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Rio’s female funk singers are emboldening a new generation of young female artists.
At first sight, there is seemingly nothing feminist about Carioca funk, the electronic dance music coming out of Rio de Janeiro’s poor favelas. Nearly all the songs sung by women are of the sexually explicit, sometimes violent funk putaria variety – hardly empowering.
At least, that’s what I thought when I began my post-doctoral research into the genre in 2008. From my white, middle-class perspective, the salacious lyrics were an expression of machismo, borne of Brazil’s patriarchal society. I understood this type of music, along with the artists’ suggestive performance styles and outfits, as objectification of women that further subjected them to male power.
I was at my first participant-observation session, attending a favela dance party, when I spotted the samba school rehearsal yard full of sound equipment. A woman’s voice blasted in my ears.
It was the group Gaiola das Popozudas, and the lead singer, Valesca, was wailing to the deep beat of the electronic drum: Come on love/beat on my case with your dick on my face.
I thought: it’s not by chance that this is the first sound I’m hearing on my very first day of fieldwork. There is something I have to learn from these women, certain personal certainties I need to deconstruct.
A product of Brazil’s African diaspora, funk music (which bears little resemblance to the more globally familiar George Clinton variety) began to appear in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1990s, with original lyrics written in Portuguese. Over the past decade, artists have taken to adapting foreign songs with invented new lyrics, rather than translating the original songs.
Back then, there were few women on the stage. When they did perform, female artists, such as the 1990s idol MC Cacau, often sang about love.
An important exception was MC Dandara, a black woman from the streets who saw breakout success with her politicised Rap de Benedita. This old-school rap centred on Benedita da Silva, a black favela resident who was elected to Congress as a Workers’ Party representative, only to be treated with massive prejudice by the mainstream press.