Baile Funk and Rio De Janeiro are inseperable kin; the unmistakable bassline sounds thump over the hillside favelas of the city, most of which have been pacified as part of a governmental iniative that began in 2008. From Rocinha to Cantagalo each Baile has its own particular flavor, an intense mix of sex, rhythm and hedonism. It's not just the unmistakable "Um Cha Cha Um Cha" that is an intergral part of Rio, but its ambience and aesthetics, that epitomize in many ways the Brazilian spirit.
French photographer Vincent Rosenblatt spent years in Rio documenting the scene—known in Brazil as Carioca Funk. The "Baile" ("Dance") are parties that take place inside the favelas that surround the city, bringing together a unique mix of people from all ages and backgrounds. They're described by the artist as "the largest informal social project of Rio" since many families make their living from the income generated by the baile. Musically, Carioca Funk derives from Miami Bass with freestyle crews of MCs rapping their—usually sexually explicit—lyrics over the top. Even more than the music the baile are known for the Afro-Brazilian lifestyle they embody; they're an expression of sexual freedom in Brazil and the extrovert spirit of the carioca.
However, the scene also has its dark side, plagued by state repression and police injustice. Rosenblatt comments that "Instead of arresting the drug traffickers, the paramilitary militia or corrupt elements of the police force, who are often responsible themselves for trafficking arms and drugs, the police continue, with the support of the local media, to pursue and arrest the MCs whose lyrics supposedly offend and disturb the sensibility of the more privileged. In fact, the first thing that the new police peacekeeping forces do when they occupy favelas is to ban the community from organizing and attending Bailes or even listening to funk, turning favelas into quiet and controlled dormitories. Baile Funk has reached many other parts of the city, such as samba schools or traditional sports clubs. In theses places the police check over the lyrics for any excesses: Bailes have to respect certain parameters in order to not be censured. This censorship in the more privileged areas often just ends up provoking and encouraging a more physical and sexually overt approach to the sound and within the movement. More than just parties, Bailes Funk are a necessity, a cultural right for the Afro-Brazilian youth."
Rosenblatt exhibited his work as part of a special event at Art Basel Miami Beach this year, and previously in São Paulo and at the prestigious Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris (2011). Shot at night in favelas all over Rio, he later returned to the Baile and projected the images during live events. Rosenblatt provides a social, anthropological, and at times anatomical document of all aspects of the Baile—from famous MCs to partygoers' style—offering a unique insight into Brazil's legendary and precarious underground culture.
(All images: © Vincent Rosenblatt)