not agreeing. I know that only education will be able to bring a different course where (the) young and/or black from the periphery pay a high price to be seen as sexual objects without offering any relevance to me. Big hug!
Alana 17/05/2013 at 18:23
We must stop this idea that academic education is the only one that matters and the only one that will save the world from this evil that is the culture of the poor. Without mentioning that no academic education will make these girls stop singing/liking/dancing funk, because funk is culture and as much as elitists try to destroy it with their “civility” it will continue. Hugs.
Yume 08/06/2013 at 22:01
If funk is culture, then trafficking in women should be legalized. Don’t forget that the main victims are exactly those girls from the periphery.
Ana Silva 26/05/2013 at 13:02
Sandy and Junior (11) followed their dream since they were 5 years old and every year (from learning to read until the final of higher education) they had the highest grades of their classes. They do not serve as an example of why they are rich and white?
Luiz 17/05/2013 at 12:17
Racism and the animalization of the black women are evident in the cited images. There are those who don’t want to see it, but racism exists.
Rodrigo 17/05/2013 at 13:56
The problem is not in education or social class, race and so on… The problem is in this dance being done by teenagers (I would say children, at least in age).
Regardless of where they come from, what they sing and how to dance, the biggest problem is that they are still teenagers. Things like that we see everywhere nowadays and it has become the norm. If they were women (in age) dancing it would not drive so much controversy…But teenagers dancing in this provocative manner is kind of embarrassing … That’s it!
Aline 05/18/2013 at 18:12
Britney Spears danced provocatively before she was 16 in the 2000s, but her image has never been associated with any kind of embarrassment and depreciation in our society… Now I wonder why these girls cause so much controversy, if before them, there were so many Britneys and Miley Cyrus who appropriated the same artifice of these girls and in my opinion, made use of much more appealing and provocative content.
Rogério Santos 17/05/2013 at 14:09
The problem is not in class or education, but in age. Their predicament is due to the fact that they are teenagers. But I wonder: if Bonde das Maravilhas was formed by white middle-class teenagers, would there be so much controversy as there is regarding this video. Instead of execrated, they would be praised and placed on television programs as an example of success and for certain people in search of their dreams.
It was like this with the singer and funkeira Anitta. She released a video on the internet at age 16, entered business school, got a transnational internship, but gave up everything in search of her dream of becoming an artist and becoming famous. Fantástico (TV news journal) went to her house to do a totally positive story about her dream. Why didn’t anyone do the same with the girls from Bonde das Maravilhas? Why did no one go to the homes of their families in order to know who they are, where they came from and what their dreams are? Do you really think socio-racial factors don’t have anything do with the public execration that the girls from Bonde are suffering?
Vinicius Lima 17/05/2013 at 15:37
I think any review should be done with knowledge of cause. I do not think there is racism in the disgust at “quadradinho de 8”. It starts because a square has four sides … Even the explanation of 8 done with the legs was shameful. Also for the fact that one of the girls do puts up her fingers, to speak of so-called movement, signaling with 4 +3 (four on one hand, three of the other) fingers. I can cite dozens of artists of the genre here, who are black and are very successful! The truth is that the video is rough, the dance is ugly and tasteless, the music is bad … It has nothing to do with racism, in my opinion.
P.S- I’m black and I like funk.
Rogério Santos 17/05/2013 at 17:50
Watch the video of “Aquecimento das Maravilhas” with a bit more attention. If you do, you will see that the girl signaled four with her left hand and three with the right, but once she realized she had made the wrong count, she opened the thumb of the left hand to complete the eight. If you only saw the montage that was posted on Facebook, you were induced to error. If you saw the video and did not pay attention to this, you are either unaware or really a bad character.
Your comment has to do with racism, yes. You can strive as much as possible to try to convince people otherwise, but in my opinion, you failed. There are artists (with or without quotes, it is at the discretion of each) that make the most ridiculous dances and music of much worse taste than this, but I’ve never seen the public make a public execration of these bands and/or singers so spiteful and disrespectful as this.
And the fact that you are black and like funk does not diminish in any way the seriousness of what you said. You said that at the end to seem less ugly, as if the fact of you being black was a permit or license for you disregarding these girls. The high dosage of melanin in your skin does not mean that you are less ugly.
And it’s also funny to see people saying they do not like the video because it is a “vulgarizing the image of women.” When a woman of the right color and the right hair does the same thing, these same people get hard and are jerking off to them. But when a black woman does it, she’s a bitch, a piriguete (hoochie) and not given respect.
