Bringing Business to Brazil’s Slums

An audio version is available on the link at the bottom.

“Brazil’s economy is growing at an astounding rate, and many expect the country to soon become an economic superpower. The recent success has even begun to spread into Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slums known as favelas. Some residents say movies like City of God or tours that highlight the poverty and drug trafficking in Brazil’s favelas don’t give the whole picture of what life is like here. Inside of Rocinha, one of the largest and most notorious favelas, the government estimates that there are now some 5,000 locally owned businesses.

“People think that there are only dirty and uneducated people here,” Eduardo Casaes, a lifelong resident of Rocinha who serves as a liaison between his community and the Rio government, told PRI’s The World. “But we have jobs, it’s really a middle class neighborhood. People go to work and children go to school here.”

The main problem with Rocinha and other favelas is their infrastructure, according to Casaes. Buildings are dilapidated and the streets are narrow and clogged with motorbikes and pedestrians.

Other people believe that Rocinha’s layout actually works to their advantage. Carlos Roberto de Azevedo, who owns two minimarkets in the favela, told The World, “There are a lot of opportunities for various types of businesses, because it’s a very concentrated area with many people walking around. There’s a lot of demand for different types of businesses.”

More and more companies are trying to get to consumers, according to Andrea Gouvea Viera, a city official working closely with the Rocinha community association. “But we still have a problem,” she says, “that’s the security, and we still have a problem with the trafficked drugs.” There are also problems with people illegally tapping into energy supplies, and tax evaders in an almost exclusively cash economy.

Local business people, however, dismiss these problems. Minimarket owner Carlos Roberto de Azevedo says the setbacks and reputation shouldn’t prevent outsiders from setting up shop. He points out that a Brazilian franchise restaurant opened up a while ago and it hasn’t had any problems. He says:

It will help the favela’s image if more businesses come here. Nothing bad has happened to the restaurant, it’s never been robbed. Companies and banks need to stop being afraid of opening businesses here. PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. – Source

A Project in the making of Projects

The Brazilian favela…it can be a complicated thing to navigate, literally and figuratively. The reason behind their existence is a tad bit easier to explain so I’ll start with that.

“Although there is no consensus about the precise time the first favela appeared, it is generally agreed upon that 1897 was the year the first large one was started. It was in November of that year that 20,000 Northeastern federal troops, who had fought and won the Canudos’s war against Antônio Conselheiro in Bahia, were brought to Rio and left on the docks without a place to live. Tired of waiting for the government’s bureaucracy, which couldn’t find them a house after having promised them one, they just took over the closest hill in a neighborhood known as Gamboa, to build their improvised shacks.” – Brazzil

The other origin comes from the following,

“Some of the older favelas were originally started as quilombos (independent settlements of fugitive African slaves) among the hilly terrain of the area surrounding Rio, which later grew as slaves were liberated in 1888 with no place to live. The favelas were formed prior to the dense occupation of cities and the domination of real estate interests.” – Wikipedia

Some of the main problems that arise when the subject is talked about are criminality and the lack of alternatives to it (as the documentary Manda Bala states, the poor rob with a gun and the rich, with a pen), the lack of infrastructure and education, and the general lack of interest by those in power to help change the resident’s living situation (during more than a century of existence). Some good comes from NGOs and some good comes from within the favela itself (Viva Rio, Afro Reggae, Dois Irmãos) which can take the form of an NGO.

Looking at the problems, one sees the solutions. Give the residents a chance at education and thereby give them an alternative to joining a favela gang, give them infrastructure and basic rights such as ownership of their land, and also give them a way to have a real place to call home. What it all comes down to is treat them like citizens and like people. When they don’t feel they are doomed to repeat what their parents and grandparents went through, they will do the rest on their own. On the last part where I say ‘give them a way to have a real place to call home’, there are some examples emerging and time will tell if they work out or not. What I do know is if the government just gives a little (read about Public Housing, also called ‘the projects’), the favela as we know it will simply become a modern favela with most of the same problems.

I’ll finish with links to two articles which are aimed at ways to, in one example, turn favelas into ‘the projects’, and in another, to create public housing to fill a temporary need. Both examples absolutely require some critical thinking skills or in other terms, why would such an idea be bad for those on the receiving end? The credit system of always owing someone (usually a multinational financial company) something is tantamount to indentured servitude, as is the majority of the taxation system. It’s no coincidence that the countries in the ‘Axis of Evil’, as well as those associated with it, are those not tied to the IMF. My educated guess is that the flip side of these efforts to provide public housing aren’t altruistic and if someone thinks that NGOs can pick up the slack in any way, I’d suggest the film “Quanto Vale ou É Por Quilo?“.

Building walls doesn’t mend fences

“Eight miles of walls are being constructed around hundreds of Rio de Janeiros sprawling slums. Are they really eco-barriers, protecting the rainforest, or a disguise for the citys social problems?

Here in Brazil, a wall does not signify separation or division, a wall does not cause problems for the community, says the Police Captain. Yet the residents of the slums, known as favelas, tell a different story. Most only agreed to the wall after the government offered them better services and a hospital.

All believe that the walls are intended to contain the slums in time for Rio to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Even the police officers confirm their value as an instrument of control: The Wall helps, really helps us, they say, nervously patrolling the two entrances and exits to the Dona Marta slum.

Rios 750 slums have become notorious for drug trafficking, police killings and a Brazilian reality little seen by the tourists on the beaches. Yet the residents believe that barriers like this will only deepen centuries of social divide. Across Rio, the biggest favela district of Mare, is still in the grip of a deadly gang war. The truth is that this wall is going only to cause more war, says Damian, a third commando of a dangerous drugs gang, more police will die, traffickers will die and the killing will continue.” – Journeyman Pictures

‘Modern Warfare’ now in Rio favela

Picture 1

“Images from a story this month by the magazine GameInformer confirm that the new shoot-em-up Modern Warfare 2 will use a Rio de Janeiro favela as a backdrop for part of the game, which is a continuation of the popular “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”. The game also has confirmed scenarios for Afghanistan and Russia.

In the report by GameInformer, the developers promise interactive scenarios which can be destroyed by the player. Beyond this, they guarantee that the game will have a frame rate of 60 frames per second, “even with dozens of explosions occurring at the same time”. – Source (in PT)

My Take

What is wrong with these people? First we have companies creating first-person shooting games, which I’m told are heavily financed by the US military, where the ‘player’ (because it’s just a game, right?) goes around murdering ‘bad guys’ (usually ethnic) while most of the time being dressed in all black outfits. Does this strike anyone as odd that being dressed in black used to mean you were a bad guy and now it means you are with the ‘special forces’? Neither of which need to follow the rules to get the job done.

Second, we have companies reporting on these types of games and third, we have people actually going out and buying them. Violence begets violence. Think for a second how many millions of times you have seen fictitious murder by firearm on TV or in movies…now think of how many times you’ve seen that in real life. I don’t know about you, but my tally is 100 million x 0.

As Akutyger wrote in her Bahia blog a month or two ago, even cartoons have violence. When a character falls off a cliff, we laugh or when a character gets hit repeatedly on the head with a mallet, we laugh. Clearly, we live in a culture of violence, one with no end in sight. Furthermore, when dealing with popular notions of Brazil, this just furthers the idea that Brazil is only a violent, destitute place.

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).

Origins

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.