James Ambrose Johnson,better known as Rick James has very misunderstood legacy to a number of people. Due to the controversy surrounding his sexual and drug habits, his musical legacy has been somewhat buried in the public eye. He started out as a member of the group The Myna Birds featuring Neil Young. He signed to Motown successfully with his Stone City Band in the mid 70’s following only minor success on the A&M label. A year or so later,he helped champion the career of another fledgling Motowner known as Teena Marie on her first solo album. And by the time the 80’s rolled around,James’ was poised for a whole other level of super-stardom.
According to Rick’s autobiography Confessions Of A Super Freak he pointed out how,very much like Prince he was a multi instrumentalist capable of doing so in the recording studio. Still he felt that the interaction of a full band,with it’s different rhythm and horn sections,could provide a broader musical base for his songs. So in the very first year of the 1980’s decade,Rick recorded the first album on the Stone City Band alone called In ‘N’ Out. I found a vinyl copy of this while crate digging over a decade ago. It’s an excellent big band funk album overall. It was the next to the last song on it that really caught my attention. It’s called “F.I.M.A. (Funk In Mama Afrika)”.
A space funk synthesizer starts everything off with accenting,marching conga drums. A shrieking Brazilian style disco whistle inaugurates the main song. From there it’s a ferocious mix of phat percussion,bassy wah wah Clavinet and horns playing to the Afrocentric vocal chanting. On the second refrain,this chanting becomes a call and response between the choral and solo voices. The percussion is also turned up louder in the mix at this particular point. The disco whistle and a slithery,liquid synthesizer emerge as the accompanying rhythm to this as well. The song fades out as this point with no break of the orchestration of the following tune leading it out.
There are times when listening to vinyl that I’ll move the needle on the record to one particular song that excites me-over and over again. And this groove is near the top of that list. Must admit that at the time of first hearing this, I had somewhat typecasted Rick James’ “punk funk” sound into too strict of a box. Was not expecting to hear such a hardcore Afro-Brazilian funk jam from the same man about to unleash “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” into the world. This song finds Rick playing a similar role to his band as Barry White did to Love Unlimited Orchestra-acting a an arranger and band leader (rather than singer) for a festive,funky and meaningful instrumental revelry.
Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brazil, clavinet, Disco, horns, Motown, percussion, Rick James, Stone City Band, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah
During the mid to late 1970’s, the Montreal native Gino Vannelli was Canada’s musical answer to Steely Dan basically. With a strongly grooving progressive jazz sound in tow, Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe had signed their group to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records about a decade into the labels inception. It was also time when new record labels were far more open to more creatively minded artists. So Gino and company were able to really stretch out in terms of making music that was both instrumentally meaningful and commercially successful.
I personally discovered Gino’s music about 8-9 years ago. And quite by accident, as it came from a music recommendation based on my own browsing habits on Amazon.com. It wasn’t long before I was ordering used copies of his 70’s albums on CD from there. One that made quite an impact on me was his third album from 1975 entitled Storm At Sunup. It was a concept album dealing with a male 20 something coming of age during the post 60’s sexual revolution. The second song on the album called “Mama Coco” was the one which really blew me away!
A metallic synthesizer bursts into a mix of Afro-funk percussion accompanied by electronics playing a classical opera melodic theme. It drives right into a righteous rhythm with round,burbling Moog bass and Fender Rhodes electric piano playing the songs bluesy melody. On the refrains,one of which features a deep vocalese on the talk box, the song suddenly goes into a swinging Brazilian jazz mode before returning to the original chorus. Another refrain hard rocking bridge with a screaming guitar and electric piano solo before ebbing out.
In terms of funk, this song covers all the bases beautifully. It has the blend of European classical and soulful modern electronics, the Afrocentric jazzy instrumental attitude as well as the progressive rock arrangements of the time. It’s a wonderful groove stew. Thematically Gino is wittily making a point about the exoticism black women can provide in the mind of a free and single young white men. Even pointing out to Mama Coco that he’s “just a male Caucasian/I’m virgin to your kind”. It’s one of many examples of fine funk Gino threw down in this era.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, bass synthesizer, Brazilian Jazz, Canada, concept albums, electric piano, Fender Rhodes, Gino Vannelli, Herb Alpert, jazz funk, Montreal, Moog, percussion, sexual revolution, Steely Dan, Uncategorized
With the beginning of the third official year of Andresmusictalk? It’s hard to realize that Kool & The Gang have never been officially covered in the Anatomy of THE Groove segment. James Brown himself referred to them as “the second baddest out there” during his prime funk period. And at least somewhere in their now 46 year strong career? The band have continued to find some way to give up the funk,and grow with it’s changes to meet great success. Still,it was the early to mid 1970’s that really showed just what Kool & The Gang were musically capable of.
