Funk yourself (if you can)
Street parties in the suburbs of São Paulo, Brazil, are shut down with violent police suppression, while girls are taken from the slums in which they live by open bar bus to "liven up the party" in fancy clubs
Friday night in the biggest city of South América, São Paulo, south side suburbs. In a badly illuminated square, about 60 girls between the ages of 15 and 23 wait to board the bus that will take them to the NEXXT funk party, a famous nightclub in Vila Olimpia, in one of the richest part of the city. The heading out is set for midnight, through an invitation sent to the girls by Facebook and cell phone text messages.
The program is free, except for consumption in the nightclub. But the two guys that promote the event take care of the girls' pre-game. Carrying bottles, the pair shuffles up and down the bus aisle a make sure that the plastic cups with vodka and soda are always full. No one refuses. The departure takes place one hour late, at 1a.m.
The old rented bus is very different from that golden one on NEXXT's Facebook page. It has neither the club's logo nor the image of bottles of champagne that go along with phrases targeting girls: "Takes you to NEXXT and, at the end of the night, picks you up. For free. Only for women."
Worked up because of the drinks, the girls don?t seem to mind the difference. The so-called "periguete" look predominates. Short, tight dresses, despite the intensely cold São Paulo winter day. Tall high heels. Strong make-up, especially on the eyes.
When they get off, 40 minutes later, they provoke fuss in traffic of the narrow street that holds other nightclubs, such as History, for a "more mature" crowd. Even though the invitation promised to dismiss them from the line, the girls wait for half an hour before entering the VIP area, attracting stares from men. The guys that brought them talk to an employee of the club about another party, at the Cabaret nightclub, in Brooklin, and ensure them that they will bring more buses full of girls.
Little by little, the girls are let into the private boxes, upstairs, where they gather with two dozen more girls that came from other parts of the city. Now, there are about 80 girls that get in for free to "liven up" the party in the VIP area. In the dim area, with couches and pool tables, the ratio is of three women for each man. They pay US$ 30 for a regular ticket (no access to the VIP room) or US$60 to go upstairs and get about three drinks for the ladies.
Speakers play Brazilian funk loudly. Sensuality runs freely in the space. Near 2 a.m., some girls are already half-naked in the darker corners of the VIP area. Marijuana joints and ecstasy tablets are passed around the youngsters until 5:30 a.m., when the crowd begins to leave.
For the girls, it's time to get back on the bus to return to the starting point and, by their own means, find a way back to the slums of Heliópolis, Vila Brasilina, Vila Moraes, Parque Bristol, Água Funda, Maristela Garden, and Celeste Garden. In these neighborhoods, where they used to dance funk, the dance parties were abolished due to police suppression. Apart from the noise, which bothered the neighbors, the police claimed that the presence of drugs and alcohol justified the way they stormed in to shut down the parties.
Ironically, at least three crimes can be identified according to the scene described in the paragraphs above, so explains lawyer Fernando de Oliveira e Silva, expert in gender crimes: "besides the obvious, that is, offering alcohol to minors, they promote prostitution, even without the girls being aware of it. There is also the incitement to crime, the incentive to practicing prostitution. It?s a duty of the State to make sure that this doesn?t happen," he clarifies.
In the suburbs, funk and drugs lead to prison
In 2011, Military Police set up Operation Pancadão (big beat), named in reference to the beat of funk, worthy of a war operation, which terminates the dance parties in Campo Limpo, Heliópolis, M'Boi Mirim, Jardim Ângela, Capelinha, Cupecê, Tremembé, and other cities in São Paulo?s metropolitan area. In this way, the funk parties started to be carried out by surprise, arranged last-minute and without a fixed place, even in the neighborhoods where the operation had not been carried out. News of police truculence that entered the streets throwing stun grenades, leaving people injured by rubber bullets or pepper spray, spread along the youth of the suburbs.
