Can Rio bring funk together?
Last week, RioRealblog took a looong bus ride out to Praça Seca in Jacarepaguá, to meet seven young men from West and North Zone favelas who recently spent two weeks in London.
They’re part of a group of ten passinho dancers that writer Julio Ludemir took there to participate in the September 2012 closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games (watch them from 1:38:12).
Last year, Ludemir created the Batalha do Passinho, a series of competitions for this eclectic dance performed to funk music, that came out of Rio’s favelas starting in 2007. The Batalha was a way for these young men to gain popularity outside of their home grounds and to connect up with each other in person.
Many of them had already connected virtually, since the dance evolves out of online research and sharing by way of cellphone videos and YouTube.
“There’s so much beyond the passinho itself,” exults Ludemir. “A new beat, the audiovisual aspect, behavior, a new sexuality– it’s not just a dance.”
Ludemir and others say that funk is replacing samba as Rio’s musical identity. Drug traffickers have a hand in this, by holding all-night funk dances in the favelas they rule. The lyrics often glorify violence and drugs.
With pacification, funk dances are either banned, or shortened. Although pacification is part of a new public policy meant to deal evenhandedly with urban issues and territories, funk dance proponents complain that a 2007 “resolution” allows police the power to unilaterally ban public events in favelas. The police, they say, end up filling the vacuum left by drug traffickers.
Funkeiros and fans are working to revoke the resolution and change this. Meanwhile, pacified favelas hold matinee funk dances, and many young people from UPP favelas simply head out to favelas that aren’t pacified, to have their fun.
The passinho represents a sort of clean third way, since those who dance it use music that is either instrumental or free of reference to violence and drugs. The young men who went to London say they also do no drugs, and don’t smoke or drink.
The group of ten, which now calls itself Bonde do Passinho (and is looking for gigs), spent a lot of time in the London Nike store. Money, they spent too; so as to devote part of their daily stipend to shoes, caps, shirts, jackets, and backpacks, they ate every day at McDonald’s.
They also spent many hours rehearsing, taking breaks to meet local hip-hop dancers in the street, and share techniques.
And they noticed just how different London is from Rio de Janeiro. “The buses don’t make noise!” says one, making a smooth motion with his hand. “Even bicycles stop at red lights!” marvels another. “The cash machines are in the middle of the street. And at the bus stop, there’s a sign saying how long until the next bus comes,” adds a third. Michel de Souza, age 20, decided to vary his food intake and went to the supermarket. “There are no cashiers,” he recalls. “You just put things through the reader yourself.”
“Cebolinha Do Bonde”, 22, noticed that the soda machines make change. “Here you put a coin in and to get the can you have to—” he mimics shaking a machine.
But Brazil is more liberal, he concludes, you can drink in the street.
“Cars are cheaper there,” interrupts Yuri “Mr. Passista”, 20. “Between the two of us—he points to “Granfino Maridão Mr.Passista”—“we could buy a car.”
“But everything closes at ten. In London there’s no smell of anything,” sums up Cebolinha. “When I got back and smelled sewage, I felt I was home.” he smiles broadly.
Rio itself displays enormous differences across its territory. Cariocas today are caught between the “Just two or three years ago, I never imagined (fill in the blank)” and the “Imagine na Copa” refrain lamenting the city’s lack of preparation for the upcoming megaevents.
Young people such as these men don’t need to go to London to be exposed to new behaviors, values, ideas and possibilities. Increasingly, they’re moving around the city and flexing their muscles.
This generation will be key in determining how Rio will close the gap between what was never imagined and what could be, i.e, how the city will move out of an autocratic past and forward into a more democratic future. It’s Brazil’s last large youthful cohort, before the country’s demographics go over the hill.
“The passinho could bring funk back to pacified favelas,” says Ludemir. His hope is that the London group can help to do away with the widely held sense that funk is about drugs and crime and base sex. “Rio must take up its funk identity,” he urges.
That might be a tall order for young people most of whom didn’t finish high school, who already have some children, and who want most to be seen for all their worth.
Not only does such a challenge reflect the situation of many young cariocas now presented with new opportunities, in a gamut of programs such as that of the Agência Redes para Juventude and Afroreggae, but it also says much about the city as a whole.
Just what will we take away from this unique moment in our history?
A new film very much worth watching has just come out, A Batalha do Passinho [The Passinho Battle]. Like the film’s Facebook page, to find out dates and times when it will show. At least one copy is subtitled in English.