Category Archives: Africa

Anatomy Of The Groove For 2/20/2015-Andre’s Pick: “African Eyes” by Sister Sledge

Philadelphia’s original sisters of soul Kathy,Debbie,Joni and Kim Sledge took their beautiful traded vocal leads and harmonies into the public consciousness in 1975. Five years and two albums later they began a hugely successful period with Nile Rodgers’ Chic organization-churning out songs that,among many excellent ones,include the anthem “We Are Family”. After 1985 the group had an eight year hiatus from recording  to emerge as a trio,produced by the British acid jazz outfit Incognito, while Kathy pursued a solo career.

Another seven years later the group re-emerged,again as a trio, with a brand new album called African Eyes. It was independently released,self produced,self written and the only reason I ever heard about it was because of my mother. She very much enjoyed hearing new music at the now defunct Borders Books & Music listening stations during the late 1990’s. This particular album seemed to not only surprise but very much excite her,which I know from experience is somewhat rare in this case. When I heard the title song for this album later that day? I completely understood her enthusiasm for it. And thanks to my friend from Kiev, Ukraine Andrew Osterov? I can now present this song to you.

The song begins with a pounding drum call before one of the sisters shouts out a declarative dialog in what sounds like Portuguese or Spanish. After this the percussive drum parts,speeding up and slowing down with each vocal refrain, breaks out into an intense uptempo frenzy accented by first by a steely slap bass pop from Kevin Mauch on the body of the song,and than joined by a jazzy improvised muted trumpet melody courtesy of Jessie Maguire on the choruses. The bridge of the song returns to a much cooler variation of the percussive drumming-juxtaposing the sounds of children playing with a full solo from that muted trumpet and an African flute before returning to the chorus as the song fades to a close.

Never before or since I heard or even conceived of the Sledge sisters as creating music that was so instrumentally and thematically Afrocentric. The song musically embraces the strong ethnic identification inherent in the original 70’s funk era-with it’s percussive rhythms and jazz oriented horn voicings. Even the solos and harmonies of the Sledge’s vocals have a totally rhythmic freedom in their projection. Lyrically the song boldly encourages young black American’s to see the beauty in their African roots-even declaring “civilization started near the Euphrates,when Adam and Eve started creating babies with those eyes”. Even evoking the chorus of their hit “We Are Family” with a new cultural context on the bridge of the song. To me this is the epitome of Sister Sledges musical journey. And impressed the music world so much that the African Eyes album was nominated for a best produced CD Grammy. The result is a high water mark for them in terms of funky cultural identity.

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Filed under 1990s, Africa, Afrocentrism, Debbie Sledge, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Joni Sledge, Kathy Sledge, Kim Sledge, Nile Rodgers, percussion, Sister Sledge, slap bass, trumpet

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/12/2014 Andre’s Pick: “There’s A Better Way” by Jermaine Jackson

By the early 80’s Jermaine,the middle boy of the Jackson family,had developed something of a reputation of being a very singular musical talent and a mentor for the band Switch-thereby inadvertently introducing the DeBarge family to Motown in the process. How fitting it was that,by the time his career at Motown was coming to an end that the DeBarge’s were becoming sort of a new Jackson’s for the then less then certain record label. Of course even he was noticing his future might benefit from being elsewhere and left the label during 1983. His final Motown album was Let Me Tickle Your Fancy,which produced a title track that was a good sized pop chart hit that featured new wave band Devo. That songs bluesy funk/rock made up one of Jermaine’s finest and overall most funk oriented albums of his fine and funky Motown musical career. Still one song from this album continues to stand out uppermost in my mind in the almost twenty years since I first heard it. It’s called “There’s A Better Way”.

It all starts out with the the slow funky disco-dance 4/4 beat accentuated by a similar tempo’d Afro-Latin timed rhythm  percussion-as well as conga drumming from . This is soon joined by former  a deep,bassy Salsa style piano. Jermaine himself soon picks up on this playing a hiccuping jazzy funk bass/guitar interaction. After Jermaine’s lead vocals begin,each vocal chorus is accompanied by…well perhaps a Clavinet style keyboard melody. Jermaine accompanies himself vocally Marvin Gaye style-responding to himself vocally in his middle range and ethereal falsetto. During the middle bridge of the song,there is a flamenco style guitar melody accompanied by a steel drum like electronic synthesizer tone. The song fades back out into Jermaine’s original lead chorus. This has Jermaine singing a full on call and response vocal based on the songs title between his two distinct vocal personalities. This all combines to give the entire rhythmic and melodic core of the song,with it’s mixture of live drumming,percussion and electronic effects an extremely afro-futurist bent about it.

