One of the most referenced music related events,which has now conceptually spanned two separate music blogs here on WordPress,is the story of how I first became involved in listening to funk. Delivered the story in two little bite sized pieces. And for a long time,it seemed as if there was no problem just keeping it that way. At the same time,I’ve told so many friends on Facebook and such about one little cassette dub of a CD compilation that really did ratify my entire musical focus from that moment on. And that would be hearing the 1993 compilation Funky Stuff-The Best Of The Funk Essentials for the first time.
Its important to not that the cassette dub I mentioned was not the compilation in the correct order. My father put the songs together by sound more than anything. So the first song I heard on it was Con Funk Shun’s “Chase Me”. My first reaction (at age 14) was something to the effect of “this is very heavy disco” upon first hearing it. No idea who Con Funk Shun were. But it just stirred my creative imagination in a way I cannot explain even now. It reminded me of jazz in its sophistication and melodic changes,but it had this explosive rhythmic power. It was high energy. It was…funk.
Hearing songs such as “Rigor Mortis”,”Jungle Jazz” and “Let’s Start The Dance” for the first time gave me insights into artists that were new for me,such as Bohannon. It also showed me an earlier side of bands such as Cameo who I’d known earlier. And was my first chance to experience pre JT Taylor Kool & The Gang. Needless to say,there was a strong urge for me to seek out these records. Since they were so danceable and singable,the first question I asked myself was “why haven’t I heard a lot of these songs on the radio?”. That led me to the discovery about how fragmented even mid 90’s radio actually was.
The road hearing Funky Stuff led me into a far stronger understanding of the firm racial divide in American popular culture. Personally,I’m about as post civil rights as one could likely be. Being born after the 70’s and at the very start of the Reagan era. In learning about funk based on the literature I sought out after first hearing it,it became apparent why I hadn’t heard 70’s funk on the radio too much. I knew about the presence of the R&B and pop charts. But was unaware of the demographics behind them. In my home state of Maine,there was (and still is) virtually no black population. And therein lay the main issue.
Bands such as Earth Wind & Fire and Motown related groups in the 60’s and early 70’s had successfully crossed over to pop radio,which is nationally available and recognized. Yet many 70’s funk (and certain elements of 80’s hip-hop) tended to remain on R&B (black) radio. And without a strong black population,Maine had no R&B radio. As a largely rural state,it had no urban (often shorthand for R&B) radio either. So the lack of racial diversity where I was created a lack of R&B radio which…created a lack of funk. My father just happened to be deep into black music. That’s the only reason I probably heard funk at all.
Later on of course,I realized funk had always been in my life through its 80’s cross over moments. Michael Jackson,Prince,Cameo had the funk. Even new wave oriented British groups such as Level 42,Eurythmics and Wham! were providing funk based music to me via radio. Just never connected it with that powerful,rhythmic sound until hearing Funky Stuff. Of course as my understanding of funk music grew,it was when I was high school age and developing my own personality more-which is pretty standard for when musical preferences develop. But it also opened me up to a broader personal understanding too.
Before diving deep into funk,I didn’t have a hugely strong concept of my blackness. As a biracial person,it sometimes seemed more important to my mom (herself mostly black Puerto Rican) that I acknowledge my Irish back round from my paternal grandmother’s side. As I “went for the funk” as it were,that totally changed. Realized I was actually something now called an Afro futurist. Hearing P-Funk (and later Janelle Monae) really put a strong cap on this understanding. I loved Star Trek and thoughtful science fiction along with funk,soul and jazz. It even resulted in new and thriving friendships.
Henrique Hopkins,with whom I started Andresmusictalk,met me all because of funk. He saw my Amazon.com customer reviews of funk albums during 2006. And the result is now a decade of friendship. And learning more about the complexities of America’s racial understandings from him than I could’ve ever imagined. This hasn’t always made for great harmony in my life. But it did initiate change and evolution. Now I am in the processing of trying to pass on this broader cultural understanding to my closest friends and family. And it all started with one cassette dub of a funk compilation.