The Corridors of Funk in Rio de Janeiro: Meaning, Violence, and Contestations of Space
Patrick Murphy, PhD Student, Music
The empty space separating the two throngs of fighters always seems tenuous during a Rio de Janeiro corridor event. The empty corridor is not officially demarcated, but rather has a sinuous imaginary band of unoccupied space which narrows and widens as it cuts through the galeras, the groups of hundreds of young men participating every weekend who come together under the banner of neighborhood pride. Galera members do not establish themselves inside the corridor space. On the contrary, the corridor is where they dash through to throw punches and kicks against rivals before quickly returning to their side. Sometimes small groups will thrust forward as a larger mass, and it is at these moments that it seems as if the event will erupt into a generalized brawl—but that seldom happens. Instead, what occurs is a winding movement of the corridor as the groups move forward and backward while off-duty cops, hired as security, hold off the most agitated fighters. What is so surprising, however, is how the corridor space is restored after the most agitated of clashes, reestablishing the dividing line between the opposing groups.
Music is fundamental. During events, loud Rio de Janeiro funk is played over and over. The music is not to be confused with what a typical American listener might understand to be funk. Instead, it more closely resembles rap, dub, or hip-hop—black electronic musics that emerged slightly earlier than Rio funk. In funk played at corridor events, lyrics reinforce the power and virility of the participating galeras. Songs may also ridicule rivals, but the music—sung by men, played by men, and performed for men—seems to instill in the participants the will to fight and to win. These funk montagens, as they are called, are produced specifically for the brawls, and signal, once they begin to play, that the fighting is about to start. Every galera has its own montagem, and they each feature lyrics referencing particular neighborhoods or favelas. Their sheer loudness and fast tempos inspire fighters to engage more readily, while their throbbing bass sounds resonate throughout the large warehouses or gymnasiums where corridor events are usually held. In attempts to cool down spirits, DJs sometimes switch to music which does not reference the galeras, but this is usually not the case. What we see and hear time and again in the corridors are DJs stimulating the participants, playing montagens referencing the participating galeras, and playing them louder and louder.
Corridor events in Rio made their first appearances in the 1980s, and became extraordinarily popular during the following decade. However, by the end of the 1990s, corridor dances came to an abrupt halt, giving way to other manifestations of festive funk. It is only in the past couple of years that the corridors have once again received major media attention, raising the question whether they are making a full-blown return. Here you can see footage from a corridor event occurring during the 1990s:
Figure 1. Screen shot from corridor dance available in YouTube. CW: Physical Altercation
My overarching concern regarding corridor events, prior to my fieldwork, is to investigate the meaning of these popular cultural manifestations for the city of Rio. Why did corridor dances occur in Rio during these particular periods? In what ways are they in dialogue with the history and social conditions of the city? I seek to better understand what stimulated their emergence in the 1980s, grasp what conditions led to their demise at the end of the twentieth century and, finally, shed light on the circumstances which have led to their recent return. Furthermore, given the rise, fall, and rise again of corridor events, I ask how this popular manifestation has adapted throughout the years in response to its social settings. And I ask, perhaps more importantly, in what ways it has acted upon those very same circumstances.
While much research and in-the-field investigation are yet to be done, I have a few preliminary ideas as to what corridor events represent for Rio. I hypothesize corridor events, at least in their earlier iteration in the 1980s and 1990s, were performances connected to the Brazilian transition from a military dictatorship into a democratic regime. The circumstances of Brazil’s emerging democracy, after a period of military rule that lasted more than 20 years and the ratification of the celebrated 1988 Constitution, nicknamed the “Citizens” Constitution for having been written during the period of redemocratization, served as important conditions that set the stage for this cultural manifestation. As a performance where participants dispute space through violent confrontation under the rubric of informal rules, and where neighborhood identity stands as a fundamental feature, I believe corridor events served in the 1980s and 90s as symbolic claims over city-spaces by groups who have repeatedly had their living arrangements contested legally and, at critical times, violently by authoritarian governments. Corridor events thus can be understood to represent the increasing degrees of rootedness in the city of Rio by neglected groups, usually black and impoverished citizens who, since the beginning of the Brazilian Republic (1889), have been targeted by eviction procedures designed to push them out of the city center, toward peripheries. With the coming of democracy, corridor events functioned to symbolically clamor for a place in the city, given that the newly established democratic condition increasingly sheltered favelas from evictions as the previously disenfranchised gained electoral power through the ballot box.