On a strictly personal level? This is one of those Jermaine Jackson songs that truly captivated me musically when I first heard. it. And the further along my own musical knowledge grows? The more this appreciation of this songs musical virtues does. Musically the influence of Stevie Wonder’s sound textures are very strong here. It has that mixture of Afro Latin percussion,thick layers of bass sounds and jazz oriented electronic synthesizer accents. The melodic progression of this tune is almost all vocal. Most of the instrumental elements are based almost entirely in rhythm. So it’s almost as if Jermaine was metaphorically singing while he were walking along to the steps of the shoes on his heat-each rhythm and melody has some type of counterpoint. This gives the possible effect that Jermaine,a known multi instrumentalist,may have played every instrumental part on this song. Considering the confusing nature of the album jacket listing talented jazz and funk players such as drummer Ollie Brown,guitarist Paul Jackson,Stevie Wonder keyboardist Ronnie Foster and Jermaine’s brother Randy on percussion? It’s not really known to me if this was done by one man or a group of musicians. The interaction could almost go either way sometimes.

When it all comes down to it? What really brings this song so much to life is the way in which the lyrical themes of the song correlates with the music. Marvin Gaye used a slow,almost proto Reggaeton rhythm on his song ‘Third World Girl” the same year as this. Though on this song? Jermaine showcases a slow,deep Afro latin style post disco friendly funky soul groove that’s stripped down and rhythmically chunky to illustrate his views on poverty. Very much in the spirit of Stevie Wonder on “Living For The City” and his brother Mike’s “Man In The Mirror” from six years after this? Jermaine points to people in any position of authority turning a blind eye to human suffering. As an individual artist? Jermaine’s lyrical message is more earnestly pleading. The chorus after all spells out that “you don’t know how it feels to be without/I don’t care what they say/I know there’s a better way”. Surely a “people music” pretext to the entire song. By also pointing out that “talk about generosity/it’s been done in other countries”,it’s clear Jermaine that the inequities in the treatment of black Americans and the exploitation of foreigners,some black themselves,are not at all lost on him. More over,he also sees other nations as being capable of helping themselves without anyone else’s assistance as well. So that cultural understand,plus the like minded instrumental approach,make this one of Jermaine’s most unsung musical standouts.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Africa, Afro-Futurism, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, Jermaine Jackson, Motown, Music, Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/03/14 Rique’s Pick: “Chicken Grease” by D’Angelo

When D’Angelo and his fellow Soulquarians and other collaborators such as Questlove, James Poysuer, the late great J Dilla, Raphael Saddiq and Pino Palladino got together to produce what would become the landmark smoky funk masterpiece “Voodoo”, they took a deep and studious approach to their craft. What came out of that is an album, that, as Saul Williams spoke of in his wonderful liner note essay, distilled the essence of many of the great artists of the Funk/Jazz/Soul boom into D’s brew. One of the most prominent flavors in that brew was the mercurial and kalaedoscopic funk of the artist who went back to his birth name, Prince, in the same year D’s album was released. “Chicken Grease” is a funky stepper from that album that is my pick for today’s Friday Funk Feature. The song takes it’s title from one of Prince’s funk music concepts, a name he has for a sixteenth note, droning, unaccented funk guitar figure that goes back to things such as the intro to The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” D’Angelo includes that “chicken grease” guitar part in this song, but the track itself was a manifesto of back to the basics new funk in the ’00s, with it’s dry sound and bopping, hip rhythm.

“Chicken Grease” begins with a drummer tapping out a New Orleans snare drum rhythm and people laughing and hanging out in the background. Soon after, Questlove kicks in with a dry, funky drum beat played in the classic rhythm style D and his co creators pioneered on this album. This album has been noted for it’s lazy, laid back swinging rhythms, mainly influenced by the late great Detroit Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jay Dee’s funky drum programming. Jay Dee went through great lengths to program his drums with the feeling of a human drummer. The result on “Voodoo” was an album whos beats felt like they came from an entirely different planet than what was popular on the radio at the time. Even live drummers had been focusing on making their drum beats as precise as the drum machine if they wanted to get work. The musicians on the tracks on this album adopted a laid back, behind the beat approach, the kind found in the work of Funk artists such as The Meters and Parliament-Funkadelic, and is a hallmark of New Orleans funk in particular.

