(partial synthesis of posts on Pirate Antropologies)
Just over a week ago, as I settled onto a couch in MC Doca’s living room, a Globo News reporter announced that funk MCs had been sent to prison for apologizing crime. A YouTube video of MC Ticão and MC Frank singing about how FB, the dono (owner) of the recently police-invaded Morro de Alemão was hiding out in rival faction Rocinha. The report next showed an armed blond police woman–with heavy makeup and perfect hair–shouting and banging on an apartment door. The camera revealed two shirtless, tattooed MCs, Frank and Ticão, who are brothers, blinking away sleep. Cut to a table with a watch, a ring, and a few chains. “The police encountered various gold chains” the reporter intoned. Tremendously successful MCs with gold chains?!? How incriminating!
MC Smith, MC Max, and MC Didô had also been imprisoned. They also lived in the two communities recently occupied by the police: Morro de Alemão and Villa Cruzeiro. The deputy accused the MCs of using the Internet to share music making “apologizing” crime and criminals, forming a gang (with the other MCs), associating with traffickers, and doing “marketing” (yes, she used the English word) for drugs and criminal factions.
Next the report announced that MC Galo of Rocinha had been arrested in a traffic blitz in Leblon. He had an arrest warrant for marijuana possession from 1998 and for singing “proibidão” (“very prohibited” music). The police evidence? A YouTube video of Galo singing in Leandro HBL’s and Diplo’s Favela on Blast. None of the press using the clips contacted Leandro to ask permission. And whenever Leandro has used Globo’s footage, he’s had to pay. A lot.
The video, which Globo used, is Galo’s top hit on YouTube. The clip, they chose, compares the hard life of the MC to the hard life of a drug-seller. It’s not, even “proibidão.” So, why did Globo weave Galo–who had been arrested a day earlier–into the story? Perhaps to build sentiment against Rocinha, a community speculated as a target for police invasion and “pacification.”
Predictably, none of the reports look at the roots of “forbidden” funk–which refer to drugs, violence, and criminal factions. A common story among funkeiros goes that in the mid-nineties when the various judges prohibited bailes funk in clubs, typically in working class suburbs, the parties and the music moved into favelas. Farther away from police repression, some bailes began to be financed by criminal factions. At the same time funk’s base in Miami Bass & freestyle evolved into the Candomblé- and samba-influenced tamborzão beat.
I visited the MCs in prison yesterday along with MC Leonardo, the president of APAFUNK, and DJ Marlboro, who’s credited with recording the first “funk carioca” album in 1989. We met with the MCs in a classroom above the underground prison. After one guard allowed us to enter with cameras and voice recorders, another returned to confiscate the camera and voice recorder of two human rights reporters. I hid my point-and-shoot camera. Until the guard came back shouting, “The meeting is over! Stop singing. No cameras!”
When asked if he ever expected to be jailed for his songs, MC Smith responded, “This is a political game that’s happening in Brazil now, so yes…. Ivete Sangalo lives in Bahia. And what’s that? Carnaval, carnaval ‘fora da epoca’ [out-of-season, all the time] and she sings about what happens. And I live in a community that was taken over by the state… one of the most dangerous in the world. And I live in a community with a high risk of violence, a criminal base, high rates of prostitution. And therefore I’ll sing what I live. And what I think. This is freedom of expression. Not only me, but for Max, Ticão, Frank, Didô.”
When will the criminalization of funk carioca stop? People point out how City of God is “proibidão” that was Oscar-nominated. Yet, funk suffers prejudice unlike high-class art. After the police invaded Vila Cruzeiro and Morro de Alemão and failed to capture “bandits,” it seems that they chose easier targets: MCs with “proibidão” videos on YouTube.