Favela Funk Finlandia started when music producer Flam, or Tommi Suoknuuti, was invited to Rio de Janeiro. The inviter was musician and activist Marcelo Yuka, and the purpose was to make music and hold workshops for the young in favelas. From the beginning, it was clear that ”when you go to a favela, you have to give more than you get”.

Text: Miika Koskela
Translation: Jaana Etula
Photos: Favela Funk Finlandia

TOMMI SUOKNUUTI, who had made trips to Brazil since he was a child, was immediately inspired by the idea of Finnish-Brazilian cultural exchange. For many reasons, Marcelo Yuka was just the right contact for the project. The two men met on the internet, and they soon discovered that, in addition to the same favourite artists, they shared the same idea of music as a force that unites people.

Yuka had become famous in Rio already in the 90s as the drummer and lyricist of hip hop band O Rappa. But his drumming career was cut short when the artist was shot nine times in front of his home. Yuka was paralysed from the waist down and sat in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Although he was no longer able to play the drums, Yuka continued his music career as a producer and songwriter. In the 2000s, the citizens of Rio also knew him as an activist who tirelessly fought for the people of favelas in a city torn apart by inequality. In 2012 he even ran for the mayor of Rio, and in 2014 he was a Grammy Award nominee for best Latin song.

Tommi Suoknuuti aka Flam
Tommi Suoknuuti aka Flam

Yuka believed that music can change the lives of poor young people. That’s why he wanted to take the Finnish musician deep into the poorest favelas.

SO SUOKNUUTI accepted Yuka’s invitation. Because the trip’s purpose was to record new songs, Suoknuuti asked a group of his musician friends to join his journey. Rap artists Paleface and Gracias as well as actor Joonas Saartamo, aka Jonde, were immediately ready to go.

Soon came an idea of recording the trip, and the gang grew by video production companies Balansia Films and Kameron. The trip was made in summer 2015, and a film directed by Terjo Aaltonen and produced by Jenni Jauri was premiered at the DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival in January 2017.

Katso Favela Funk Finlandia -dokumentin teaser. Yhteistyössä #HCPSPIRIT.

IN RIO, the schedule was tight. In less than a week, there were several gigs to be played, songs to be written and workshops to get organised.

The first workshop was held right on the outskirts of Rio’s suburbs in Valdariosa. In the area, there were approximately 1 500 homes, built in the middle of fields, and the residents – poor families from all over the city – were selected by drawing lots. There was no infrastructure, let alone cultural services. One single service was a kiosk that sold soft drinks, chocolate bars and cigarettes by the piece.

Almost 50 children and teenagers gathered in a small clubhouse in a block of flats, where they got power to a laptop and a portable speaker. So began a rap music improvisation workshop, and the only common language was rhythm.

”Regardless of culture, the workshops are always pretty much the same. The youngsters are timid at first, but they just need a little encouragement for self-expression. And after a little moment, they only need us for technical support and recording,” Suoknuuti says.

One of the attendants was a little shy but talented, dreadlocked rhymer Marcelo Italo. Italo played his first DJ gig already at the age of seven, and his passion for music did not remain unnoticed this time either.

When the documentary Favela Funk Finlandia was cut, Suoknuuti wanted real sounds of favelas to be included in the soundtrack. Marcelo Italo, aka Dree Beatmaker, had begun to produce his own music after the workshop, and his songs were bought for the documentary.

Of course, new music was made during the trip. Marcelo Yuka provided his home studio to the group. Paleface, Gracias, and Jonde made a joint baile funk song, featuring the studio’s assistant Paolo Cesar Goivaes, alias P.C.

Artist Gracias in Valdariosa
Artist Gracias in Valdariosa
After a session in Ciudade de Deus. Marcelo Yuka sitting in the middle with a trucker's cap on.
After a session in Ciudade de Deus. Marcelo Yuka sitting in the middle with a trucker's cap on.

THE FAVELA FUNK FINLANDIA cultural exchange became more than one trip to Brazil. It was Suoknuuti’s vision from the start to make the exchange something lasting and reciprocal.

In summer 2018, the stars of Rio’s workshops, Dree and P.C., travelled to Finland. Now they, in turn, held DJ and rap workshops for Finnish youngsters.

Vuosia Brasiliassa asunut muusikko Sami Kontola kertoo Dreen ja P.C.:n Suomen matkasta.

Role models like P.C. and Dree are examples for the young in favelas and also in Finland, showing that with hard work and passion, anyone can go a long way in life.

THE YEAR 2019 began with sad news for all baile funk fans. On January 18, the voice of the favelas,

Marcolo Yuka, died of long-term illness only at the age of 53. But his legacy lives in the young people of Rio de Janeiro who have found a direction in life from music.

And similarly lives on the Finnish-Brazilian cultural exchange. Dree will be gigging in Finland again next summer, and he is also planning to make music with Helsinki artists Cledos and Hassan Maikal. Suoknuuti also makes music with Dree, and is planning to travel again to Rio in the autumn.

Time will tell whether the documentary Favela Funk Finlandia gets a sequel some day.

Dree ja P.C. isännöivät DJ-työpajan ja jakoivat kokemuksiaan köyhistä oloista ponnistavina muusikoina Annatalolla kesällä 2018,