Born in the favelas, funk, with its throbbing boom-cha-cha, boom-boom-cha, has been a signature sound of Rio music and culture since the 1980s. Using a repetitive drumbeat known as tamborzão, artists began recording explicit favela anthems and achieving mainstream success with a light, or censored, version for mass consumption.
Among the subgenres are proibidão, or prohibited funk, which deals with drug crime and violence, and putaria, or slutty funk, reflecting the sexual freedom of Rio’s funk parties known as baile funk.
Some argued that the music developed as an expression of the realities of life in the city’s poor, violent and socially deprived favelas, which often fell under the rule of drug gangs or militias.
“I would say prohibited funk emerged as a cry for help, not a cry of encouragement,” said Costa. “It’s telling the daily life of the community, reporting where the political system doesn’t enter, where the police don’t go up, where there isn’t a good public hospital.”
But as police presence increased in many of Rio’s biggest favelas, proibidão was often replaced with ostentação, or bling funk, with lyrics focusing on possessions and money. The turnaround of successful artists was rapid, spreading faster, thanks to social media.
Alex Cutler, 33, who began performing funk as Don Blanquito after moving to Rio from Los Angeles eight years ago, said the culture of funk had changed. “It’s the music that no one can sit still to. I don’t think it just has to do with the favela anymore,” he said. Funk was once “the cry of the favela,” he said, but it developed some negative aspects, including the economic exploitation of children by adults.
“These kids who are 8 years old — someone is behind them and trying to make money off them, for the most part,” he said. “I think it’s totally ridiculous. You’re killing a childhood. And most of the time, the message the kids are sending isn’t positive for kids their age. These young kids are talking about gold chains and cars, but they don’t know anything about that. If you have someone smart behind it and you’re able to capitalize on it, then I’m not against it. But it takes away from the purity of being a child.”