In the broken up and then banned dance parties, merchants in the communities were - and still are - sued for selling alcohol to minors and for holding parties without a permit. Invariably, cars with big stereos end up being apprehended. "The police work with unbelievable violence. They criminalize everyone at the dance party or around it and beat them indiscriminately. It?s a crazy scramble. Of course the neighbors complain, but the kids do it in the street because there are no leisure options in the community," says Sandro Soares Silva, MC Sandrinho, resident of Heliópolis.
"Armed with the moral authority of law and order, the police are called to action to suppress cultural manifestations of the suburbs using even force out of proportion. It?s much more than just an action to ensure silence and respect to the community. It?s a method full of prejudice and ideological imposition." comments Wilson Honório da Silva, historian in University of São Paulo (USP) coordinator of the black people group Quilombo Raça e Classe.
Violence against the kids works. At Jardim Jaqueline, in the west side, there were two funk street parties: on Fridays, the Little Princess Dance Party, and on Saturdays, the Final Stop Dance Party. Neither was targeted by the police, but the organizers chose to follow standard procedure to avoid confrontation. "When we found out that other communities, although distant, had been raided, we chose to release location, date and time short before the event. Many times, we couldn?t even make it happen," explains Fabiano de Souza, who lives in the neighborhood and promotes parties.
The managers of the artists who perform at the dance parties also seek distance from the police operation. At Máximo Produtora, which administrates the careers of singers MC Guimê, MC Rodolfinho and MC Danado, with all the millions of views on Youtube, apprehension is clear in the advisor's statement canceling an interview that had been scheduled for days: "I'm notifying that the boys will not say anything about the police raid". MC is a Brazilian funk title meaning "Master of the Ceremony".
The night of June 30, 2012. Five vehicles carrying 20 military officers arrive at the slum of Heliópolis, in São Paulo?s south side. Part of the team gets out of the cars and walks the narrow streets holding guns. The front line, consisting of men with rifles, machine guns and shotguns, is even more intimidating.
Tension sets in among the neighborhood residents. José Cláudio da Silva, who has been living in Heliópolis for 20 years, says the police raids happens every now and then, but also tells us how they?ve been closing in lately: "The started to come more frequently saying they wanted to terminate the funk parties, always putting on a lot of pressure, intimidating. It?s election year and they want to show that they?re doing their job. The boys would make too much noise, we couldn?t sleep well, but it didn?t have to be this way, with beatings and imposing fear," he ponders. His 15 year-old son calls him on his cell phone. "He?s at a friend?s house nearby and got too scared to come home alone when he saw the Military Police," he adds, before rushing off to pick up his son.
The police rounds continue. People get out of their houses to see what is going on. Maria do Carmo Faria, who has been in the community for 12 years, tells us how she usually goes with her four daughters to parties. "They've even done stories with me already. I?m the mother that goes clubbing with her daughters. I like to see what they do, who they speak to, but I don?t go to forbid them to do anything, I just don?t like it when they exaggerate," she clarifies. About the street dance parties, she says: "The cars would park and, with stereos, people would start arriving. That?s OK. The kids would dance and chat. Of course most of them drank, but what else would they do? There?s nothing to do here."
"I understand why people complain. Many people need to sleep to work the next day. The problem is that nobody negotiated another solution; they didn?t offer any locations to hold the parties and resorted straight to violence. Some will say that people were trampled in the dance parties. I only saw people being trampled when the police arrived beating, throwing stun grenades, and got everyone scrambling," says MC Sandrinho.
Samba, rap and funk go down, but no alcohol
To try to make up for the lack of leisure, the Black Dance - Party without Alcohol takes place in Heliópolis on the last Saturday of every month, playing rap, samba and funk, with free admission. With the support of a multinational corporation in the beverages sector, the dance party is held in the headquarters of Union of Associations and Centers Society of Residents of Heliópolis and São João Climaco (Unas). Only soda and water are sold, generating income for the fixed funds of the event.
"We began in 2005, trying to show the youth that it?s possible to have fun without drinking. The party is a success, because the community took in the idea. It?s a space for education and leisure, but we can only manage to do it once a month. We have to admit that it?s not enough for the kids, who need more options," says Reginaldo José Gonçalves, DJ Reginaldo, one of the creators of the event.
