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Born In Brazilian Favelas, Funk Carioca Breaks Into Spotlight

Like hip hop in American cities, funk carioca was born in Brazil's inner cities, and now has arrived in one of Rio’s most prestigious theaters. Yet police remain wary of what's behind the beats.

Clipe do Passinho's "Todo Mundo Aperta o Play" music video
Clipe do Passinho's "Todo Mundo Aperta o Play" music video
Arnaud Robert

RIO DE JANEIRO — The battle takes place in the midst of Rio's city center. Cops are parading with their bulletproof vests, the crack smokers in their rags. A small, rebellious and shirtless troop, wearing brand new Nikes, is standing in front of them, dancing on the stairs that lead to the Joao Caetano Theater.

It is only a few minutes before the curtain raise.

A huge poster covers the façade of this cultural institution, founded in 1813. On it, you can see a young man, his body stretched out, and a title that now resonates through RioNa batalha, in the fight.

We hear nervous laughter inside the theater. These dancers don't seem to be more than 18 years old. They're a dozen boys and only one girl. "I'm in this theater for the first time and, imagine this, I'm going to perform," said Endrew Nobre, a young man with tiny braids and childish postures. "Nobody believed in this project, not even my family. And now we're here."

Nobre isn't being pretentious: you can see tears in his eyes. He adjusts his steps to those of his colleagues. His movements are not only reminiscent of the capoeira but of the frevo, a dance from Recife carnivals and of breakdance. These steps are unique — no one really knows where they come from.

They were born in the slums.

A favela tempo reaches the upper class

The outskirts are taking over the heart of the city, precisely where they're most feared. Here, favelas are considered the ultimate repulsive place, an area of terror — dramatized over and over by television.

This is a recent story — the story of funk carioca and passinho. This is the story of an electronic music that sprung out of Brazilian favelas and of a dance that grew at the door of open-air nightclubs, in the exorbitant vibrations of boundary walls.

Has it been ten, twenty years already? Everything moves so fast in Rio. Mateus Aragão, a nonchalant 30-year-old Brazilian born in the upper middle class, discovered funk from his privileged window when he was younger. He was listening to the sounds of the favela perched on the neighboring hill.

Since then, Aragão has been organizing "bailes funk", or funk balls, in the upper-class districts of Rio's southern area.

“I was fascinated by this rhythm, so I decided to bring the favelas music into town as soon as the opportunity presented itself," he said. "I created the "Eu Amo Baile Funk" parties here. Rockers hated us. Yet they had to recognize that funk was the rhythm of the carioca youth."

What is currently hatching here in Rio is somewhat similar to what took place in New York in the 1980s — the rise of hip hop. Think about it. A jeered cultural movement from the suburbs conquered Manhattan, then the world. Here, everyone sees that story as a model.

And this first show in a 200-year-old theater, right in the midst of a city that hosted the World Cup, feels quite like a conquest.

Dance v. public order

The adventure is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture to give it credibility. Nike is dressing the dancers. These favela kids cannot believe their eyes in their new fluorescent shoes.

Everyone, literally everyone, is here: the favelas, that seem to have migrated to the city's lower areas, the headlining DJs, and the media, eager to finally see this fresh, new blood. Even Coca-Cola shot a video featuring these young dancers for the World Cup. In the clip, you see them proudly presenting their passinho.

Has Brazil reconciled with its fringes? Are favelas now fashionable? It takes no more than an hour to drive to the north and realize that the situation isn't that simple.

A few hundred meters before the entrance of the "dry tree" favela Arvore Seca, your stomach starts trembling. There, a deep bass sounds like a slow earthquake. Gangs are guarding the entrance, and the military police are keeping watch on the other side. They all have the same weapons.

A historical baile funk is back in the favela, after being banned for several months. The dances were a collateral victim of the pacification campaign that took place among several carioca favelas. Brazilian security forces seem to abhor musical buzzing as much as they hate drug trafficking. Many funk songs, glorifying crime or being simply licentious, were banned by a special law. Funk, in the minds of World Cup cleaners, is a threat to public order.

Yet the baile finally resumes, under patrol scrutiny.

A new life to Rio's culture

Eddy Excelent is watching the opposite favela from a concrete roof overlooking Arvore Seca. He sees a multitude of small, lit-up houses in a stillness only broken by the sound of the dance. Excelent is rehearsing his steps with a friend, Jean Valentim. He's only 21, yet had already learned ten U.S. dances before taking on passinho moves.

He does meticulous moves with his feet and arms, and can create martial, frenzied and astonishingly precise combinations. The young Brazilian looks like a samba dancer, plugged into the digital age with a USB cable.

“I live a bit further up, in the favela. The pacification prevented us from organizing any ball. We now have an authorization, so it has to go well. Otherwise, this will be over."

These young dancers know the violence of their neighborhood, but also the morgue of those who don't live on these hills. They faced the bans of the happenings after publishing their videos on YouTube. They know that, with their agile steps, they are giving a new life to Rio’s culture. But they also know that a return to normal, to exclusion, could happen very quickly.

Facing a fortress of loudspeakers, which could outdo even Jamaican sound systems, Eddy, in his small, mischievous body, embodies the history of Brazil — a fascination for America, some African somersaults, and the Atlantic audacity. Music is poor, but dance will prosper.

It is 4 in the morning. All lights are shut down so the curfew isn’t broken. The Maracanã stadium is a bulging shadow around which soldiers are wandering.

The Na batalha show went on at the Joao Caetano Theater until the World Cup final match. The favela dance gained a moment of international visibility, an artform with roots in the U.S. was transformed into a local expression. These ageless, genderless dancers recover their uniqueness, miming cabaret queens and urban warriors.

As if nothing, not even Nike, could standardize this language from the hills.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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