I’m Ugly But I’m Trendy: A 2005 Baile Funk Snapshot

First published in its original form online at Stylus Magazine in November 2005. The article has been out of print since Stylus closed up shop but is still a reference for other related articles on Wikipedia.  It should be taken as a snapshot of the Baile Funk scene at that time as it was fast emerging from its regional origins to become the national phenomenon it is now.

Who Let the Yobs Out?

By Andy Cumming

Baile Funk’s most notorious female MC, Tati Quebra Barraco, is coming to town this weekend and rumors about the show are flying around my workplace, rumors so prevalent that the radio is repeating them as gospel: She has been arrested for drug trafficking and the show has been canceled; there is a competition for the girl who wears the shortest mini-skirt with the prize of 1000 Brazilian Reals (at the time of writing the equivalent of over three months minimum wage) and that girls who go to the show wearing no underwear will be admitted free of charge. Now none of these rumors were true, and they certainly would have made for an attention-grabbing night, however, they do amply demonstrate the prejudices surrounding Baile Funk and perhaps popular working-class culture in Brazil: that many or all favelados are sex-depraved drug-dealing maniacs.

Tati Quebra Barraco is the most famous funk MC in Brazil at the moment, this is certainly not due to her talent, though Tati does have a certain vagabond charm, Deyse Tigrona of “Injeção” fame is a far more interesting and versatile MC, it is due to her appearances on the prime time soap opera (or novela as they are known here) “America”.  This has been a huge break in her career, soaps in Brazil can command up to 90% of the viewing public on peak nights, and that’s no mean feat in a country of 183 million people, so the exposure to the Brazilian public that Tati has enjoyed is staggering, making her a household name throughout the whole of Brazil. Not only has Tati benefited from this, but also baile funk is back on the map at a national level unprecedented since 2001.

Tati is due to play two shows on the same night, one in an expensive country club for the offspring of the city’s privileged and another in a more down at heel venue across town for the rest of us. The latter is, of course, the more interesting option with the participation of various baile funk DJs from Rio de Janeiro.

Expectation is high and the lacklustre but functional venue fills up quickly. The curtain opens and three DJs immediately start pumping the crowd with a booty version of Queen’s “We will rock you” before hurtling into a breakneck paced set of baile funk hits. One-minute snatches of familiar samples and riffs are inter-cut with reoccurring punched in loops. The crowd scream along to the gloriously catchy sing-a-long choruses while girls dance in circles, a hand on each knee as they grind their thrusting pelvises lower and lower to the floor.


Halfway through the set “Popozuda rock n’ roll” belts out its molten brainless riff, the djs extend the riff until finally letting the vocal come in with its equally brainless refrain. “Popozuda rock n’roll” is an interesting phenomenon, originally recorded by punk rock hip-hop group De Falla from Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, it was the key track on the similarly themed album “Miami Rock 2000”, an album that took the hybrid of crunchy heavy metal guitars and bouncing baile funk beats to the extreme. On its release in 2000 the album was universally panned by the critics who hated it with a vengeance, little did they realize that the album was way ahead of its time.

Back in the eighties De Falla were always ones to incorporate innovative trends into their music, their first two albums are full of punky funky guitar accompanied by manic scratching. But after the relative failure of the inventive Miami Rock interpolation (it sold 28,000 copies, a measly amount for label Sony), producer and leading voice behind De Falla, Edu K, found his band left on the shelf with no outlet for his new material. Then Popozuda was picked up on two defining compilations; the first Favela Chic collection and Favela Booty Beats on Essay recordings directly leading Coca Cola in Germany to use the track in its ads. Berlin based Man Recordings, run by Favela Booty Beats compiler Daniel Haaksman, have just released a vinyl of Popozuda remixes. There’s a Cure sampling Diplo mix, a classic old school baile mix by the man behind Mr Catra’s beats; DJ Sandrinho and a startling Reggaeton/Baile funk mash-up remixed by Edu K himself. The mix is itself a taster for the new Edu K album set for release on Man Recordings in March 2006. The tracks have all the punchiness of Popozuda combined with the swing and sass of reggeaton.  Guest MCs include Deyse Tigrona who appears on “Sex-o-matic” taunting us with her feistiness and her insatiable desire for sex while Edu’s programming pops, blips and skips.

