Tag Archives: black America

Funky Stuff-The Best Of The Funk Essentials: The Full Story Of Getting From There To Here

funk-essentials-sampler

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.

 

 

 

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Filed under Black History, compilation albums, Funk Essentials, funk music

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

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                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

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It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

jazz-show

Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

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Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation for Record Store Monday: ‘Black Messiah’ by D’Angelo

Black Messiah

For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.

The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.

“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.

One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!

Link To Amazon Review Here*

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Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder