After all the rage of SXSW last month, I managed to stumble upon a video from Diplo’s premiere of Favela On Blast. According to Mr. Paper Planes, the DJ/producer’s new film, which profiles Brazil’s renowned favelas took 25 years to make. An exaggeration I’m sure, but I can honestly say it took me at least 27 years just to get a glimpse of life in the impoverished neighborhoods.
I think it was Treach from Naughty by Nature who said it best: “If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto, ’cause you wouldn’t understand the ghetto, and stay the fuck out of the ghetto.” So to be fair, what’s the deal with our fascination with the grittier side of life? The crossover success of Slumdog Millionaire helped opened America’s eyes to the extreme poverty that plagues India. City of God shows that the favelas are the realest shit you’ll ever see. But between the drugs, and violence rooted in these towns that sit in clear view of the iconic Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro, somewhere lies the freedom from those perils. It lies the power of music. Diplo and director Leandro Hbl give light to the vibrant music scene in Rio which ultimately makes the favelas more inviting despite the stereotype of one day staring down the barrel of a pistol at the hands of an adolescent. If only my commercial tour guide saw it that way instead of glossing over the surface by pointing to them from a far. The offer to explore more of Rio by a random stranger in front of my hotel (for a lesser price by way of his limousine) now seems like a better choice, but allow me to stress the random stranger part yet again.
As seen in the teaser for Favela On Blast, the basic elements of a party aren’t jaded by the pretentiousness of bottle service and inexperienced deejays, like say for instance, in New York. Very few places still hold onto the essence of a dance party—an experienced DJ, a surplus of drugs and alcohol (if you’re over 18, of course), and maybe a strobe light if the mood is right. Since college, I almost forgot even the joys of public intoxication. On the night of Valentine’s day, I stood in the doorway of a bar/café listening to the beat of pots, pans, and I think a cowbell, watching people shuffle their feet either to the music, or just for a quick dance with a pretty young thing before strolling into a proper club. A good time is never too far away in Rio as I’ve learned. A walk around the corner from where I stood, balie-funk rhythms poured out of what smelled like a horse stable. I’d bet the three Reais spent on my caipirinha that it was, or still is a horse stable.
It turns out that Favela On Blast was still being filmed and edited during my trip in February. Leandro Hbl tirelessly worked on putting together what seems to be a true representation of the culture that lies in the favelas. We were supposed to meet up for a drink but our schedules conflicted. Still he was generous enough to make good recommendations for me and my lady during our stay. One of them was a party near the favelas where an American rapper was performing. Mind you, my spanish is strong, buy my portuguese needs serious work because I mistook Ja Rule for an unknown person named “Jaou,” during my phone conversation with Leandro. Yes, the Ja Rule made an appearance in Rio, and became the talk of the town the next day in the news. Who would have known that his fame hadn’t waned since his war with 50 Cent in the U.S.? The only answer I can think of lies in how his music videos (“Put It On Me,” “Holla, Holla,” “Things That You Do”) have the same light-hearted vibe that girls in Rio dig. And speaking of Brazilian girls (not the electro-rock band), sure thongs are the norm but I had to lift my jaw from out of the sand when I watched the most bronzed woman I’ve ever seen in my life do a round of stretches just a few feet away. Before the young lady even spread her towel, she simply put her bag down, stared at the ocean for a few seconds, took in a few deep breaths of the fresh air, and bent her body in directions men would imagine themselves, ahem, helping her with. As irregular as the five-minute stretch routine seemed, as expected it was interrupted by one ambitious guy, who was rejected like the local sales-hungry street vendors. Her finely toned limbs walked away. That was Rio in all it’s splendor. Until my next installment in this three-part recap of South America, see photos from the trip below.