‘Forget drug gangs, Rio’s favelas are for partying’

This article was written by Graham Vincent

The allure of Rio de Janeiro is beguiling; the white, sandy beaches, the beautiful people, the breathtaking landscape.

Yet an altogether more ‘real’ Rio experience is enthralling tourists, predominantly backpackers.

The music is frenetic, the atmosphere intense. Semi-naked bodies writhe to the pounding beat of the music. Gringoes almost seem incongruous in the surroundings of the huge dance hall, a smattering of sunburnt faces and wide grins in amongst the Cariocas.

A few years ago, this wouldn’t be possible. Now, thanks in part to the Rio de Janeiro state government’s pacification drive and a unique agreement in place between tour companies and the locals, tourists can experience that other entity synonymous with Rio life – baile funk.

Five miles north of the Miami of Brazil, Barra da Tijuca, lies Castelo das Pedras, a nightclub in the favela Rio das Pedras – the antithesis of Barra.

Most Brazilian middle and upper classes wouldn’t dare enter a favela. Full of gun-toting drug gangs and inexplicable violence, they say. But Rio das Pedras, and the club Castelo das Pedras, are safer than many favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and an informal understanding exists that no foreigner will be harmed.

Inside, baile funk blasts from the speakers, teen boys mill around while the girls do their things on the dance floor, bodies gyrate, caipirinhas and beer are consumed in huge quantities; you could almost forget you were in a Rio de Janeiro slum. Live music, dance-offs and fireworks feature prominently.

Baile funk was spawned in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1980’s. Derived from Miami bass, baile funk often espouses divisive topics like sex, violence, poverty and racial pride. Social analysts believe that the funk is a genuine expression of the severe social issues befalling the poor and black people of Rio.

Tours leave hostels and hotels in the Zona Sul, arriving at the party around midnight, by which time, the party is in full swing!

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