It’s fun to see how the critical sense of you all is selective.
Note from BW of Brazil: Obviously the debate about not only Bonde but funk music and imagery in general will continue to be a topic of debate as long as the genre stays hot. On the blog where this article was originally featured, at last count, there were more than 100 comments from readers who debated the issue, only a handful of which were posted and translated above. To be sure, if you don’t live in Brazil and are familiar with the place funk holds as a part of Brazilian culture, it would be difficult to fully develop an opinion on the topic. But having analyzed much of the presence (or lack thereof) and representation of black women in Brazilian society, it is easy to show that black women are indeed judged in a different manner than white women. The various examples and arguments presented by the author show this. A general argument against the Bonde group is that, at their ages, they should be in school studying instead of performing a style of music that is consistently degraded by middle/upper classes and associated with uneducated, lower and blacker classes. But whoever makes this argument is missing the point entirely.
One could argue that many teenage performers should go back school and get an education, but as was referenced by a few of the comments, why do artists like Annita, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus seem to get a pass when they put school on the back burner to pursue their dreams and do so with performances that have sexual overtones? Funk, like another genre, Axé music from northeastern Brazil (state of Bahia), started off in poor, primarily black communities and is rejected by many as trash. It is also quite noticeable that many of the funk dancers are featured in shows and on TV programs are often the whiter looking Brazilian women. Although no one wants to admit, it appears to be yet another form of cultural appropriation that is more acceptable when the music and style is presented in white skin.
** – Domingão do Faustão, Esquenta and Caldeirão do Huck are all popular variety shows on the Globo TV network.
1. Originally called Gera Samba, they exploded onto the scene with their hit single “Segura o Tchan”. Their first album, called É o Tchan (1995), sold triple platinum. After legal problems, the name of the band changed from Gera Samba to É o Tchan, and with this name, they released the album Na Cabeça e na Cintura (In the Head and in the Waist), a reference to one of their signature dance moves. The group became popular because of the combination of catchy music and simple lyrics, with choreography performed by two dancers, a blonde (loira do Tchan) and a brunette (morena do Tchan). Both became big stars and did Playboy Brasil covers, with the Carla Perez cover being the bestselling until 1999, when the Tiazinha and Feiticeira issues outsold her. The brunette dancer, Scheila, was also a big star. Both dancers wore little tops and bootie shorts. The male dancer from the beginning to 2007 was Afro-Brazilian Edson Cardoso, also known as Jacaré (Alligator). Source
2. Antônio Augusto de Moraes Liberato (São Paulo, April 10, 1959), better known as Gugu Liberato is a television host, entrepreneur, actor and Brazilian singer. Son of Portuguese parents, Gugu wrote letters suggesting programs to Silvio Santos, who hired him. He started in television at fourteen years old as an assistant on the program Domingo no Parque, presented by Silvio Santos on SBT. Gugu is considered as one of the most celebrated entertainers in the history of Brazilian television, standing next to names like Fausto Silva, Silvio Santos, Xuxa Meneghel and Hebe Camargo. Source
3. Gaiola das Popozudas is Rio de Janeiro funk musical group established in the year 2001 and is led by singer Valesca Popozuda, the stage name of Valesca Santos. The term “popozuda” refers to a woman with large butt. The group has changed its formation of dancers several times over the years. The group’s first single was “Vai Danada”, released in the early 2000s. The group garnered great national prominence in 2007, after the release of hit songs “Late Que Eu Tô Passando” (Bark When I Pass By) and “Agora Sou Solteira” (Now I’m Single), presented on the DVDs Tsunami and Tsunami II respectively. Their songs have been remixed and released or included on compilations of international DJs such as the American Diplo and Austrians Makossa & Megablast. The group was one of the pioneers in neo-feminism in funk, however it is the subject of controversy related to the content their lyrics, abusing profanity, being edited and sometimes censored by radio stations. Among their most recent songs are Quero te dar (I give you it you), My Pussy, Larguei Meu Marido (I Left My Husband) and Tô Que Tô Pegando Fogo funk with the participation of popular funk singer Mr. Catra. Source
