Rio representer

By LEON NEYFAKH  |  April 11, 2006

“Traditional” baile funk — also referred to as funk carioca, favela funk, or just plain funk, if you’re in Rio — comes from the ghetto, he says, but the three kids in Bonde do Role grew up listening to it in the suburbs. Its drums are loud, its vocals super-sexual, its rhythms reminiscent of double-dutch schoolyard chants. The beats are propulsive and consistently twisted around a set of playful rhythmic flourishes. In Brazil this music isn’t purchased, it’s simply heard — 2000 kids or more at every Rio party, Diplo claims, and up to 5000 parties every week. “It’s as strange and street-driven as any music has ever been.” And he concedes that Bonde do Role aren’t even a “beep on the radar” in Rio, much less the world at large.

But Diplo isn’t trying to put one over on anyone either. He’s the first to admit that Bonde do Role are middle-class kids who’ve appropriated the vocabulary of baile funk. What they’re doing, he explains, sounds more like a funk-infused parody of traditional Brazilian music than the really dirty favela stuff. They’re fourth-wave baile funk, fans, not pioneers, and their new single is all about having fun with the music they grew up with.

Like M.I.A.’s recordings, the Melo do Tabaco 12-inch is a bewildering grab bag of worldly pop. The six tracks (the title track, an instrumental version, an a cappella version, and three B-sides) hop and fly, just as catchy in their melodies as anything on American Top 40 radio. “Melo do Tabaco” includes an Alice in Chains sample, and there’s a “doo-wah-ditty” refrain in “Jabuticaba.”

Nothing quite like Melo do Tabaco has ever put much of a dent in the US market. Bonde’s only arguable antecedent comes from the old Hollertronix nights in Philly, which brought leagues of suburban kids out to the dance floor to hear Cam’ron, Gang of Four, and Lil’ Jon in the same set.

So if anyone can popularize baile funk in the US, Diplo’s the man. With Hollertronix, he took the notion of “I like all kinds of music” away from the people who really didn’t and gave it to kids who really did. He established the cultural landscape necessary for something as invigoratingly weird as Bonde do Role. Now he’s hoping that baile funk can transcend its blogger-fueled cult following here in the US. Last month, he went to Brazil to begin work on Bonde do Role’s full-length and film a Rio funk documentary. The idea is to create a more complete context for American fans. “That’s what’s missing, there is no context. It’s just exoticized and trendy. I hope to change that, to make it a little more viable in people’s eyes.”

He’s already proved he has an ear for what works. And anyone tempted to accuse him of cultural exploitation should consider that without Diplo baile funk wouldn’t even be a beep on the Internet. Buying a few Brazilian discs on a tour stop and bringing them home may be no great achievement, but he’s the one who did it. And he’s the one who’s fighting to bring it to a larger audience.
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Bonde do Role, "Melo Do Tabaco (A-Trak remix)" (mp3)

Bonde do Role, "Melo Do Tabaco (Paul Devro Sweet Mango Mix)" (mp3)

Baile bonanza

The Funk from the Hill Web site has a free on-line archive that offers the most complete guide to baile funk you’re likely to find. You can also download two FunkNeurótico comps here, as well as 10 other favela-funk mixes, all indispensable roadmaps to Brazilian funk. It’s all at www.evil-wire.org/~ampere/mp3/funky/. Here are four other comps worth seeking out.

1 | Funk Carioca — Mixed by Tetine (Mr. Bongo). Mixed by a Brazilian duo living in East London, this funk carioca comp sticks to the most modern stuff — songs like Os Salientes’ “Fofucha Preparada,” Deise Tigrona’s “Injeção,” and Cidinho & Doca’s “Rap da Felicidade.”

2 | Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats (Essay). Berlin-based DJ and journalist Daniel Haaksman spent a few weeks hanging out at baile funk parties in Rio and collected all the best stuff he found. This disc features Tchutchucos’ “Chapa Quente,” MC Mascote’s “Bate le Palme de Mao,” and SD Boys’ “Planta Dominado.”

3 | Diplo, Favela on Blast (self-released) and Favela Strikes Back (self-released). Short, self-contained mixes Diplo put together after visiting Brazil, these widely available comps have given baile funk its first exposure in the States.

4 | Baile Funk 1 — Brazilian Beat Mix (Brazilian Beat Brooklyn) and Baile Funk 2Agora e Moda (Brazilian Beat Brooklyn). Filled with “original” ’70s Brazilian funk, these comps came out of the Sunday-night dance series DJ Sean Marquand and Greg Caz had at Black Betty in Brooklyn. They’re not what you might expect from hearing Bonde do Role or Favela on Blast, but they do suggest the background from which the music came, and the liner notes, which translate all the titles and provide some history, are a big help.