Teenagers and even children make up the crowd of the Party without Alcohol, which starts at 8 p.m. and goes on until 12:30 a.m. The songs chosen by the DJs, including the funk ones, are all played in the "clean" version, with lighter lyrics. "The older kids usually go to other nightclubs at the end of the party. We bring the kids here to make them aware of things, but we don?t ask them to not have fun in places where there is alcohol and more explicit songs. We tell the older ones to drink without going too hard and the younger ones to avoid drinking before they?re ready," Reginaldo stresses.
The only way to continue having fun in the early morning is to go to the wealthier parts of the city or other towns surrounding São Paulo. Roberta Faria, 17, resident of Heliópolis, chooses this option. "I went to the Black Dance Party until I was 12,13 years-old. It?s not my thing anymore. Nowadays, my boyfriend and I look for fun in other places. Normally, we go to São Caetano, which is closer," she stresses.
Funk migrates from the suburbs to the rich areas
Taking advantage of the migration from the suburbs, nightclubs like Black Bom Bom, in Vila Madalena, and Fantasy Club, in the rich Jardins neighborhood, promote dance parties specifically to attract the youth of the far communities. One example is the Funk Mansion, in Moema is attended by a large number of residents of the suburbs that pack their cars to get to the club, on Ibirapuera Avenue. Because the dance party begins at 11 p.m. and only fills up after 2 a.m., it?s difficult to get there by bus. Many girls have VIP invitations and are dismissed from paying the admission fee. They are escorted by promoters of the event, usually guys from the suburbs that play the role of inviting a large number of girls.
Pública's news story went to the NEXXT club, in Vila Olímpia, and Funk Mansion, in Moema, and found everything that is not allowed in the suburbs. The crowd consumes alcohol freely and the smell of marijuana is in the air on the dance floor, clouded by dry ice. Ecstasy tablets and bottles of inhalants are passed around. In the bathroom, cocaine lines are spread out on wallets or any other flat surface to be sniffed. The same kids that are forbidden to dance funk in street dance parties in the suburbs that authorities qualify as supporting the use of drugs, can use drugs freely in the rich neighborhood. Not even the presence of a policewoman in uniform from the Fire Department stops them.
Cinara Menezes is the DJ this night. She was born in Belém do Pará, but was raised in São Paulo, "on the edge of the south side," she points out. "I grew up in Jardim Germânia, in the south side. I used to live in a condo, but I was in touch with the slum next door. Today, I play at nightclubs and a lot of people from the suburbs come. People want funk. I like other styles too, but they prefer this," she comments.
Letícia Ribeiro,18, who lives in Cidade Ademar in the south side, loves the dance parties in the rich part of town: "There?s no comparison. Here, there are more options. The community is just to live in. If you want fun or a better job, you have to get out." The girl beside Letícia smiles, but warns us "I can?t show up in pictures. I?m 16 and my father doesn?t know that I?m here, he thinks I went to sleep over at a friend?s house." She is from the Comunidade da Paz, in the east side, and wants to live another reality. "We watch TV an internet. In downtown, things are prettier and there are more opportunities. I make friends and I can even find a boyfriend," she says.
Party promoters, like Luciano Roberto Pereira, aka Lu, also live in communities. He divides his time between jobs as a delivery boy and as a promoter of parties in the south side. "My job is to spread the word of the parties and to invite the kids. I spend all week doing this to be able to take interesting, pretty people, women and men, from the communities to the parties," he explains.
Explicitly forbidden? Only in the suburbs
Historically, rhythms like samba and rap have faces discrimination because of their origin linked to poor communities and black people. Now it?s funk?s turn, criticized because of its sexist topics and for supporting drugs and crime, according to its objectors. Pure hypocrisy, says historian Wilson Honório da Silva. "The moral argument weighs a lot on one hand, the suburbs? argument. In the rich areas, it?s all dealt with naturally. The culture of the poor is criminalized when it doesn?t reproduce that, and the way the system would like," he evaluates.
