Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Super Classics of Funk Carioca: Rap das Armas

All the guns of favela

Guns I encounter when I walk up the hill, through a maze of buildings hastily constructed of red brick, while dodging the moto-taxis wheeling past: pistols and revolvers are carried on belt even when not on guard duty. Uzis go past every now and then. The definitive weapon of choice is an assault rifle, typically an AK-47. Hand grenades don´t seem to be carried around on a regular basis but are used in combat situations. Sniper rifles are not visible either, they are positioned on the top of the favela, from where they can be used without being seen, in case of a police invasion or an attack by an enemy faction. I carry my groceries past the guns with down turned eyes, without daring to look at the traficantes guarding the close-by boca-de-fumo, leisurely leaning over their huge weapons. I wonder how long it will take to get used to the sight, and if I ever get used to it, is that a good or a bad thing?

Rap das Armas starts with Junior and Leonardo singing "My Brazil is a tropical country / The land of funk, the land of carnaval / My Rio de Janeiro is a postal card / But I´ll be talking about a national problem". In the background we can hear blasts of firearms. Then the duo goes on, "pa ra-pa pa-pa-paa-pa-paa", imitating the sound of a machine gun. The song continues:

"Metralhadora AR-15 e muito oitão / A Entratek com disposição / Vem super 12 de repetição / 45 que ´um pistolão / FMK, m-16 / A pisto UZI eu vou dizer para vocês / Que tem 765, 762 e o fuzil da de 2 em 2 ... vem pistola Glok, a HK / vema intratek Granada pra detonar / vem a caça-andróide e a famosa escopeta / vem a pistola magnum, a Uru e a Bereta / colt 45, um tiro so arrebenta e um fuzil automático com um pente de 90"

Selective misunderstandings

You don´t need to understand Portuguese to realize that it is a list of guns. The song also mentions the Commando Vermelho slogan "paz, justiça e liberdade". Back in the beginning of 90´s, all this made the media do the math: "a glorification of crime", the favourite slogan of all the witch-hunts against the certain genres of popular music in Brazil. "Written by Leonardo and Júnior, well-known brothers from the Valão area of Rocinha, the hit underwent a major process of vilification by the media in the mid-nineties connecting them to the drug underworld. As a result, the Rio police constantly harassed the brothers as they came in and out of the favela, despite the fact that their song was never intended to promote the drug gangs and that their own older brother is a police officer in the Polícia Militar", sums up Paul Sneed the controversy around the song in his often quoted Machine Gun Voices.

This is what the media chose to ignore: the brothers also sing "In this country everyone knows / The favela is dangerous, bad place to live in / and is much criticized for the whole society / But there is violence in every corner of the city / because of the lack of education, the lack of information" and the song ends in the sentence "Say no to violence and let the peace reign."

Ironically enough, the conscious content of the songs was also the duo's weakness, according to Silvio Essinger's book Batidão - Uma Historia do Funk (Record, 2005): "...after four years of struggle, Junior and Leonardo decided it wasn't possible anymore to live of music. Both bought a taxi... funk would stay as sporadic activity, in the circuit of few bailes in the city who were interested in conscious funk, based on lyrics, which, in the end, they knew how to write." And I suppose a little has changed today - still remeber Dança de Creu?

Laws of silence

Residents of favelas are not happy to talk about violence. There is one extreme of presenting violence in media, that of films like City of God. Here the media portrays just the flip-side of the coin, favelas packaged in an exiting, violent form and sold to the western markets. "Most people in the community did not see the film because they can't afford the cinema, and the ones that did see it didn't like the fact that it showed only the negative side of life. It suggested that everyone in the favelas is black, violent and ready to be judged", commented MV Bill on the film to The Guardian in the article already quoted in this blog. "After the film came out, people from City of God would go into town for their jobs as maids and cleaners as usual... Their bosses would sack them when they discovered that they were from somewhere so horrible." Despite City of God being one of the most important films in the history of Brazilian cinema both artistically and financially, MV Bill has a point.

But equally disturbing is the silence of favelas. In book Notícias da Favela (written by Christiane Ramalho, Aeroplano Editora, 2007), the story of Viva Favela-portal, Regina Novaes, the anthropologist behind the Favela Tem Memória, asks how can there be any social memory in a space ruled over by 'the law of silence'. She reminds how, according to the anthropologist Michel Pollack, the society only started constructing the history of nazism when the Jewish themselves were able to discuss their suffering. This is what makes it important that Junior and Leonardo are talking about the national problem.

Viva Favela, by the way, is a very interesting project well worth checking out if you can read Portuguese. Aim is to build an Internet-based media for favelas and so far Viva Favela has been very succesful, every now and then making waves also in the Brazilian mainstream media. While the stories are written under the guidance of professional journalists, all the stories in the portal are by "correspondents" living in favelas.

Pages of a history book

But back to our tune of the day. The extremely famous song was a great hit back in the day and is heard everywhere again after being included on the soundtrack of Tropa de Elite. Despite the controversy, along with the duo´s other hit Endreço de Bailes, Rap de Armas brought them chance to grab a full-lenght record with Sony Music, De Baile em Baile. Together with Cidinho & Doca (of whom we've talked earlier) and William & Duda, they were pioneers building the road of funk into the record industry.

Much has been written on it, but I still decided to post the song, as it is made here in Rocinha, catches a part of reality of favela so well, has a huge historical importance and finally, the guys who made it just happened to live right next to Fundação Dois Irmãos.

Junior e Leonardo: Rap das Armas (zShare)

And as a bonus, a track that is in many ways an opposite of Rap das Armas. The song is a prohibidão funk describing the change of power in Rocinha, when Amigos dos Amigos took over and Commando Vermelho lost the control of the favela. But in addition to being a forbidden gangster song, it is - as a friend who copied me the tune described it - a document of an important page in the history of Rocinha.

Unknown: Track 3 (zShare)

(Unfortunately, I cannot provide any information on the artist and sadly end up doing exactly the same thing as the guys behind the Sublime Frequencies´ much critized prohibidão-collection.)

1 comment:

tee cardaci said...

wonderful, wonderful post! i really appreciate that you were not only able to tell the story of the song but to tie it in to your own experiences. i just found your blog through your boy, timo over at Rio Baile Funk....and so happy i did. your writng really makes me want to step up my own game. by the way, i too am a gringo, living and blogging in Rio. let's meet up some time! hell...we almost have the same name!
um grande abraco, meu amigo-->tee...

ps-would you be interested in doing a guest posting?