4. Maria Odete Brito de Miranda, known as Gretchen (May 29, 1959 in Rio de Janeiro) is a Brazilian singer. She became notorious as the “Rainha do Bumbum” (“Butt Queen”) in the late 1970s. Her stage name was taken from 1976 film Aleluia, Gretchen that tells the story of a German Brazilian immigrant family. After doing backing vocals for years, Gretchen appeared on a TV show in 1978 and soon recorded her debut single, “Dance With Me”. In 1980, 1981 and 1982, she released her three most successful albums: My Name Is Gretchen, You and Me, and Lonely. These three albums featured songs that became hallmarks in her career, such as “Freak Le Boom Boom”, “Melô do Piripipi”, “Conga Conga Conga”. She sold more than 15 million albums worldwide. Between 1980 and 1982, she grabbed the media’s attention by making “sexy” music, while still enjoying popularity among children. After Lonely in 1982, she went on a downward spiral while trying to remain on the charts. Born as a Roman Catholic, Gretchen embraced the Protestant faith in the 1990s, and began singing Gospel music. By the end of the 1990s, her hits had returned to dance floors. With the emergence of Butt Music stars like Carla Perez, Gretchen was eventually recognized as a forerunner of the hip shakers. The compilation 20 Super Sucessos came out in 1998 on Copacabana/EMI. In 2008, she became candidate of Socialist People’s Party to be mayor of the city of Itamaracá. Source
5. A producer, model, singer/songwriter, actress and daughter of singer Gretchen. She came out as a lesbian in 2006. She recently appeared in Globo TV network novela, Salve Jorge, as the character Joyce Guimarães. Source
6. Female stage assistants on the Bandeirantes TV program, Pânico na Band, and previously stage assistants on the cancelled program Pânico na TV on the Rede TV network. Since the debut of program in 2003, various dancers and models have been part of the group. Source
7. Larissa de Macedo Machado (born March 30, 1993) is a Brazilian recording artist, songwriter, and dancer. The stage name “Anitta” was inspired by the Rede Globo miniseries Presença de Anita. She thought the character Anita was “amazing” because she could “be sexy without being vulgar–a girl and woman at the same time.” At 17, she won the award for “Breakout in Funk”. Anitta began her career singing in the choir of the Church of Santa Luzia in the Honorio Gurgel neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro at age 8. Before concentrating on music, she considered an administrative career in the mining company Vale do Rio Doce in which she worked. Her success in the bailes funk in Rio de Janeiro yielded a contract with record label Warner Music. Anitta had worked with producer Furacão 2000 in mid-2010 and 2011, who had contacted her after videos of her singing on the Internet drew attention in 2009. She began gaining recognition on funk radio stations in Rio de Janeiro with her first song, “Eu Vou Ficar.” Responsible for national hits “Menina Má”, “Meiga e Abusada” and “Show das Poderosas”, she was also a ballroom dance instructor at age 15. The video for her latest song, “Show das Poderosas”, received considerable attention in the media in May. This contributed to making the video became the most watched on YouTube in Brazil in May, surpassing 10 million views. The music was the best selling track on iTunes Brazil, and even became the second most played song on radio in the country in early June. Source
8. Fantástico is a Brazilian television news program featured on Sundays on the Globo TV network. Debuting in August of 1973, it is a type of “revista eletrônica (electronic magazine).” Source
9. In an interview, when asked if she created the “quadradinho de oito” dance, Annita responded, “No. Calm down. I invented the conventional, in which you have to move your hips and stop. Here come the girls from Bonde das Maravilhas and they created the ‘quadradinho de oito’ in which they are upside down and form a 8 with their legs. I know how to do it, but I have to pretend I’m refined (sophisticated).” Source
10. Maria Rita (born September 9, 1977, in São Paulo, Brazil) is the performance name of Maria Rita Camargo Mariano, a Brazilian singer. She is the daughter of famed pianist/arranger César Camargo Mariano and the late Brazilian singing legend Elis Regina and sister to Pedro Mariano and music producer João Marcelo Bôscoli. Her namesake is family friend and famed Brazilian rock legend Rita Lee. Maria Rita majored in Latin American studies and communications at New York University, and worked as a journalist at a magazine for adolescents. Source
11. A comic strip from an artist in southern state of Santa Catarina was condemned for a depiction that many associated with the stereotype of black women giving birth to many children. See the story here.
12. Sandy & Junior was a Brazilian pop music duo consisting of siblings Sandy Leah Lima (born January 28, 1983) and her brother Durval de Lima Junior (born April 11, 1984). They first gained notoriety by being the children of Xororó from popular country duo Chitãozinho & Xororó. Source