music journalist since 1992 | educator since 2004 | podcaster since 2020 | Iranian American since birth
Diplo’s documentary, Favela On Blast (Mad Decent) reviewed for Venus Zine:
Favela On Blast
Documentary Review: Favela on Blast (Mad Decent)
Diplo’s story of the music and culture thriving in Brazilian slums
By Lily Moayeri
Published: August 10th, 2010 | 3:10pm
This 75-minute, wholly subtitled documentary has been five years in the making focuses on the music, culture, and personalities in the slums outside of Rio de Janeiro, locally known as favelas. Inspired by a DJ gig that extended to a vacation in Brazil, DJ Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz) has put himself at great personal risk to see this film to fruition, involving local co-director and co-producer Leandro HBL and enlisting the help of revolving insiders.
“People that helped me before, some of them went missing. Drug dealers that were letting us into the parties are dead now,” said Diplo during one of our early conversations about the project. “Every time I [went] to Brazil, I [had] to start all over again because the culture is like Children of the Corn.”
Inside these destitute, dangerous, and drug-ridden shantytowns there is a vibrant and thriving music scene known as funk carioca. The result of infusing American electronic funk into a myriad of Brazilian music styles, funk carioca—referred to simply as “funk”—is identified by its “huge drum.” If the name isn’t familiar, the sound certainly is. The bass heavy, ghetto bottom-shaking rhythms are what drives M.I.A.’s music, not to mention Buraka Som Sistema, and any number of tracks that are storming dancefloors worldwide.
The camera and microphone are turned on the “stars” of this thriving scene. Part vacation camcorder, part rave YouTube clip, part City Of God (which took place in this locale 20 years earlier), Favela has an intimate connection with its subjects. In some cases it is like they aren’t aware of being filmed—a much closer and more genuine representation. In other cases, they are hamming it up—slightly tedious and tiring.
There is a disconnection to the film’s narrative as it moves between various (and almost too many) musicians without one voice pulling it all together. Among the personalities/narrators are DJ Marlboro, MC Colibri, DJ Grandmaster Rafael, DJ Sany Pitbull, and Dieze Tigrona—the last being one of many female MCs populating the favelas. To quote a classic from a group of these ladies, “We don’t want husbands. We want several idiots to back us.”
This message is representative of the straightforwardness of funk carioca lyrics. Overtly sexual—as are the borderline offensive dance moves witnessed on Favela—there is a lot of skin on display. This scenery, much like that of the whole film, is a combination of picturesque and impoverished: broken down one-story shacks are set against majestic green mountains.
Favela immerses the viewer into the surroundings that define the characters that define the music. From scenes that show the setting up of a wall of bass-shattering speakers in the ghetto, to witnessing live electronic music being produced instantly at a packed event, to video makers who took five months to make one clip, to numerous half-naked children including ones in the Formiga community who rap/sing to handclaps—one definitely gets a taste for the favelas and all they encompass, even if at times the point is overly stated with repetitive party scenes.
“I [wanted] to make something that’s authentic and shows what’s going on with these kids,” said Diplo. “The real roots of the movement.”