“Boss women”: An interview with female funk MCs Tasha and Tracie Okereke
Brazilian funk is a musical rhythm mixing the American electronic funk of the 1980s with the most diverse influences of Brazilian music. Performed at wild parties called baile funks, the scene is largely male dominated and many of the lyrics in songs are regarded as shockingly misogynistic. Despite this, various female funk MCs and DJs are emerging, reclaiming the genre and inspiring a new generation of independent Brazilian women.
We talked to three of them to find out more about what funk means to them. First up is Tasha & Tracie Okereke, twins, fashion bloggers and activists, and an inimitable musical duo from Sao Paulo.
Read our interview with them below, where they speak to us about preserving the history of funk from Sao Paulo, putaria, and being the reference they needed when they were teenagers.
COLORS: How would you describe funk to someone who hadn’t heard of it before?
Tasha & Tracie: Funk is almost like an ancestral rhythm. Like hip-hop, it’s always reinventing itself. It’s rich and diverse… there’s nothing you can really compare it to.
COLORS: Do you remember the first time you heard funk music?
T&T: There’s this religious celebration in Brazil around June and July called Quermesse. During this time, there are free concerts in the streets in the quebradas, which are areas on the outskirts of the city. Everyone goes outside to meet each other and listen to music. Even people who don’t live in the quebradas any more come back to join in. We probably heard funk for the first time during one of these celebrations.
COLORS: How would you describe your musical style?
T&T: It’s important for us to mix new funk with older funk sounds as a way to preserve the history of funk in Sao Paulo. We also like to mix funk with rap, trap, grime, and drill. Our music is basically a mix of all the different genres we like.
COLORS: Funk is a male-dominated scene. Is it tough to be a woman in this context?
T&T: The music industry has always been oppressive for women, as has society in general. When women become visible in the funk scene, they are listened to: in funk, your appearance and age really don’t matter. It’s about your voice, your music, and people’s ability to access it. But it’s the question of access and distribution that’s the problem, as most funk studios are run by men.
New technologies are making it easier for independent artists, including women, to create music at home on their phones and release it on the internet, cutting out the middleman and going straight to the public. So things are changing.
In reference to funk lyrics, they do often include a lot of putaria—a conservative Portuguese term referring to swear words or dirty words in music—but when women sing them it feels empowering. It’s not the same as when men sing them about women.
“We sell the boss woman image for people like us from the favelas.”
COLORS: Do you want to be role models for other women and girls in Brazil? We know that outside of music you have a blog, Expensive Shit, which celebrates Black women from the favelas.
T&T: We are trying to be the reference that we wanted when we were teenagers, to sing the things that we needed to hear. We used to buy magazines and it was like looking into another reality. We wanted to see people like us, but there never seemed to be anyone or anything featured that was connected to our culture.
We want to make women feel like they can be independent. That’s the most important message we want to get across with everything we do. We sell the boss woman image for people like us from the favelas. We want to speak to the girls who work in supermarkets, or the girls who don’t have a lot of money, but that always manage to pay their bills, get their nails done, and that don’t need a man to take care of them.
“We are trying to be the reference that we wanted when we were teenagers.”