After the drum beat kicks in, a clean guitar tone massages the ear, reminiscent of ’90s jazz-funk-hip hop fusions. A greasy, funky bass line soon joins it, totally avoiding the “one ” of the measure, letting the guitar part play on that beat, and playing off beat two. The guitar and bass points line up in holy matrimony on beat two. The bass rests and plays a funky phrase in the next bar. All in all the bass is a sparse, funky line that reminds one of the sparese type of funk you’d find on a hip hop record, but the tone is straight up dry funk!

As far as the “Chicken Grease” that Prince named, is it in the song? Yes, the droning funky guitar part can be found in several points of the tune, at one point in particular D asks for it and you can hear it chiming in in the background. As for the lyrics? D did something here close to a “true” funk song if you will. Funky beats can support any type of lyrical text, from political protest, to ballad themes, to sex, to novelty lyrics, to explicit gangster rap. But when James Brown made his seminal contribution to the funk groove with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, he hit with a lyrical text that simply described his amazement at the groove he had concocted with his band. From then on, a good portion of funk lyrics have simply described and reveled in how funky the groove was and what that groove would do to ‘ya. D’Angelo does this and approaches it in the manner of the original party starting hip hop M.C’s, even quoting one of the greatest, Rakim, saying, “Let the others go first/so the brothers won’t miss”, from the Eric B and Rakim classic “I Know You Got Soul.”

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was an album that surprised me when it came out. It promised a return to funk, but by the year 2000, Lauryn Hill and Outkast had already done that to various degrees with great success. But I never expected the type of lazy, dry toned, unaccented, grooving funk D’Angelo and co. gave us on this album, music inspired by the boom bap head nod of hip hop. Just as funk adapted itself to the up tempos of disco in the late ’70s, D tailored his funk to his love of the prevailing lyrically focused, slow but chunky hip hop of the ’90s. He also did it with a sound that used very few gimmicks or studio flourishes. I see that album more and more as D giving you the basic nutrients of funk, and he relaid the foundation so well he left artists coming behind him nothing to do but build up from there.

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Filed under 1990s, ?uestlove, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Lauryn Hill, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 08/29/14 Rique’s Pick : “Misrepresented People” by Stevie Wonder

Spike Lee most likely achieved a career long, and possibly life long dream when Stevie Wonder scored his 1991 film “Jungle Fever”, introducing us to his classic “These Three Words.” Stevie’s classic “Living for the City” was also featured very prominently in the film, during a hellish scene inside of a crack house. I remember the eager anticipation I had for 2000s film, “Bamboozled”, which was a satirical look at the hip hop driven black image at the edge of the 21st century, juxtaposing it with the minstrel image of 100 years earlier. Aside from my excitement for the film, there was also the promise of new music from Stevie Wonder. Todays Anatomy of THE Groove feature, “Misrepresented People” was a powerful and funky song on that soundtrack that told the history of black people in the United States of America and made the connection between the type of “misrepresentation” Spike was dealing with in his film as a very dangerous thing because its dehumanizing influence makes brutality possible.

The song starts off in classic cinematic Stevie fashion. One of the Wonder mans incredible abilities in his music and production is to create aural movies in his songs. He did it on tunes like “”Pasttime Paradise” and especially “Living for the City” with its jarring “Get in that cell, Nigger” interlude (skyscrapers and every THANG). He does it here through his choice of instruments and music to play his opening melody. Stevie uses a harpsichord sound with the sound of sail masts in the background, as he says “In 1492 you came across the shores/700 years educated by the Moors.” From the harpsichord music, the sounds of sails and Stevies slightly proper, slightly British inflections, you can vividly see the picture of the slave ships. For me, the contrast between the attempted holy sterility of the music and the European attitude with the indignity of the slave ships is especially powerful. Stevie goes on to speak of the Indian genocide and the African being marketed. Then he delivers the line that hits me the hardest, “In the so called land of God/my kind was treated hard.” Stevie goes on to deliver the chorus with a classical style melodic run that would become popular in R&B in the early ’00s.

About 1:15 in, a seriously funky groove kicks in. An analog synth type bass sound revs up, with a keyboard string sound embellishing the songs melody. The song is fully in the style of Stevie’s ’70s funk pieces, with a classical element reminiscent of “Village Ghetto Land” layered melodically on top of the mournful funk. Stevie goes on to tell the story of black people from the introduction of slavery in the U.S, to the Civil War and Antebellum Jim Crow period. Then around 2:34 into it, he makes a key change in his classic style. We feel the intensity increase, as Stevie brings us to “1969/Black powers at the door” replete with samples of a militant speech from that time. He goes on to carry the black story through the ’80s and ’90s until he gets to 1999, of which he says, “our colors fill the jails.”

This particular song had a great impact on me. It was true hardcore Stevie Wonder funk with a social message, along the lines of classics such as 1976’s “Black Man.” The song is one that gets to me quite deeply, because of the earnest passion Stevie displays in detailing the history of black people in America. The mixture of classical overtones and funk is one that is very rare and reminiscent of the great Bernie Worrells work with P-Funk. Stevie Wonder takes a powerful moral approach in this song, like great figures such as Maya Angelou, Malcom X, and Dr. Martin Luther King took. He makes his point about the evils of black misrepresentation, both outside coonery imposed from those who neither understand nor care, and what Raashan Roland Kirk termed “Volunteer Slavery”, not through simply bemoaning every ignorant thing he sees. No, he details the hurts African Americans have experienced in this country as if to say, “if you really realized what we’ve been through you’d never allow yourself to be potrayed in that manner.” In that way, this funky song is a song of enlightenment. This song and message was one I particularly appreciated because in 1999/2000 there was so little music that carried such a powerful black political and historical message. It’s a true 21st Century classic from Mr. Stevie Wonder and needs to be heard today, as so many in this culture of over exposure go further and further down the path of misrepresentation.

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Filed under Africa, Blogging, Stevie Wonder

The Anatomy of the Groove 7/18/14 Rique’s Pick : “Din Daa Da” by The Roots

There is no minimizing the good Philadelphia’s Legendary Roots Crew has done in their time in the public eye as a Hip Hop based band.  The Collective has produced critically acclaimed albums, had members produce legends such as Al Green, collaborated with idiosyncratic masters like Elvis Costello, backed great singers like John Legend, and spearheaded the Neo Soul movement through the Soulquarians collective. The Roots have shouldered a heavy burden, as Questlove is well aware, of being the most prominent black band in the world. This one band has taken over in public perception, for all the great bands of the past’s jazz, funk or soul. I imagine when a black kid plays drums now days, he might hear, “Go head Questlove”.  The thing with this flag bearing is, they’ve done it while also operating in an area of Hip Hop music that can often be limiting, especially apres the Late ’80s Early ’90s “Golden Era.” Roots albums have often left me disappointed, because brilliant lyricism , crisp snares, and cozy grooves notwithstanding, they’ve rarely brought the thunderous funk the way they’re known to bring on stage. 2004’s cover of George Franz’s ’80s dance classic, “Din Daa Daa” changed all of that.  This bonus track, buried at the tail end of their “Tipping Point” album, was a funky, imporvisatory “Dazz” (disco-jazz) track that finally unleashed Questlove’s drum kit with reverbed force.

George Kranz’s song “Din Daa Daa” was the soundtrack to a magical scene in the early Hip Hop dance movie “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.  Kranz scatted drum figures to himself as he unleashed drum solos in a duet format. Black Thought and Questlove do the same here to devestating effect, with Questlove conjuring up the force of jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. The track was a bonus on the album, coming after a wacky rap song featuring Dave Chappelle.

The song begins with voices singing “Din Daa Daa” against voices singing the bassline for the song. A cowbell marks the time as the groove builds. Black Thought begins to scat his rhythmic phrases, reminding me of his fellow Philadelphian Bill Cosby’s drum based jazz scatting language. Questlove comes in, not playing the exact same phrases at first, but accenting them and playing around them. Quest snare drum features something rare for him, reverb! Questlove usually goes for a dry, spare community center sound that will not overpower M.C’s. He shows no such concern here as he unleashes  thundering drum rolls that linger like a flare. Quest and Tarik (Black Thought) play off each other, talk to each other, one up one another, as well as support themselves through the first go round of the tune. Tariq escalates into orgies of mouth rhythms, rapping out millitary paraddidles and a Billy Stewart esque climax, with Quest ratcheting up the intensity until about 3:25, when the song hits it’s release. The release features a solid, crisp Neo-Philly drum beat and George Kranz’s brighter than bright, uplifting “Din Daa Daa” synthesizer tones. The song alternates between the long, funky, jazzy scat and drum sections and the bright dance funk of the chorus, until it hits a funky Neo Soul breakdown at the end. The song drops in tempo, and Questlove plays a funky beat thats a combo of a shuffle blues and his trademark ultra behind drumming style he once showcased with D’Angelo, Pino Palladino and Raphael Saddiq on D’s “Voodoo” album. This section is buried in underwater sounding, delayed keyboards. It sounds like stagehands taking down band equipment after a live show, or when the D.J puts on mid century pop ballads to clear the club at the end of the night. And so ends 9 of the most joyus minutes the Roots ever recorded.

This song was very important to me and my friends when it was released in 2004. It was inspiring for a top hip hop group like The Roots to release some improvisatory, live, jazzy instrumental funk like this. Beyond the industry aspects, it was also plain ol’ fun and a gas to groove to. We use to hit the hills in San Francisco with this song as the soundtrack to our journey. The groups trademark wit and intelligence is also at display in the song selection. They didn’t cover just any old instrumental, they covered an instrumental that is also related to the hip hop idiom, being featured in a magical dance scene in one of the early hip hop movies. That gave their audience some recognition, but they took it and flipped it like jazz or Afro-Latin dance pros on stage. I can also see the more joyus sound they introduced here as a segue to the Roots of the past decade or so, the musicians who play on The Tonight Show, collaborate with pop artists, and the Questlove that writes books about Soul Train. This record contains all those years of The Roots early live prowess on one cut. Bravo!

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Filed under 1980's, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Jazz

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/23/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Losing You” By Solange’

Being the youngest sister in a musical family can be a challenge. You can ask Janet Jackson,Pat Sylvers DeRusso. And today it would be Solange Knowles. Stereotypically she has always tended to be in Beyonce’s better promoted performance shadow-focusing on songwriting and musicianship to a stronger degree over Beyonce’s celebrity orientations. Sadly,Solange has entered into a controversy recently that could have the potential to spoil her strong reputation as a funky soul singer/songwriter. Personally? I feel these two factors which were just mentioned are interrelated. Yet during the course of this week as the matter involving her and her sisters marriage,which I refuse to get into here,has unfolded it seemed appropriate to do my own part to focus on Solange’s important musical accomplishments as opposed to any yellow journalism that currently follows behind her. And one of the best ways to do this is from a song she wrote and performed with her creative partner Dev Hynes in late 2012 called “Losing You”.

The song itself opens up with a swelling cornucopia of heavy African percussion,conga and bongo drums keeping time in a very polyrhythmic fashion to a very strident 4/4 “on the floor” style post disco beat. Weaving within this is an usual sound,perhaps percussion or a keyboard,that sounds something like a cross between children at play or tweeting birds. It has a very strong Brazilian effect either way. After a couple refrains of this a polyphonic synthesizer comes into the song bringing the melody. It’s soon joined by a thick,phat and popping bass line and another synthesizer part providing an accent that has the sound of a glistening,ringing bell. Over this insistent groove Solange sings in her rich,expressive yet low key voice about breaking up with a lover who seems to be insisting that she is entirely at fault in the situation. By the end,she is still unsure. And the fact that instrumentation stays on the one so insistently illustrates this concept.

Musically speaking,this song is a vital extension on the dance sound Madonna had on her earliest hits-with Mtume’s Reggie Lucas involved. This songs particular variation on the boogie funk sound of the early 80’s does mirror a time when even MTV had to refer to Madonna’s early disco/funk/boogie hits as being “rock” to spike interests. What Solange and Dev add to this mix is heavily layered Afro-Latin percussion and effects-which were a huge part of disco era late 70’s funk as well. By her own admission Solange has devoted herself to carrying on in a slickly produced instrumental variety of funk/soul music from the late 70’s/early 80’s as the basis for her sound. And doing so by her own admittance due to the proliferation of “R&B-gone-electronic dance music tracks” and that it was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now”.

Shooting the video in the shanty-like township of Lango in Cape Town,South Africa during her photo shoot for Elle magazine added to the strong sense of Afro Futurism that Solange is suggesting in the song. Especially with the extra’s decked out in the manner of Afrocentric fashionista’s and engaging in general friendly farce and horseplay with her. Solange Knowles is an important talent in terms of the live instrumental funk revival. And I fully support her musical and personal position in hypothetical concert with her more commercially popular sister. She represents one head of a two headed family hydra who both bring to mind different sides of the post feminist black female iconoclast. And with Solange zeroing in more on her instrumental musical concept? She surely has a strong future ahead of her.

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Filed under 1980's, Africa, Beyonce', Disco, Funk, Solange', Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 3’rd,2014: James Brown-‘It’s A New Day-Let A Man Come In’

              James Brown would’ve been 81 years old today had he not passed away on Christmas Day of 2006. He lived the life he always had; consistently on the road and performing as best as his body would allow almost until the very end. While its been noted of late that lack of vulnerability has been somewhat overstated in reference to black American men, James symbolized such a concept in reference to his music. Though in terms of losing a son in the early 70’s and other domestic problems in the 1980’s? He was actually quite vulnerable. Music was what liberated him. It took him on a journey to being black and proud,and encouraging millions who admired him to do the same: learn,achieve and get involved. 

            Viewing James’ vast recorded catalog of music,like the largest collection of albums and singles in popular music history, selecting which albums to purchase depended largely on what little of it is actually in print. Between a couple of vinyl records and CD’s,I dug up a good handful of his records here and there. When I decided to post a review of one these recordings for this weeks blog post,a similar daunting task presented itself. Each of the James Brown albums I have are another link in a chain in terms of the funk genre he innovated. There was even a thought of breaking with tradition and selecting two reviews. Realizing how cumbersome that would be,I checked my reviews of his music and decided to select the following album-which I feel reflects perhaps several important steps in his musical evolution.

Its A New Day-Let A Man Come In

          Okay that’s got to be my worst review title but after hearing this album you may have a similar reaction. True it took a several years and many a patchwork album for James Brown to finally get to this,one of his earliest full on album masterpieces. And in all honesty? It’s an album I only really knew a lot about recently due in part via a strong recommendation via the members of Breakestra in Waxpoetics magazine. In all likelihood this the earliest full length studio assemblage of the original JB’s lineup with Bootsy and Catfish Collins and such. One of the qualities that makes this such a unique album even by James’ standards is how much he goes for the cinematic approach to funk here-taking the basic framework of his sound and often augmenting it with either dynamic orchestrations,arrangements or both within his still intensely rhythmic framework. Not only that but he’s concentrating very heavily on melody. The idea of James combining melody and arrangements into his trademark tight funk sound opened up his music to many new possibilities and allowed his new musical recruits the change to challange themselves instrumentally. The title,in fact is no lie.

           It goes way beyond music here. Culturally James is at the PEAK of his Say It Loud: I’m Black And I’m Proud period. So the message in his music is in full swing. The first two numbers in the title song and “Let The Man Come In And Do The Popcorn” are perfect examples of his “new funk” as it were. Very much in the league of his early full on funk period but also superbly arranged as well. On “World” he actually showcases how the cinematic groove has bought him to a distinctive funk ballad style and he re-harmonizes his older “It’s A Man’s World” and “If I Ruled The World” in much the same way. The result is their original message is also deepened as well. “Georgia On The Mind” takes the song normally associated with Ray Charles and takes his own lyrical liberties,even adding “I’m from August Georgia”,an interesting reference for this South Carolina native. “Give It Up” is an instrumental rendering of one of his biggest funk era numbers. The closer’s “Man In The Glass” and “I’m Not Demanding” are additional great examples of his unique brand of cinematic funk-the latter making his social agenda more than clear as he insists (I’m not demanding,I’m begging and pleading),showing a type of…confident desperation if you can imagine it as he speaks to “the people” very directly and honestly.

             In addition to the musical aspect of funk James Brown was more than key in developing the consciousness in it’s lyrical message. It’s a type of construct I myself refer to as “people music” and it was key to the development of what funk writer Ricky Vincent calls the united funk period in the music. On this 1970 album James is laying the groundwork for all of that. I am not sure if anyone does or ever will think of James Brown as an album artist in any way. But if they do,or ever do it’s likely works like this will be part of what’s mentioned in that context. It’s not merely the focus on longer songs. But also they fact there is a very flowing musical concept at work here. Something James had been putting together in one way or another since the mid 60’s. And it was finally coming into itself in the early 70’s on albums such as this. As for his 60’s innovations there are many compilations that tell the story about as perfectly as one could ask. But as for where James stood at the start of the album oriented 70’s funk era? This would be an excellent release to explore along with his many full length triumphs to come early in that decade.

-Originally Printed On August 23rd,2011

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Earth, Funk, Funk Bass, Georgia, James Brown, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/25/14 Andre’s Pick: “Jerk Ribs” by Kelis

Harlem native Kelis Rogers comes from the area of New York known for its black cultural renaissance of the 1920’s. She comes from a background of both fashion and music-her father Kenneth being a jazz pianist. Over time she developed a flamboyant personality that,while stereotypically getting her in some trouble at different points in her life,has also given her a somewhat rare understanding about the vitality,soul and groove of the music she’s done. Making a name for herself in the millennial transition produced by Pharrell Williams/The Neptunes on songs such as the hugely successful and influential “Milkshake”,Kelis has continued to move forward towards a musical sound that would successfully fuse the music she listened to and loved growing up with contemporary production elements. Realizing perhaps the frustration in trying to achieve that musical fusion, Kelis has opted this time around for the full on live band for her newest album Food and its lead off song release “Jerk Ribs”

It all starts out with this slow,shuffling percussive groove with a bass line that’s lifted directly of the influence of James Brown’s early 70’s musical innovations. In a chocked,dreamy tone of voice,Kelis paints an autobiographic picture of a life growing up where-even during the more difficult late 20th century in Harlem,  the very streets seemed to be wrapped up in musical rhythms. She spoke with great veneration for her father-singing the moving line of “He played the notes and keys/he said to look for melody in everything”. Before each chorus, her horn section plays a melodic fanfare that seems to be calling out to the listener to physically participate before scaling strings introduce the chorus illustrating “it feels just like it should”. As the song goes on, Kelis sings of the bass (note she mentions that first),the brass and strings vibrate through her-stating of it all that “I love everything”. By the end of the song,her happily nostalgic state elevates even to her present day as the fanfare of the horns keeps up steadily until the groove finishes off.

One of the most important things about this song is that it strongly emphasizes the influence on James Brown’s funk music style from Ghanaian “highlife” music from that era. The joyous sounding fanfare of the horns that instrumentally help define this song drip alternately with precision and a strong appreciation for the Afro-Pop interpretation of the blues. The bass line is,as is a signature of funk in general mixed up very high. Its clear Kelis wants it to be known strongly that the electric bass is a key factor to keep a fat bottomed groove strong and vital. In a way this song more eloquently extends on themes her former producer Pharrell has recently coined on his enormously successful “Happy”-the idea that being in a state of joy is a source of strength. In the case of Kelis,the source of her joyful strength comes from the joy of music that was always with her from childhood. Her picturesque imagery of music itself in these lyrics make musical sounds seem like a tangible thing one can wrap themselves around like a blanket. It is the funk/soul groove as a source of love,joy and inner peace. And the more I hear it? The more I realize this song just has to resonnate with many other people on that level-the way it does with me. Truly Kelis’s most powerful musical visitations upon humanity this far.

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Pharrell Willaims, Rhythm, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archives for March 22nd,2014-Pharrell Williams ‘GIRL’

Pharrell  Pharrell Williams is one of a scant few who’ve emerged,both on his own and as one half of the Neptunes,that has been striving for musical eloquence in his approach to soul/funk. And as much as I admire the uniquely vital musicality of the artists I’m about to mention,for Pharrell finding that sound for himself has been largely dipping into the often under explored well of the post James Brown/pre-Prince funk era-which would encompass approximately 1977-1980. When I first heard his music with NERD,it deep seem that one challenge Pharrell might be facing in the long run was a tendency to be too self consciously eclectic in terms of his musical approach. If rhythmic and instrumental diversity flow through you organically,that’s fine. However if one is just doing it to fit in or be critically credible,it can eat up ones creativity from within. I am still not sure in Pharrell’s case here where he came from in that regard. What I do know is that last year his productions for Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience,Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and of course the Grammy winning Daft Punk album Random Access Memories demonstrated that Pharrell was strongly re-introducing pre hip-hop era funk aesthetics back into the modern soul/R&B framework. So when I learned just under a week ago he was releasing his first solo album in many years,I was very excited to hear how this funky revelation as a producer would effect his own music.

