A Sonic History at Rio Parada Funk

re-write/evolution of a post on Pirate Anthropologies.

Field Recording Rio Parada Funk (recorded on ZOOM H4n)

After the post-work beers Friday evenings, the Centro of Rio de Janeiro empties out. The most bustling district of streets packed with suits and secretaries, janitors and politicians, street vendors and tourists transforms into a temporarily abandoned zone. A handful of people sleep on large pieces of cardboard on the black and white cobblestone sidewalk in front of Brazil’s most monumental historic buildings. Years ago changing opinions about urban desirability, which vilified the center as dangerous and unclean, led to many moving to new, high security, gated condominiums in quasi-suburban neighborhoods like Barra and Recreio far from the center of the city. Guidebooks warn travelers to avoid the Centro during the weekend. The only time I felt fear in Rio–also about the only time I felt alone there–was walking the wide boulevards in Centro on a Sunday. One can hear pigeons cooing and the occasional car with tinted windows driving by. And, that’s about it.

This Sunday, however, muffled but loud bass reverberated from blocks away. I arrived at the first ever Rio Parada Funk a little past midday. There were 50 DJs, 40 MCs, ten equipes de som (sound teams, aka sound systems) and various dancers to perform between noon and 8pm. Workshops and lectures had run from 10 am to noon. An MC, who I knew, arrived with his wife by motorcycle the same time as I did. We all kissed dois beijinhos (two little kisses) on both cheeks.  “The entrance is this way,” he told me, so I  followed to the “insiders” entrance in the back and got a white “producer” wrist band. When I arrived a little after 12pm, speakers were still being stacked by young men who I was told hadn’t slept since assembling and disassembling the sound systems for Saturday night’s parties.

Ten sound systems with walls of between forty and one hundred stacked speakers–and one made of car sound systems– rumbled through funk’s history for over eight hours. The afternoon started with freestyle, electro, and Miami Bass, gradually moved to montages (montagens) mixing funk’s North American roots with Brazilian rapping, Candomblé drum rhythms, and sampled phrases from “Bang Bang” (Brazilian Westerns) movies, and ended with stripped down, beatboxed funk of contemporary “PC generation” of DJs, who create songs with “pirated” FL Studio, Sound Forge and Acid from loops exchanged over MSN. Perhaps because time tends not to flow linearly, the “epochs” of funk also circled back on themselves depending on the who was playing, how the crowd was reacting, and the particular equipe de som (literally sound team, aka sound system).

Around 2pm I excused myself from my friends to walk and record the Parada. I began at the oldest equipe, Soul Grand Prixe, at the corner of Rua Carioca and Avenida República de Paraguai and walked east towards the corner of Avenida Rio Branco. I walked through the dancing crowd past eight of the ten equipes which  lined the street, their little stages between their two big walls of sound. Big Mix and Furacão 2000, who dominate the Rio funk scene and economy, were set off from the other equipes. Their larger stages were on the plaza itself, closer to the main stage where the “headlining” acts performed from 6 to 8pm. At Cash Box and Big Mix–with each about 100 speakers–I could not stand near my friends DJ’ing. I am used to the bass which vibrates through my skin, chest, ribs. But the good quality of their speakers seemed to bring out a fuller range. The highs made my ears feel like they might bleed.

Yet, a week before Rio Parada Funk, the largest baile funk ever, Brazil’s Institute for Historical Patrimony and National Art (IPHAN) informed the press that they were going to veto its location in the historical epicenter of Rio de Janeiro. They claimed they were worried about the effects of the bass on the windows of century old buildings like the Municipal Theatre and the National Library. A few days earlier the event’s organizers had agreed to IPHAN’s volume limits. But this agreement didn’t satisfy IPHAN. And they required the Parada to move to a different, less elegant, more blue collar street also in Centro.

Yet the most popular street Carnival bloco, Cordão da Bola Preta, which last year had about 2 million participants, has marched without sound limitation for years along the same route.

By transforming the prestigious center of Rio into a ten sound system deep celebration, organizers of the Parada Funk would make a claim of the centrality of funk carioca and assert their rights to the city. In recent years violent police take-overs (called “pacification”) of favelas have resulted in the shutting down of many community bailes. The Parada’s taking over Rio Branco Avenue, the former route of the Carnival samba school parade, would have enacted and symbolically placed funk in the same trajectory as samba, from criminalized, poor Afro-Brazilian music to national rhythm.

A few days before the event, the location was moved once again–this time by the city–to a huge plaza closer to Rio Branco.

At pre-Parada meetings, organizers like Mateus, who produces the party Eu Amo Baile Funk, urged MCs and DJs not to talk to the press about prejudice against funk but to emphasize it as a celebration. An MC responded, “Funk is equal to samba. We’re here to show that funk is culture.” The Parada, which is the first major funk event to receive funding from the state–the Secretary of Culture–would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

The Parada marked the end of my dissertation fieldwork. It also brought together many of the friends, MCs, DJs, and sound system owners I had met through my research. Over that year, many had invited to their studios, homes and shows, had let me interview or tag along with them, had shared dinners and beers (at times laced with Red Bull). The Parada brought many of them to the same place at the same time.

During the day of the Parada, the crowd began to swell–different newspapers reported between 14,000 to 100,000–filling the plaza and nearby street. The mass of funkeiros dancing, listening, remembering and reenacting their sonic history affirmed the power of this changing rhythm and asserted its legitimacy within the city.

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1 Response to A Sonic History at Rio Parada Funk

  1. Pingback: From Funkification to Pacification

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