Origins of Funk Carioca

I’m sure many people have heard of Funk Carioca but perhaps not so much about its actual origins. In case Funk is new to you, I’ll post a very short intro before getting into its origins.

Funk Carioca, also known as Brazilian Funk (which also relates to a 1970’s musical style), Favela Funk and, elsewhere in the world, Baile Funk, is a type of dance music from Rio de Janeiro, derived from and superficially similar to Miami Bass, with deep rapid beats and aggressive vocals. In Rio de Janeiro it is most often simply known as Funk, although it is very different musically from what Funk means in most other places. As far as lyrics are concerned, the more recent Funk artists typically cram as many sexually explicit lyrics as possible into their songs a la style of Eazy-E, which is also typical of a similar more underground genre called Proibidão (Prohibited).


Brazilian record suppliers who went to the United States in the 1970s to buy what was called at the time “Black Music” for Brazilian DJs, targeted stores that sold American Funk records. As they continued to support the same hotspots over time, though American music had evolved away from Funk into new genres such as Hip Hop, the word “funk” stuck in local usage.

Miami was then a popular place to obtain records for Brazilian DJs, and therefore, Miami Bass was prominent in these imports. DJ Nazz and Tony Minister were the main suppliers credited to bringing Miami Bass records to Brazil while still referring to them as American funk records. Other local music producers began mimicking these importers in the late 1980s. The influence of Miami is also reflected in the prominence of freestyle-style synth melodies.

Even today, the funk carioca music played in clubs is dependent on a network of couriers used by DJs living in Rio. This is critical because the music these DJs play is not commercially available in Rio. These couriers periodically fly between New York and Miami to buy music. They return to Rio after short trips to resellers, who then provide DJs their music. Fierce competition exists between individual DJs in Rio, as each DJ wants his music to be the most popular and the most danceable.

Much like any kind of hip hop music, funk carioca relies heavily on samples and interpolations of other songs, as well as of pre-existent funk music. Much of the production occurs in small-scale studios in Rio, and achieve distribution through hand-burned CDs in the markets throughout Rio and all over Brazil, from São Paulo to the Amazônia region. One of the first funk carioca widespread hits was a remix of Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” tune.

Besides Miami Bass-style beats, funk carioca also uses some traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms. A West Coast Electro Bass track entitled 808 Volt (Beatapella Mix) by DJ Battery Brain was widely sampled, and became the common background for various funk carioca songs, recycled time and again with the inclusion of more percussive elements as the “tamborzão” beat style became popular.

In recent years, Funk Carioca has been characterized within the popular imagination has having simple beats derived from cheap technologies with vocalists who tend to shout as much as they sing. The greatest export of this particular aesthetic revolves around the trio known as Bonde Do Role, who are a popular act in international hipster circles thanks to support from producer Diplo and significant coverage within the music media such as Rolling Stone.

The emergence of readily available digital music technologies in the early 90s changed the face the Funk Carioca movement in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Funk Carioca can be traced to many different musical genres ranging from Brazilian samba to European techno. Although Brazilian Funk started using mixed vinyl tracks that mimicked the scratch, loop and break techniques made famous by Bronx artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Miami Bass legends 2livecrew, the movement is currently almost exclusively digital. Beat machines and automated loop technology have revolutionized the genre.

The spread of Funk Carioca from an exclusively Rio based subculture to an international musical phenomena can largely be accredited to the influx of personal computers and internet technology in Brazil. Brazil is the global leader in Internet growth. “In Brazil, Internet use jumped 130% between from 1997-1998, and the Internet now constitutes a major industry with almost 1,300 ISPs, and somewhere between 5 and 6 million users”. So, while Funk maintains its favela roots and perspective, it has gained significant global listenership and recognition. Technology has increased musical plagiary in an already sample based genre and furthered the disregard for copyrights or musical ownership. Most Funk is mixed in home studios in the favelas and suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. This has resulted in a climate in which a new sample can become popular and spread through the dancehalls without officially crediting the artist. New digital technology combined with the social context and dancehall culture of Funk has resulted in one of the most piracy-driven music industries in the world. This trend has led to the limited opportunities of album sales and relegates the standard of success to DJ’ing at Friday or Saturday night dancehall events. Funk from Rio de Janeiro is a prime example of a new way in which music spreads in the modern globalized world. Catalyzed by the advance of music technologies, Funk marks a new trend that allows music that originates in a low wealth community to spread globally. In an article titled “The localization of Funk in Rio and Bahia”, Livio Sansone notes “the stylistic mosaic varies when one can buy and store music or can only enjoy it live…” This, compounded by the lawlessness of the favelas, has caused almost complete disregard for music ownership or accreditation.

Below is a 27-minute documentary (with English subtitles) on Funk Carioca and what it means to the people who create it.

6 thoughts on “Origins of Funk Carioca

  1. Pingback: How the idea of change reached Brazil « Eyes On Brazil

  2. Pingback: The origins of Baile Funk « HEART IN MIGRATION

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  4. Pingback: fact friday rio: from misogyny to feminism in funk carioca «

  5. Pingback: Links: Brazilian music « Music Cultures of the World

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