Gotta have that Favela Funk!

Brazil, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Parties, Festivals & Events — By on September 18, 2006 at 5:17 am

Shortly after arriving to Mellow Yellow, we were repeatedly asked the same question by our fellow hostel mates. Actually it was more like an assumed statement. “Of course you’re going to the Favela Funk party?” The favela whata? Wasn’t that some sort of bean? Oh, no wait, that’s fava. What the heck are these favelas we’ve been hearing so much about and how did funk parties get dropped in the mix? During the nightly buffet dinner, I finally got some answers from a group of friendly backpackers at the next table. Favelas, they explained, are famous Brazilian slums tucked in the hills above the city that are occupied illegally and controlled by drug lords. OK, gotcha. And we’re supposed to want to go party there?

We soon discovered that despite the seemingly dangerous conditions, favelas had recently become popularized among tourists and everyone who was anyone went to the weekly funk party. Still we wondered, was this one of those ‘everyone else is doing it’/after school special moments we were taught to just say no to or was it really safe to go traipsing into these previously forbidden barrios? After talking to a few more people, our fears were quickly squelched. Apparently, the favela leaders were welcoming visitors into their hoods in record numbers. Major companies have been sanctioned to conduct daily tours into several of the more famous neighborhoods and the hugely popular funk parties are completely gringo-friendly events. I had visions of a Brazilian Don Corleone sitting on top of the hill ordering ‘the family’ to buzz us all through the gates. How could we possibly pass up the chance to see this strange social phenomenon for ourselves?

What sealed the deal was the fact that our hostel actually rented minivans to safely escort backpackers en masse to and and from the party, plus they doled out bracelets for VIP access at the club. Right on! Where do we sign up? We added our names to the list at the front desk and ran back to our room to start getting ready for our big night on the (shanty) town. It was the perfect excuse to dress up in the fabulously fun clothes we’d purchased that day in Rio’s famous outdoor hippie market – our absolute favorite place to shop in the city. Since Holly had to stay in to work on her monthly magazine column, Amanda and I were elected to represent The Lost Girls that night. Along with a huge group of fellow hostelers, including a bunch of our new Irish friends from the night before, we headed out of Mellow Yellow for first favela funk party.

After almost a ½ hour drive through the city, we began winding our way up into the hills through narrow dark streets. Speckled throughout the area were small houses, local dive bars and bustling restaurants – nothing that screamed favela funk yet. Soon, we caught up with the caravan of cabs and combis and as we rounded the corner at the top of the hill, we knew we had arrived. Up ahead, groups of young club kids decked out in tight spandex daisy dukes, gold chains and muscle shirts, crowded the streets in front of the entrance to the club. Oblivious to the hoards of tourists pouring from the vans, the favela funkmasters let us pass without so much as batting a (black) eye. Ushered through the waiting line like cattle, we were quickly swept up in the stream of other partygoers flowing steadily into the gigantic warehouse ahead. Entering the favela funk party was like being transported into another universe – one where the walls pulse with Miami-bass type beats, immense crowds bounce and sway in perfect rhythm, sweat and steam fill the un-airconditioned space and where clothing is pretty much optional. Although the Mellow Yellow crew kept our outfits firmly affixed to our bodies, we were the clearly in the minority. Most of the local men were sans shirt and 9 out of 10 women preferred bikinis to party dresses (the 10th opted for a tube top and booty shorts). Although you could hardly blame them considering the sweltering heat and lack of oxygen flow in the building. Definitely a never-seen-before moment to add to our travel check list, though.

Hand in hand as to not lose one another, we wound our way through the packed crowds in search of the stairway to VIP heaven. After making the essential ascent, we finally found some breathing room (or rather a room where we could breathe). Perched high above the dance floor away from the main mass of favela revelers, the exclusive space granted us access to the funk scene without the claustrophobia of wall to wall bodies. Half of our group took drink orders and headed to the bar, while the rest of us made a beeline for one of several tables lining the rail to secure seating for everyone. Despite our obvious visitor status, we slipped easily into our surroundings with no protest from the locals. Over the next several hours, we rotated between dancing, sweating in 100 degree heat (even the guys in our group lost their shirts at this point; Note to parents: The guys pictured were our friends from the hostel, not strangers we met that night!), getting tired and sitting, sipping our cocktails between guzzles of water and then back to dancing again. This constant cycle continued until around 4am, when we realized our motorcoaches would turn back into pumpkins if we didn’t leave soon. Exhausted, yet exhilarated, we made our way outside to find a ride back to the hostel.

With our first favela funk experience under our (money) belts, we happily sank into the van cushions recounting our wildest stories from the evening. As we coasted through the city, attempting to beat the sun back to Mellow Yellow, Amanda and I couldn’t help but be a little proud of ourselves. After all, we’d gone deep into the heart of one of Rio de Janeiro’s most infamous ghettos and lived to tell the tale. From here on out, we could handle anything that came our way. Cause now that we’ve conquered the favelas, only a fool would dare ‘funk’ with us!

FYI – Googling Brazil favelas and favela funk parties links you to some pretty fun sites. My personal props to Wikipedia for their in-depth analysis of funk balls and notable groups/artists.

Tags: , , , , ,