But even though the corridors were popular throughout the city, they were eventually outlawed by the state of Rio de Janeiro. Law 3.410 of the year 2000 stated that “the police force may interdict the club and/or place where acts of encouraged violence, eroticism, and pornography occur, as well as where the so-called corridor of death dance is found” while also “permitting the occurrence of bailes only with the presence of police officers and previous authorization from police authorities.” According to a corridor participant I interviewed, the law was effective. Events he attended shortly after the law was passed were targeted by police, who fined the organizing parties and, at times, simply shut down entire events.
Although the law played a critical role in shutting down the corridors, events were already going through important transformations. In her revelatory research, social scientist and scholar Carla Mattos shows how the competing drug factions of Rio, as they gained control over different neighborhoods and favelas throughout the 1990s, urged galeras to fight groups living in neighborhoods under the control of rival factions. According to a former corridor participant she interviewed, these new impositions buttressed the dismantling of the corridors, since galeras had to follow the rules of the factions instead of basing their participation on previous alliances and rivalries. What eventually happened, according to this informant, is that the corridors ceased to symbolize neighborhood identity and became tethered to competing drug groups, a condition which, along with the aforementioned legal changes, contributed to the demise of corridors in the early twenty-first century.
Law 3.410 of 2000 was repealed in 2008 but that did not mean the corridors made a timely comeback. On the contrary, there was not much talk about corridor events until 2019, at least to my knowledge. The same informant with whom I spoke reinforced the notion that they have remained a thing of the past.
But much remains to be investigated regarding contemporary corridors. Although at first glance recent footage reveals that corridors share similarities with the events of the 1980s and 1990s—two competing sides fighting across an empty space policed by informal security guards continues to be the norm—one can’t help but ask if they are indeed the same. Have the drug factions successfully implemented the changes suggested in the research presented by Carla Mattos? If so, how have corridor events changed in their organization and, perhaps more importantly, their meaning? These are my initial questions concerning contemporary corridors, questions which, in my view, will require further ethnographic research to be answered.
Alvim, Rosilene and Eugênia Paim. “A Febre que nunca passa: O Funk, a sensualidade e o ‘Baile do Prazer.” Revista Diálogos, no. 2 (2010).
Cecchetto, Fátima. “Galeras funk cariocas: os bailes e a constituição do ethos guerreiro.” In Um Século de Favela, edited by Alba Zaluar and Marcos Alvito, 145–165. Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 1998.
Cecchetto, Fátima. “As galeras funk cariocas: entre o lúdico e o violento.” In Galeras cariocas: territórios de conflitos e encontros culturais, edited by Hermano Vianna, 93–116. Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 1997.
Fischer, Brodwyn. A Poverty of Rights: Citizenship and Inequality in Twentieth-Century Rio de Janeiro. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. 2008.
Mattos, Carla. “Da valentia à eurose: Criminalização das galeras funk, ‘paz’ e (auto)regulação das condutas nas favelas.” DILEMAS: Revista de Estudos do Conflito e Controle Social 5, no. 4 (2012).
McCann, Bryan. Hard Times in the Marvelous City: From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.
Perlman, Janice. Favela: Four Decades of Living on the Edge of Rio de Janeiro. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010.
Vianna, Hermano. O Baile Funk Carioca: Festas e Estilos de Vida Metropolitanos. Rio de Janeiro: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, 1987.
Ventura, Zuenir. Cidade Partida. São Paulo: Editora Companhia das Letras, 1994.
 There are several videos of corridor events on YouTube. A good written description of corridor events may be found in Cecchetto, “Galeras funk cariocas: os bailes e a constituição do ethos guerreiro.”
 Ventura, Cidade Partida, 122.
 Examples of corridor montagens may easily be found in YouTube searches. The following link has several montagens strung together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pf95_dTSh7Q&t=2456s
 Vianna, O Baile Funk Carioca, 82.
 Cecchetto, “Galeras Funk Cariocas,” 106.
 Alvim and Paim, “A Febre que nunca passa,” 41.
 For deeper discussions concerning informal living and government policy concerning land tenure in Rio, see Fischer (2008), McCann (2014), Perlman (2010), among others.
 The online archive of the Legislative Assembly of the state of Rio de Janeiro lists laws both for the state of Rio de Janeiro and the municipality of Rio, accessed on November 26, 2020, http://alerjln1.alerj.rj.gov.br/contlei.nsf/b24a2da5a077847c032564f4005d4bf2/756831a75d413aa4032568ef005562d8?OpenDocument.
 Phone interview on May 18, 2020.
 Carla dos Santos Mattos, “Da Valentia à Neurose,” 669-70.
 Recent footage was widely circulated by mainstream media outlets, such as UOL, Globo, and Record. A link follows. https://g1.globo.com/rj/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2020/11/09/confusao-em-baile-funk-deixa-um-morto-e-dois-baleados-em-belford-roxo-no-rj-video.ghtml