Starting off primarily as an instrumental group with occasional unison vocals? The mid 70’s bought more concise and pop hook driven numbers that focused on individual vocal trade off’s. This resulted in their first massive crossover hits such as “Jungle Boogie”, “Funky Stuff” and “Hollywood Swinging”. In 1975 the band released their sixth studio album entitled Spirit Of The Boogie. It helped define them,and the Bell brothers burgeoning Muslim spirituality,through a stronger Afrocentrity. The song that pulls that all together for me is “Ancestral Ceremony”.
The chant”yeah yeah YEAH!” from the bands female backup singers Something Sweet begin it all with the accompaniment of Kalimba and nothing more. Shortly thereafter,drummer George Brown’s phased hi hat roll rings in the percussion,than the steadier main rhythm. A phat and thumping symphony of synthesized and electric bass sets the stage for the bands trademark horns to join into the musical festival. The entire group along with the backup singers join back into the opening chant with Khalis Bayyan’s jazzy tenor sax solo to close out the groove.
While just about any funk from Kool & The Gang in this time period is cream of the crop of it’s genre? Something about the instrumental,vocal and thematic attitude of this song sums up the “united funk” era in just over three minutes. 1974-1976 found them at the height of their artistic and commercial pinnacle. And it was good for them personally because the lyrics to this song found them with the understanding of being “scientists of sound,rhythmatically puttin’ it down” while “making merry music” all the way. So this is some of the very finest funk ever recorded!
Filed under 1970's, Afrocentrism, bass synthesizer, classic funk, drums, Funk Bass, George Brown, jazz funk, Kalimba, Khalis Bayyan, Kool & The Gang, Muslim, percussion, Uncategorized
Out of the same melting pot of funk from which Slave and Heatwave emerged? Dayton,Ohio band Lakeside were the premier large funk band on Dick Griffey’s Solar label from 1978 up through 1984. One key element of this band that’s come up in the conversations I’ve had with Henrique is how committed Lakeside were to being a funk band. Truthfully, I didn’t fully understand everything in that particular discussion . Still there’s no doubt that Lakeside were vital in funk’s transition between the disco era funk and the post disco/boogie sound to follow.
The one thing I always loved about Lakeside was how their album jackets (in a similar manner to the Ohio Players) helped visually conceptualize their funk. Each one featured the band members acting out a particular event related to their album titles. Their 1981 release Keep On Moving Straight Ahead is a superb example as it features Lakeside as jockey’s-at the Kentucky Derby perhaps. And that one is riding a Zebra and being chased by a black bird showcases strong Afrocentricity. What actually caught my attention most was the last song on side A of the vinyl copy I had called “It’s Got To be Love”.
It’s a groove that starts moving with a powerfully percussive rhythm,with a sunny melody played within it by a round and high pitched synthesizer. Then a heavy acoustic piano chimes in as a bass line while a playfully liquid rhythm guitar plays the changes. On the refrains of the song? The bright synth that opens the song returns as an orchestral element. The soulful growl of lead singer/composer Mark Adam Wood Jr. is accompanied by the beautiful multi part harmonies of the bands other vocalists. After returning briefly to the stripped down percussion that opens it? The melody scales up in pitch before the song itself fades out.
This is a very strong representative of the type of funk I tend to be drawn most to. And again? Have noticed how much of it derives from either Ohio or California. It’s both a very singable,hooky song and a strong groove all at the same time. It mixes the churchy vocals,harmonies and melodies of the Philly sound with the bright,optimistic late 70’s/early 80’s boogie approach. Yet the live instrumental end is much more prominent here. So in the end? It’s the post disco era’s equivalent of the funky soul sound. One that was actually used often,and seldom discussed.At the end,it’s one of Lakeside’s finest and more unsung jams.
Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, albums, Boogie Funk, dance funk, Dayton Ohio, Dick Griffey, Funk, funk guitar, funky soul, Lakeside, Philly Soul, post disco, Solar Records
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.
Filed under 1990s, Africa, Afrocentrism, Debbie Sledge, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Joni Sledge, Kathy Sledge, Kim Sledge, Nile Rodgers, percussion, Sister Sledge, slap bass, trumpet