Ex-Pat Life: Don Blanquito and His Amerioca
Way of Life

When I first read about an American ex-pat living in Rio called Don Blanquito in The New York Times, I thought he was far from being the bravest gringo living in my hometown. He wouldn’t be the first to appropriate from my culture and repackage it for international consumption. While I was reading the article, I came up with a list of labels wrapped in pre-conceived concepts. However, I am still a journalist at heart and when I decided to present a paper on Carioca Funk at the cross-cultural communication  class, Alex Cutler (Blanquito’s real name) seemed to be the perfect subject to spice up the discussion that I was trying to create.

It turns out that Cutler is a very nice guy. He replied to my email in a matter of hours and was very cool about helping a desperate MA student out. Knowing Rio well, I can imagine that entering the Carioca Funk scene was no easy task and kudos to Cutler for gaining the respect of a the locals. The interview published below is an edited version of last month’s email exchange between Cutler and I. Some of the answers can sound surprising to some readers, however, his sincere approach only shows that we ex-pats are constantly trying to make sense of a life divide by two different, but complementing cultures.

When was the first time you were exposed to the Brazilian Funk culture? How did this experience change your life?
Don Blanquito: I came to Rio for a week in 2004 and took a cab to the real City of God, wound up in a baile funk and was blown away by the hard core drums and jungle sounds. It changed my life later on after more trips to Rio and more visits to other favelas. It to me was the heartbeat of the Carioca, 130 bpm. It opened my eyes to the culture of Brazil and I identified a lot with it. Wild, fast lane, free.

What was missing in your life in the USA that you found in Brazil?
DB: Soul, living every day as my last within reason meaning no drugs etc. Free spirited cultures who wear flip flops every day and do bbq’s every weekend and who love life!

How do you feel as an international ambassador of the Brazilian Funk culture?
DB: I feel like music is a great way to expand other cultures horizons. It is a way to bring people together and expose people to culture in a non-conventional manner. If people are inspired or intrigued by the sounds, they’ll dig deeper. It’s a door opener. I am proud to be the first and to have penetrated such a hardcore culture and am proud to represent the US which is also an incredible culture.

How do your lyrics reflect your reality as an ex-pat in Rio?
DB: They reflect my day to day and what I see here as a foreigner and as a “local.” Sex, party and fun. I just try to make it expressible in a way that is fun, funny and tactful so that mama can still bump to it.

Who are the Brazilian MCs that inspire your work?
DB: Mr Catra is a classic, Mc Smith is a great. My Dj is also a big influence on my music (Dj F2). I love Seu Jorge and Vanessa da Matta who aren’t Funk Mc’s, but are Brazil puro (pure Brazil).

Is there anything in the Brazilian Funk culture that wouldn’t be accepted in your home country?
DB: It is very offensive at times and sexual, probably a bit hardcore for the US even though hip hop is also very hard core too at times. I think Funk is too intense for the US culture as the US is a bit more calm than the Carioca culture. I think that the Tambor, which is the underlying beat for all funk music is more at the pace of Rio day to day life. Funk montagem usually has a light and a proibidão version in which the light version might have a double meaning. The Rio culture jokes a lot and therefore most of the music is funny and or sexual. Some of it could work I suppose. It would be a shock to the US.

How did the Brazilian Funk culture help you to settle in Rio? Do you feel that you’re part of the Brazilian overall culture and values?
DB: It brought me to places I would probably never go to due to shows in so many places. It got me into doors and into the cultures arms through the music as opposed to just being a regular gringo. I have a Carioca soul and state of mind, but with a US tempero. Amerioca.

Thanks again, Don Blanquito, for the interview!

About Veronica Heringer

An award-winning digital strategist experienced in creating integrated campaigns for local and international brands and non-profit organizations, Veronica Heringer currently serves as Transmedia Strategist for Smokebomb Entertainment. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), and recently completed a Masters of Arts in Media Production at Ryerson University. Her Ryerson project, My Name is Jessica Klein, explores the connection between content, new technologies and audiences through the use of social media and won the 2012 Innovative Storyteller $20,000 Mentorship Initiative Award from marblemedia, a Toronto-based transmedia producer, and Corus Entertainment.
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  • Regina Sanchez

    He’s the real deal, me and my friends met him on a trip to Rio.

  • Thaddeus Blanchette

    Veronica, I’m curious as to why you, a white, Brazilian, middle-class woman – a patricinha, to not put too fine a point on it – seem to feel that Cutler was “appropriating your culture” by performing funque music in north zone favelas.

    Are you seriously saying that a culture is somehow “yours” simply because its makers and you share a common citizenship?

    Also, I’m curious as to why you seem to think of Cutler and yourself as “ex-pats” instead of immigrants?

    • http://www.facebook.com/veronica.heringer Veronica Heringer

      Great points. Thaddeus! Thanks!

      First of all, I’m very surprised that I can be perceived as a “patricinha” online… and, honestly, very confused by this finding! For someone who bounced between Lins de Vasconcellos and Campo Grande while growing up, being called a “patricinha” is something very new to me… Don’t even know how I should react to this new label.

      Yes, in Brazil, I’m definitely perceived as a white, middle-class woman… I was even considered part of the “intellectual elite” category for a while. However, that never made me question the way that I enjoy Brazilian Funk and identify with some of its values. The way I think about the life in the favelas was very much shaped by the songs of the 90s, most of these songs shaped some of my undergrad research in Brazilian culture at PUC. I’m definitely very fortunate to have broken some of the molds and, may be my skin colour or luck, be able to achieve personal and professional success in a way that some of my high school friends or neighbours could never dream of.

      Regarding appropriation, the term/word was very much motivated by the cross-cultural communication paper that I was writing at the time I interviewed Don Blanquito. And I used the term more inspired by Oswald de Andrade’s idea that one should absorb foreign culture to re-create its own, which I see as something positive, rather than claiming ownership of something that doesn’t belong to you. It’s not about my citizenship, I’m Brazilian but will never claim that frevo has shaped my Brazilian identity, Bossa Nova and Brazilian funk on the other hand…

      Is Don Blanquito an immigrant? Maybe I should follow up on that! I used the term during the interview and he didn’t raise any red flags or corrected me. As for myself, hummm… I’m definitely an ex-pat when saudade of my homeland strikes, an immigrant in the eyes of the Canadian government (mostly motivated by the way they think I vote), and a New Canadian when I think of my future here :)

      Thanks for your questions! They made me think a lot about the blog’s reach and what I share online…. Feel free to keep the conversation going.