Boom CHA-CHA, de boom CHA-CHA, the sound of funk carioca can be heard reverberating loudly throughout Brazil. Unapologetic, brazen and controversial, the music’s percussion-heavy sound forms the backdrop to life in the favelas. But while the genre is sometimes written off as lewd or “cheap,” funk carioca often reflects the harsh reality of life in Brazil’s marginalized communities.
That reality was brought into focus on Wednesday with the release of a groundbreaking report on child marriage in Brazil by Plan International, Brazil’s Federal University of Pará and Instituto Promundo. According to the report, Brazil ranks fourth in the number of girls living with or married to a partner by age 15, and child marriage is “very normalized and accepted” in the country.
As with many social norms, the acceptance of relations with underage girls is reflected in funk music, particularly a newly popular sub-genre called funk putaria (literally “fornication/prostitution funk”). Novinhas, slang for attractive, specifically teenage girls, are often the focus of funk putaria songs. One example from MC R1 begins “novinha você tá na minha mira (novinha, I’ve got my eye on you).” Most funk songs about these novinhas are written by older men (MC R1 is 29).
But while funk artists continue to make music that refers to young girls and reinforces the norm of youth marriage, an emerging feminist movement has sought to reclaim funk carioca as its own. An increasing number of funkeiras (female MCs) have taken language traditionally used pejoratively to describe women (such as puta, or whore) and instead started using it to describe themselves and confront gender biases. Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner, feminists and co-founders of Soapbox Inc., explain that “for years, these words have been used against women. Now, by singing these songs themselves, the funk artists demonstrate that they are in control.”
Whether these new artists can have an impact on the prevalence of underage relationships in the favelas remains to be seen. But one way or another, as a platform for highlighting the social issues facing Brazil today, funk carioca deserves a listen.