It is the soundtrack of Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling shantytowns: a frenetic, bass-heavy beat that packs dancefloors from South America to east London.
But plans to transform Rio’s raucous funk music into an official form of Brazilian culture, lending it a status of approval, are proving highly controversial.
A bill due to be voted on early this year in Rio’s state legislature would elevate funk to a sort of protected culture, outlawing “any type of social, racial or cultural discrimination against the funk movement and its followers.” But the proposal has highlighted tensions between Rio’s many funk aficionados and those who say funk lyrics encourage underage sex and organized crime.
The Web site of one large newspaper was bombarded with complaints after the bill was unveiled last year.
“If lyrics that glorify drug-trafficking, incite crime, pornography and even pedophilia are a popular art form, I do not know where Brazil is going to end up,” one reader wrote. “Funk is rubbish.”
Marcelo Freixo, a human rights activist and the state deputy behind the bill, said he hoped to counter the “criminalization of funk.”
Police regularly close down or outlaw funk parties, and Freixo admits he has a battle to persuade politicians from Rio’s evangelical and public security lobbies to back the idea.
“There is huge resistance. Funk involves 1 million young people each weekend, but people still belittle it,” said Freixo, whose office has received several phone calls from irate Brazilian musicians complaining about the bill. “The prejudice is not against funk, it is against the place it comes from. It is the sound of the black man and the slum dweller, that is [why people are against it],” he added.
Freixo said opposition came mainly from “the middle classes, the authorities [and] the police as well — they think that funk is just about crime.”
Criticism of Rio funk focuses on the sexually explicit lyrics that often accompany the music. Members of Rio’s police force also claim many funk parties are frequented by drug-traffickers who use the events to increase cocaine sales.
Last year one of Rio’s most powerful military policemen, Colonel Marcus Jardim, provoked outrage among the city’s funkeiros with his views.
“Funk parties in the favelas are meetings for scumbags,” he told reporters, claiming drug traffickers used the parties to sell more drugs. “I do not have the power to prohibit these dances, but I can make their realisation more difficult.”
“Many of these events are put on by the traffickers and this has to be countered,” Jardim said in another interview.