Funk is a music genre that originated in Rio and is inspired by social consciousness. Women have been overlooked in the genre, but a new generation of women funk artists are changing that.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Women made and continue to make history in Brazilian funk, a hip hop-influenced music style from Rio de Janeiro that blends funk with Miami bass and rap.
“They contribute not only as interpreters, but there are more and more women debating academically [the style], and being composers, producers [who are] inserted in the music ecosystem,” says Tamiris Coutinho, 31, from Rio de Janeiro, author of the book I Fell Face-first into My Pussy: Funk as a Power of Female Empowerment (“Cai de boca no meu b*c3t@o”).
A music and business graduate from PUC (Pontifical Catholic University) in Rio de Janeiro, Coutinho warns that, despite this growth, the situation is not an even playing field, saying, "Women don't get as many opportunities as men do."
Funk is culture, funk is art
Originating in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, funk began to explode in the city of São Paulo in the 2000s. The funk dancer and teacher Renata Prado, 32, is part of the first generation of funk women in the Brazilian capital. She says that she danced axé, a strong rhythm of peripheral culture, at the time. But around 2005, she got to know funk and changed dance genres.
Prado created the dance show “Dos Tambores ao Tamborzão”, which traces the history of funk through Afro culture. Her show was successful, and led to work on the scene permanently in 2015. As a professional dancer, choreographer and educator, she says that prejudice is still one of the main challenges for those who make a living with funk music.
“We need to convince people that funk is culture, it's art, it's an art from the periphery, which people tend to marginalize. [...] Black youth, who have historically been marginalized since the time of samba, since the time of hip-hop, live the consequences this time with funk.”
In order to create a positive view of the movement, Renata launched the project “Academy of Funk in 2019”, which brings history, language, dance, and also addresses social issues, public policies and feminist narratives that permeate this musical style.
A strong social message
With rhymes about everyday life, funk communicates the desires and dilemmas of those who live on the outskirts of big cities. The rebellious language, often improvised, brings up issues that society would like to keep under the rug, such as sex, violence, economics and politics.
Among the many funk subgenres, such as prohibition, brega funk, ostentatious funk and trap funk, Larissa Manoel (MC Lalao from TdS), 25, chose the conscious funk in order to express herself, Today, she doesn't make money with funk alone— she works as a salesperson, a judo and self-defense instructor, a security guard and a construction worker.
Between 2015 and 2016, Lalao experimented with rap. But funk is where she really found her voice. “Many people in the neighborhood have a natural talent for rhyming. But not everyone manages to earn money, make a career out of poetry and funk.”
On the other hand, MC Lalao says that having more women doing funk makes it possible for others to join. “It will generate opportunities for other mines to want to do the same thing,” she says. However, this openness still comes up against a series of prejudices.
Funk Carioca artist ''Don Blanquito,'' brings a message of struggle, love and revolution, March 4, 2012 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Breaking the cis-gender norm
Willing to break barriers, the Irmãs de Pau — a trans duo comprised of Vita Pereira, 25, and Isma Almeida, 24 — sing about experiences within prohibited funk. “Scrappy and peripheral language has a huge pedagogical power of sincere dialogue in communities,” says Isma.
Vita considers that the genre still has a lot to evolve in terms of accepting different bodies and sexualities. “The oppressions in these spaces are more veiled — they materialize in jokes, points of view and postures,” but she notices more “dissident bodies” producing funk.
The trans presence and the desire of “travequeiros”, cisgender men who like to have a sexual relationship with trans women is something that brings less problems than before. “I see more and more trans women dating, having a family, a job, but affection… no,” says Isma.
In 2021, São Paulo was the Brazilian state that recorded the most deaths of transgender people, according to data from Antra (National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals). Despite this, the songs address less of this violence and many more trans experiences.
Are these the girls that boys like?
Tamiris Coutinho says that Funk’s main characters are men. “When you enter a funk playlist on Spotify, you will see that several songs that are there are produced and sung by men. There are few women within those playlists.”
Her perception is not wrong and is not restricted to funk. According to the study USC Annenberg on representation of women in the music industry, funded by Spotify itself in March 2021, only 1 in 5 artists in the charts are women.
Spotify said it is committed to creating and supporting a diverse audio industry.
On the other hand, in the main editorial funk playlist created by Spotify itself, Funk Hits, which has more than four million likes, only one of the 40+ songs is sung by female performers.
In contrast, here is a playlist we made for you to explore that has over 100 funk tracks made by women.