Pubdate: Thu, 09 Dec 1999
Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Copyright: 1999 Scripps Howard
Author: unknown


RIO DE JANEIRO  (Scripps Howard News Service) -- Brazilian authorities have launched a crackdown on a violent dance craze amid fears that it has claimed the lives of more than a hundred young people.

``Funk balls'' divide Rio's impoverished youth into two gangs which take
part in organized fights each weekend at dozens of illegal all-night
``raves.'' About 300,000 young people regularly attend funk balls at more
than 100 venues.

But the state government, which has ordered an official inquiry, says the
events encourage violence, corrupt minors and are linked to drugs. In the
last 2-1/2 weeks, two leading party organizers have been arrested and
charged with inciting violence.

The funk ball phenomenon, which is unique to Rio de Janeiro, has spawned
its own type of music, street fashion and language.

The dance floors are divided into two by a 3.3-foot-wide ``corridor,''
which is monitored by security guards. Youths on the front line of each
side are goaded into fighting the other with kicks and punches. A first aid
center is on hand in case of injuries.

The DJs build up an atmosphere and the fighting starts when certain records
- -- including the theme tune from the old U.S. TV western series ``Bonanza''
- -- are played. If the fighting becomes too violent the music stops, the
lights go on and the people return to their respective sides.

The ``funkeiros'' (partygoers) tend to be between 15 and 22 and from the
hillside ``favela'' shanty towns or from the poorest suburbs.

``These people do not have access to any leisure facilities. The only thing
that they have is funk balls,'' says Roberto de Carvalho, a spokesman for
Alberto Brizola, the state deputy who is leading the parliamentary inquiry.
``But the funkeiros are being used by promoters to destroy themselves. The
promoters incite the combat. They are using their energy to kill each
other. They should be using it more positively.''

A funk ball hotline was set up last week following the launch of Brizola's
inquiry. It received 200 calls within a few hours, with many alleging that
at least 100 youths have been killed during fighting.

``If someone dies at a ball they are hidden and put somewhere else to cover
it up,'' de Carvalho said. ``We have a duty to look after the public
health. We are intervening to improve their human rights.''

But many academics believe that the funk ball phenomenon has given Rio's
deprived youth a sense of pride.

``People who are not from that world think that the fighting is out of
control. But it is not. It is very much for theater,'' says Hermano Vianna,
who wrote a book about funk balls during the late 1980s.

He likened it to ``capoeira,'' a fighting style that originated in slave
camps in north-east Brazil but which developed into a dance. ``It is
difficult to believe that the balls produce violence in themselves. The
violence is related to what is going on in the city outside,'' he said.

Since the funk balls developed from parties playing U.S. soul music in the
early 1970s, a sophisticated organizational structure has grown up around
them. Leading members of each gang -- ``Side A favelas'' and ``Side B
favelas'' -- meet during the week to discuss who will fight whom. On the
night of the party, buses pick up each of the sides and deliver them at
different times so that they can enter separately.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst