Rio: Funking Away in City of God

Rio: Funking Away in City of God

The funk ball is on in Cidade de Deus tonight. "We’re not going
in there, are we?" our taxi driver
enquires pleadingly. We are
escorted into a world that reminds me of
a Terminator film.
The ever-so-cheap Colt AR-5 seems to be favored here.
I wish I had my
I-Spy Book of Firearms with me.

Alexander Robert


It’s a rainy Saturday night in Rio. One of those cold fronts that outstays its welcome seems to have put an end to
tonight’s festivities; namely a baile funk in Cidade de Deus. So plan B is in full swing; the somewhat safer, Zona Sulite
programme of dinner in a Greek restaurant in Botafogo with my American friend, Christine. All of sudden, before I can crack open
another bowl of olives, my mobile rings. The funk ball is on, it’s been moved to an inside venue. Am I game? "Hey Christine,
fancy a baile funk in Cidade de Deus?" "Sure, why not?" So off we head, for one of my most memorable nights in Rio to date.

I hail a taxi and ask the driver to take us to Jacarepaguá,
and then I become overcome with guilt and I’m more specific about our location.
He pauses a moment, balances up the odds and says "hop in" ‘cos it’s a good fare. We clock up a
good R$ 30 (US$ 10) before reaching the bairro
and I direct him into the heart of the neighbourhood: the housing estate.
"We’re not going in there, are we?" our driver enquires pleadingly. "Yeh, of course." He stops the car and peals off his jacket. It
looks too much like a police uniform. We crawl forward and turn a corner, which reveals the toing and froing of individuals to
the sound of a distant thumping of music. We pull up near a group of young men hidden in the shadows and I wind down
the window and shout, in my heavily accented Portuguese:

"Where’s the entrance to the baile funk?"

One of the enshadowed company steps forward. The first thing I see is the shine of the machinegun by his side. I
don’t get a good look good at his hardened, youthful features until he is so close that his weapon is tapping against the door of
the taxi. He asks me what my business is and I tell him we are there for the
baile funk and give him the name of my contact.
He asks us all to step out of the vehicle. The taxi driver does so in panic, with his hands on his head.

I try to act as normal as possible, appreciating the fact that the guy is just doing his job. After all, some taxi has just
rolled in and a jumped-up gringo goes screeching out of the window for directions. Christine seems the calmest of us all, but
then she’s from New York and is no doubt a regular window-shopper at
Guns Are Us. I reach delicately into my pocket and
produce my contact’s business card, which does little to impress my armed friend who doesn’t recognise the name. Then, as if by
magic, the man on the business card, Tony Barros, a local resident and photographer, appears. It was a good job I phoned him
en route.

We are escorted into a world that reminds me of
a Terminator film. Mopeds slalom through the crowds, always
mounted by two young men, the passenger with a rifle clutched to his chest, pointing towards the heavens. The mass-produced,
ever-so-cheap Colt AR-5 assault rifle seems to be favoured here, though I spot the familiar constructivist barrel of a
Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle too. I wish I had my
I-Spy Book of Firearms with me. As we enter all eyes are on us, we almost
shine out in our whiteness which is heightened by the inappropriateness of our dress. The eyes will not leave us throughout the
night, especially those of Tony who does not let us out of his sight.

In the safety of a group of friends, a bunch of models who I’ve done some work with, we start to loosen up our hips
to a funk version of the Pink Panther and other funk classics, such as
Tá Ligado and Bochecha
Ardendo. Christine gets into some formation dancing with the models and I watch, glad to have arrived with a fellow gringo on my arm who appears
to be my better half.

At least I won’t get knobbled for trying to steal the local lasses. I try to relax, get into the music and dance a bit, but
I am not permitted to. My rhythm is constantly broken by small groups of young men who need to pass, who need to walk
through exactly where I am dancing. They size me up, approach me and I, of course, step aside. Such groups come at me from
all directions, even from behind, and I, of course, step aside. Wherever I move to, whatever part of the dance floor I
occupy, they come at me. I even start to notice that the same wee groups pass through me on various occasions. I take it all in my
stride, or should I say in my step, my dancing step. Humbly, on my best non-confrontational behaviour I step aside with such
frequency that I start to incorporate it into my dance, whipping to the side and back again with the ease of a swing door.

So the game continues. Under the local microscope, all see that the gringo yields without fail and those crossing my
peace-loving path become more diverse. Groups of woman start to bustle through, nudging me with their bony elbows as they
pass. Small lines of young teenagers edge through me, and I still stick to my steps and dance the "step-aside."

Then come the kids and it’s all getting too much, they’re just taking the piss now. So I go to the bar for a bit of light
relief. Though being stared at intensely by everyone in the bar area, I am miraculously invisible to three crucial individuals at
this juncture of the evening: the bar staff. It is not until there is no other person at the bar waiting to be served that I
materialise into some form of existence. Finally I get my order of a
Guaravita in.

A mature looking gentlemen sidles up beside me. Would I like to snort some powder? Not really my beach, I inform
him, but thanks for the offer. Would I buy him a beer then? Of course. Cheeky sod probably didn’t have any coke in the first
place. This time I get served much quicker, but then look who I’ve got breathing down my neck.

The rhythm sets in for the rest of the evening with Christine formation dancing with the local models and me dancing
the step-aside, all under the watchful eye of Tony. Christine and I tire quickly, she through physical exertion and myself
through over-concentration. We are escorted out of the housing area to a main road where a taxi is more likely to pass. I feel
drained. "Did you enjoy the evening?" I’m asked by several of my local companions. "Yes, it was great," I reply in honesty,
though conscious of the fact that I never really relaxed. I think of the funk classic that played various times during the evening,
Tá Ligado? Yes, yes I am. To the point of exhaustion.


David Alexander Robert is a freelance writer and English Language Consultant who’s been living in Brazil for over
five years. He can be contacted on


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