Grace Jones is someone who feels a bit like a creative soul sister to me. Despite the 32 year age difference,we were both born on the same day of the year. As Tauruses, both of us very much contradict our supposed astrological traits. It’s kind of fun to think about the fact that both Grace Jones and myself revel in being somewhat daring. Yet both of us exact strong control over how said daring is projected. So far,she’s really made her controlled sense of performance art really function well for her. That’s made her something of a cultural icon for Afrocentricity from the beginning to the middle of the 1980’s.
Jones recorded three albums during between 1980 and 1982 for Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios. All would feature the production and instrumental talents of dub reggae pioneers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. These albums all fashioned a funky,pan ethnic type of new wave dance/rock music. Her final album of this triad was called Living My Life. In many ways,it was the most fully realized of her albums in terms embracing different strains of Afrocentric musicality. And it all started off with a song that really summed this sound up in “My Jamaican Guy”.
Wally Badarou starts out with a synthesizer solo deep in the Asiatic pentatonic scale. Dunbar then comes in with the 8 beat,break heavy jazzy funk/reggae skank throughout the song. On the refrain there are two more layers of keyboard-one is a lower and more bluesy one,the other of is a higher pitched synth brass/horn chart type riff. Shakespeare’s bass and guitarists Barry Reynonds stay in chunky,syncopated interplay throughout-all the while a round,hiccuping electronic pulse adds a percussive thump. After a bridge that reduces the song back to the drum,the chorus lets the song come to a hand clapping stop.
Instrumentally speaking,this might be the most thoroughly pan ethnic funk jam of 1982. It’s got the Asian style melody,the stripped down dub funk drumming as well as the equally drum like bass/guitar interplay. Everything from Grace and Sly & Robbie’s grunts and calls to the electronic hiccups make this song one big sea of rhythm and movement along with it’s deep reggae melody and lyrics. The “laid back,not layed back” Jamaican guy Jones sings about turned out to be Tyrone Downie of Bob Marley’s Wailers. And this all makes up for one of the best examples of where the funky groove took Miss Grace Jones.
Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, Barry Reynolds, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, naked funk, pentatonic scale, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Grace Jones’ breakthrough album Nighclubbing is celebrating it’s 35 anniversary today. This album came along at a very significant time in the black musical spectrum. In 1981, America was deep in the throws of a radio freeze out of any uptempo music played by black artists. Meanwhile the synth dance/pop scene in England was gobbling up the funk and disco genres that the US was now rejecting. Into that mix came a group of Caribbean based artists who would help usher in a new fusion of world music sounds into that brew. Among them were Eddy Grant and Grace Jones.
Jamaican reggae producers/musicians Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare had produced Jones’ 1980 album Warm Leatherette at Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios in Nassau. So the same group of people and musicians were involved in the creation of the followup. As an album, Nightclubbing could be best described as an early precursor of the pop/world fusion sound that artists such as Peter Gabriel would pioneer mid decade. The array of styles on this album had a creative and commercial level of success in different areas of the world-not just the US and UK. One standout song on the album for me is “Feel Up”.
This extended mix of the song begins with a melodic pan flute-after which Dunbar’s bass drum comes in with Shakespeare’s thumping bass line. As the song builds, Shakespeare adds an addition layer of funkified slap bass along with a deep,percussive rhythm guitar along with genuine percussion. Wally Badarou’s quiet,high pitched synthesizer accents Jones’ vocal refrains. Towards the middle of the song,her vocals give way to rhythmic breathing and popping . Her choruses of vocalizing the title heavy with echoplex make up the entire structure of this song as it fades out.
This is the one song Grace Jones herself wrote for this album. What’s so amazing about it is that it sums up not only the album,but the whole of Jones’s musical side. As an actress model,Jones brings out a strong mixture of African percussion rhythms,Jamaican and American funk bass lines. This entire song functions musically as layers of drums and bass-even the guitar. It also brings out Jones’ unique vocal conceptualization-acting out the rhythm of the song theatrically with her voice rather than simply interpreting the melody. So on this song,Grace Jones grew some serious funk of her own.
Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, percussion, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, slap bass, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Wally Badarou, world fusion