“Marilyn Monroe” begins the album with a very insistent bass/guitar oriented dance funk groove that’s bought further to life by some sumptuously soulful string arrangements. “Brand New”,featuring Justin Timberlake’s showcases the similarity in Timberlake’s and Pharrell’s approach to a groove: again in this case a very thick African inspired percussion part with a lot of breaks and slippery,catchy melodies,and of course some wonderfully bright and fan-faring horns. “Hunter” is one of my very favorite pieces on this album. It has a very thick and metallic bass line and a very steady percussive flavor which recalls some of the deepest and most authentically funk oriented songs one could ever imagine. “Gush” and “Gust Of Wind”,featuring Daft Punk on vocorder, showcase how perfectly comfortable Pharrell is in the milieu of that late 70’s disco era funk sound-when the genre’s uptempo music was retreating from the “4 on the floor” stereotype into the more streamlined and sleeker productions and instrumentation. The sounds of Chic and even the somewhat lesser known funk band Slave are all over these songs from top to bottom-along with Pharrell’s strong adhesion to staying eternally on the one. “Happy”,the big soundtrack hit from this album is a lively uptempo soul number strongly recalling the mid 60’s uptempo soul vibe of Arthur Conley and such-especially with it’s clever outlook on human emotion with it’s chorus of “Clap your hands if you feel like happiness is the truth”. “Lost Queen” goes for melding a modern hip-hop arrangement with a South African folk styled focus and percussion arrangement. Personally? I don’t really feel the meld takes on this particular musical fusion.

“Know Who You Are” is a strongly crafted and instrumentally thick soul/funk/pop number featuring a duet with Alicia Keys. Keys,not known much these days for doing live instrumental uptempo tunes,shines like a glistening crystal on this song. The last number “It Girl” features a somewhat cooler approach to the same sound,and a jazzier one at that with an instrumental electric piano section closing out the final minute or so from the song. This album completely succeeds on almost every level instrumentally. By focusing on studio production of live instrumentation,Pharrell has actually broadened his musical horizons as a solo artist quite significantly. And his non stop focus on funk,percussive rhythms and new ways of re inventing melody on this album fully explores his true musical heart. As wonderfully colorful as the funk on this album is? It is by no means a near perfect masterpiece. Sometimes,if you can imagine it Pharrell stays on the one a bit too much on some songs. This gives the effect of being more like a digitized skipping record than a fluid live band (even though that is present here quite a bit) now and then. And though he does approach the subject eloquently on many occasions,Pharrell’s constant skirt chasing here also drags on which,in the case of me being a very commitment minded homosexual is sometimes downright lyrically un-relatable. But even if one is emphasizing this albums flaws,its definitely a step in the right direction if we’re talking about funk functioning in the contemporary musical idiom. And definitely another feather in Pharrell’s musical cap and for a second time in his career,doing it with himself as the star of the show.

Originally Posted On March 4th,2014

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Amazon.com, Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Soul

Welcome To A New Year And A New Blog!

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    I would like to welcome everyone to Andresmusictalk,my newest blog here on WordPress. This blog is going to serve as a collaborative effort between myself and Henrique Hopkins-a main inspiration for creating my first blog here The Rhythmic Nucleus. For those of you who familiar with that blog,it was primarily focused on funk music and its many tributaries. Since of course my own personal musical pallet of interests is very eclectic,the topics on that blog began to drift into different musical territories.

          The purpose of this blog is to expand the level of dialog regarding the full spectrum of music. Regarding its history,creation,generational potency and anything else of interest in that regard. Just about every musical form on Earth bleeds into each other over time. The “rhythmic nucleus” of it all likely began in Africa. But it has spread across the world over millennium after millennium in a symphonic gumbo-with each subculture of humanity making wonderful new contributions as it goes. If that sounds like a big deal,it is. And music grows into even more of a big deal as time progresses.

           The levels of experience and perceptions of music between Henrique and myself have many similarities. Yet our environments have shaped them in very different ways between us. This will be an important element in our two literary styles that will be presented here. And to paraphrase one of Henrique’s own quotations,this will also serve as a possible springboard for broader articles that might one day find they’re way into the realm of professional publication. So as the two of us continue to grow as human beings,so will go the breadth and scope of our writing here.

               On some occasions,I would like to see the two of us engage in call and response type writing-wherein myself or Henrique create a blog post here in direct response to the others. Not only would that reflect the spirit of the soul/funk music we love,but help us grow as writers and continue that educational experience. In this age where the “less is more” adage has perhaps been too readily applied to human conversation,it is actually in our dialog that we learn most from. And the best forum to give and receive our knowledge. So enjoy what is to come! Many exciting things to read,see and hear await you!

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Filed under Africa, Blogging, Dialog, Earth, Funk, Humanity, Literacy, Music, Rhythm, Soul, Time