Funk Melody and the cleansing of the western "feminine"

I've talked about what kind of selection the global ghettotech community does out of the totality of music in the world before. I didn't want to bring up gender then - it seemed superfluous to the argument - but I'm going to give it a small taster now in very general terms, to see how it goes down. And I'm going to start with our relationship to Brazil.

A couple of months ago I started listening to old compilations of Rio Funk from the late eighties and early nineties. For being a genre with such a poverty-related image, it's certainly fairly well-documented online, and it's fascinating to chart the progression of the music from essentially electro with bass elements to something quite distinct entirely.

But equally fascinating is the way the genre is much less homogeneous than I'd imagined. Up to the mid-nineties, half the tracks on Funk compilations would not be harsh songs about crime and hard partying, but instead stuff like this:

This is funk melody, perhaps most closely related to latin freestyle but diversely influenced by not least contemporary eurodance and older latin styles. It's romantic, values pop lightness and rhythmic complexity, and should fit nicely into a history of today's global landscape with genres like UK funky bringing the brighter values to the front again. And indeed, a bit of Youtube googling reveals a treasure trove of today's equivalents, a lot of which show a lot of promise and connect to what's going on elsewhere while retaining that essential freestyle feel.

So why doesn't any of it come across? None of the blogs cover it, it receives a cursory mention on a few history pages, but in general the music that comes off the funk scene and makes it to our end of the world is hard, unmelodic, and probably deals with drugs and violence. Sure it's a stereotype, a simplification of a complex scene into just one sound, but I also think there's more to it.

I think that this genre is routinely excluded off western DJ sets because it contains supposedly feminine elements. And I think it makes a good starting point for getting that gender discussion going properly.

I'm firmly in the camp that believes gender (and probably even sex) to be a social construction. If we're going to gender analyse a broad spectrum of culture this is a bit of a problem. What constitutes "male" and "female" properties varies greatly across the world, and many cultures have more than two gender categories altogether. Without intimate knowledge of a particular cultural context, it's difficult to find and criticise gender structures and inequalities, especially when they're not readily apparent in text or visual presentation.

Music, especially, is difficult to assess this way. Music as a language, if it can be considered a language at all, is imprecise and wholly fictional. There's nothing that obviously connects any one sound to any one mood or idea, besides cultural convention. Minor key does not equal sadness. Brass instruments do not equal militarism. Or rather, they do, but only to those with a particular background and education. Returning to the issue at hand, some things that appear to break or affirm gender norms in non-Eurocentric-elite music do nothing of the sort - since they need to be read in their own contexts. Bass rumble, to take a very concrete example, is often seen as something particularly male, but in other contexts it's considered "for the ladies"...

But that surely doesn't really matter. Because as much as we like to think otherwise, us music bloggers and global ghettotech DJs are very much touching on that other tradition - the Eurocentric elitist one - the "western" one. In which there are set ideas about what's feminine and masculine in music going back to the 18th century and beyond, and which can't readily be dismissed as outside our experience since most of us have grown up with it or had it partially imposed upon us. From a "western" cultural context, "masculine" means aggressive, large, loud, boastful, technically oriented, hard... And "feminine" means romantic, restrained, quiet, warm, organic.

My contention - and I don't think this is entirely controversial - is that music that embodies the "masculine" qualities as taken from the "western" tradition has fared a lot better in global ghettotech than that which is "feminine" by the same standards. And that this is a significant contributing reason something like prohibidao gets more releases and mixtape inclusions than funk melody. I think this might slowly be changing - genres like zouklove that are "feminine" are no longer entirely ignored - but this still seems to be the overwhelming pattern, and I think we need to take a particularly close look at it if we've got a desire to "convey" something at all and feel good about ourselves as music-filterers.

What do you guys think?

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