Anyhow, back to the show and the rather corpulent MC Tati Quebra Barraco has just taken to the stage. Backstage Tati was tense, chain smoking and looking down at the floor; onstage she doesn’t look any more comfortable. She turns her back to the audience a few too many times and her outspoken vulgarity, for which she is famed, rarely if ever appears. One of Tati’s biggest hits is based on pretty crude and childish wordplay. She sings of going into a store because she needs to buy an oven and then tells us that a certain brand is good, pronouncing the brand name to sound like “up the arse” and then repeating ceaselessly that “up the arse is good”. This, along with the unsubtle metaphor in Deyse Tigrona’s hit “Injeção”, of how the “needle” hurts as it goes in but she can take it, reflect the Brazilian obsession with butt and anal sex, a subject that is, believe me, explored in great and insalubrious detail in many baile funk tracks.

In fact “Injeçao” was sampled by MIA on the Diplo produced “Bucky done gun”, the trumpet refrain itself sampled from the “Rocky” soundtrack. “Injeção” was produced in DJ Malboro’s studio, and though when “Bucky” was originally released wasn’t credited, copies now have to mention its inspiration. Marlboro was invited to do a remix of “Bucky” by MIA’s label XL, probably to smooth over relations between them, and turned in a cracking carioca take on what was a gringo’s take on favela funk and probably unintentionally commenting on the migration of genres and regional sounds at the same time.

DJ Marlboro has been one of the main players in taking funk abroad. He has played all over Europe; Britain, Germany, France, the States and even China, but he has no label outside Brazil, he tours but has no product to push. Inside Brazil his label, Link Records, and sound-system, Big Mix, are the biggest players around. It wasn’t always his way, Furacão 2000 used to be the dominating sound-system and their compilations always had the biggest baile hits on them. However, during the nineties they were besieged with problems; drugs, prison and the married couple who ran Furacão, Rômulo and Verônica Costa, split up, weakening the sound-system allowing Marlboro’s team to take over the market. Ever the resourceful businessman Marlboro recently bought out rivaling sound-system Pipos, giving himself and Big Mix an even larger market share.

Marlboro has just invited Diplo to play with him at his residency in São Paulo. Diplo and MIA are currently in Brazil soaking up funk vibes. MIA played at a huge corporately sponsored festival in October (clearly not the best place to see her perform) where she invited Deyse Tigrona to join her onstage. Deyse proceeded to completely blow her offstage, showing her who the real MC was (admittedly she was on her home turf). Deyse is currently cleaning houses for a living, MIA is the international toast of critics everywhere.

 Another MC who has been tearing up Europe is (the recently deceased) Mr Catra, now this man is a character, one of the most fascinating and at the same time contradictory personalities in funk. Highly religious and a fervent weed smoker with various wives and innumerous children this ex-drug dealer is rumored to have killed. His gruff rasping tone is unmistakable and his use of the favela language along with his tales of favela reality make him one the most popular rappers in Rio. His stage presence is intoxicating and he recently played some electrifying shows in Berlin and Poland. Witnesses to the shows testify to the ecstatic reaction he causes, creating a near authentic baile funk atmosphere in wintry climes. Mr Catra could very well be the first ghetto-superstar to come out of Brazil. He has but one stumbling block; he is one of the main purveyors and a defender of Proibidão, funk based raps bigging up the local drug gangs, and there is a rather zealous councilor in Rio intent on outlawing this style and all who perform it.

And so back to our show with Tati Quebra Barraco, she closes with the title track to her latest CD “Boladona” (Link Records) which brazenly samples “Love Story” by Layo and Bushwacka. The crowd seemed to like it, they certainly danced enough and we even had a minor stage invasion, but I expected more from the person who Marlboro has called “the woman of the future”. The beats and samples were there, Tati’s brother Márcio is responsible for the programming, but where is the attitude that proudly proclaims that she now earns enough to pay for the motel when she picks up a guy. Perhaps what it all comes down to is Tati’s painfully honest lyric that has become her famous catchphrase “sou feia, mas tô na moda” I’m ugly but I’m trendy.

Photos: Vincent Rosenblatt.