The historian remembers how the type of funk create in Rio de Janeiro got to São Paulo in 2001, with the success of Mel, character played by Débora Falabella, in the soap opera The Clone, in Rede Globo, the biggest Brazilian TV network. Mel was a drug addict that would go to dance parties in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. "This ultra-sexualized funk came through Rede Globo. Many clubs specialized in Rio's funk and began to play things that had nothing to do with the funk movement of black Americans. It?s degenerate, but it?s a result of the system we live in," Wilson Honório analyzes.
In São Paulo, the rhythm first entered the rich neighborhoods; the street dance parties in the suburbs came in 2005. "Here in Heliópolis, the rock, slow music, and later rap dance parties began to lose strength in the late 90s. The nightclubs came with bigger parties. The DJs started to split music up, and some chose funk," DJ Reginaldo recalls.
With the greater interesting, DJs began to get out of the communities to play in places that would pay more. For the residents of the suburbs, unable to afford restricted nightclubs, the street dance parties were the way to have fun. "Between 2005 and 2006, the Machine Team, a group of DJs, would rent equipment and, when they played, a crowd would gather around here. Out of this came "Bonde da Três", who would play funk for thousands of people at least once a month here Heliópolis. Whoever wanted to come could come. I know this is how it happened in other communities as well," says Reginaldo.
More recently, big car stereo systems have transformed regular cars into a party without DJs. The tunings, personalized vehicles, and prepared to play music at a deafening volume, make them an economic way out for the youth that went to the street funks. "The kids pitch in to buy car stereo, to stay in the community and show up to the girls. If you take this away from them, they go to rich neighborhoods, discover this part of the world, and feel great. They have stories to tell the next day. When you truly experience the difference in the way the police treat each side, you want to stay in the rich neighborhood," party promoter Luciano Roberto Pereira comments.
In downtown streets, funk goes down freely
Not even claims that the police have to act because the street dance parties bother neighbors resist against a ride in the Liberdade neighborhood, in downtown São Paulo, for example. There, on Taguá street, behind the United Metropolitan Colleges (FMU), dance parties are held almost every day of the week. In the middle of the street. The crowd consists of the middle class, mainly student of the institution.
Asking to have his identity concealed, a staff of security in FMU relates how the parties have been taking place for years at any time of day and reach a crowd of two thousand people. Despite this, he has never seen police suppression, arrests or suing in the vicinities. "I?ve been working here for years. Sometimes, it?s even worse during the day. Cars stop at bars and open their trunks with their stereos at maximum volume. There are minors, a lot of alcohol and drugs," he highlights.
Few police cars roam the site; routinely, one or two. Generally, they park on a street corner and don?t interfere in the gathering. "A TV show came here and, in the first semester this year, the military police would come more often. In the second semester, things got worse again. The kids begin in the morning and go on all day long. At night they go from 9 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. when the bars close because of the Shh Law," the security man observes.
The sound of funk carries away not only the students of FMU. On Fridays, it?s common to see neighbors complaining about the loud beat coming out of the speakers of the students' car stereos at Uninove, at Barra Funda, University of St. Judas, in Mooca, and Mackenzie, downtown. Called by residents, the military police go to the sites and shut down the sound. When the police leave, the noise turns back on.
At Uninove, the dance parties begin around 8 p.m. Cars line up in two lanes on Dr. Adolpho Pinto Avenue and turn on their stereo systems. In a short period of time, the music takes over the street and the students. Bars ans sidewalks fill up. The party continues until early morning.
The students of St. Judas gather at Maria Cândida Square, in the east side. Resident nearby even signed a petition against the loud beat. The military police circle the area, but only for a few minutes. To the bothered people, the City Council says that they only monitor noise in private areas.
At the Presbyterian Mackenzie University, the crowd consists of the elite and funk attracts thousands of people on Fridays, closing the traditional streets between the Consolação and Higienópolis regions, one of São Paulo?s most expensive areas to live in. Sex goes down in cars with tainted windows, but the drugs are consumed in the street. Apart from receiving no sanction from the police, the party sometimes counts on the support of the Traffic Engineering Company of São Paulo (CET), which closes car access to the streets to ensure safety.
*With Maria Eugênia Sá and Gabriela Allegrini
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