Tag Archives: New Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/2/14 Rique’s Pick : “The Talking Fish” by Ibibio Sound Machine

 

One of the most interesting developments of the funk era is it’s strong explicit African connection. The funk era represented a unique point in the often strained relationship between Africa and her descendants in the West. One might say that the continent itself as well as it’s descendants in the “New World” were all at similar critical points in their history. Africa was going through the beginning stages of independence from colonialism and nationalism, and in America descendants of Africa were fighting for Human and Civil Rights, as well as increasing the consciousness of their history and even envisioning revolutionary justice in many cases. There was a great exchange of ideas at that time, with MLK,  Malcom X, Richard Wright, CLR James, Frantz Fanon and other American and Carribean people of African descent providing inspiration in Africa that was returned in equal measure by African figures such as Kwame Nkrumah,  Patryce Lumumba, Tom Mboya, Hallie Sellasie and Nelson Mandela, among others. For adherents to the international African groove thang, this was represented most prominently by James Brown and Fela Kuti, but also by other artists such as Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder. In recent years, Fela’s music has become more and more celebrated in the Western world, as perhaps the last great revolutionary popular music maverick of the ’70s. Fela’s country, Nigeria, has been a particular focal point in this African/American exchange, being a large country with a high percentage of people living or educated in the West, a country where English is the official language, and one with a particular cultural connection to the New World because many Black inhabitants were taken from that region.

Ibibio Sound Machine is a new group based in London that revives the Afro-Funk sound and updates it for the modern internet age. The creators of the group are three producer/musicians, Max Grunhard, Leon Brichard, and Benji Bouton, who were huge fans of African grooves. The lead singer is the lovely Eno Williams, a British national of Nigerian descent, who’s roots lie with the Ibibio people of south eastern Nigeria, hence the name of the band. Eno grew up in England raised by a mother who was a native Ibibio speaker. The Ibibio people are one of the many ethic groups in Nigeria, but I was not aware of them as I was other Nigerian tribes such as the Ibo, Hausa, Yoruba and Fulani. Eno’s lyrics take traditional Ibibio folk tales that her grandparents related to her and put them to a groove that mixes West African funk and disco, post punk and modern electro. The 8 person touring band also features Ghanian guitarist Alfred “Kari” Bannerman and Brazillian percussionist Anselmo Netto, making the sound truly Pan African.

“The Talking Fish” is a funky delight sung in the highly rhythmic Ibibio language. Williams tells a funny folk tale that I had to resarch the story behind to understand. The story is about a young girl going down to the stream to fetch water. When she got there, she met a fish that was happy, and running down a mean stream of consiousness dialog. The young girls were amazed by the fish’s singular verbosity. They knew they couldnt eat such an intelligent and vocal fish, partially out of the fear the fish would keep talking even after they’d consumed it! Their squeals of delight and alarm scare the whole village because they think something has happened to the girls. Instead of eating the fish the fish becomes a celebrated local attraction.

From the first notes of the song, it’s clear Ibibio Sound Machine is going for a cinematic, blaxploitation era, classic funk sound. The tune starts off with a classic funk bass figure backed simply by hi hats and a trippy lead analog synth sound playing a wide “scoop.” The bass figure is pure funk, a strong and dominant Major Second interval going up a step and then jumping up an octave. After that clear statement, the bass player plays around with the same notes, displacing their rhythm here and there, playing with the groove. The horns come in with call and response patterns. The music sounds dramatic, like a movie score, calling to mind Bernie Casey from “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka”, “Every hero needs theme music.”

After that scene setting introduction, the band plays a phrase that will reappear throughout the song as a kind of a hook. The phrase is four notes going up the scale, accompanied by snare drum hits, then going back down twice. After the first appearance of the phrase, the track starts in earnest, supported by heavy disco-funk drumming, a meat and potatoes kick and snare eq’ed right with the hi-hats playing the classic disco “pea soup” pattern, the opening and closing of the hi hats. This pattern was introduced into the ’70s lexicon by the drummers of Philly International and quickly became the standard in disco drumming.

Williams sings her funky tale of the Talking Fish as the band riffs behind her, the music is highly responsive to her vocals and features synth squiggles as well as single note muted guitar riffs courtesy of Ghanaian highlife guitar legend Bannerman. Williams delivery is rhythmic, playful, and gets to you even if you don’t understand her Ibibio tounge, you will feel it no doubt.

The funk breaks down at 2:50 or so, adding deep percission with a synth bass playing one note on the ONE, a basic drumbeat with lots of funky small instrument chatter, with percussionist Anselmo Netto bringing the Brazillian contingent of the African musical diaspora to the fore. Around 3:40, Kari Bannerman gets his chance to solo, and he does so with a nasty distorted tone. Bannerman delivers a rhythmic, hard plucked, funky and well phrased blues/funk solo. By the end he builds up the intensity with rock and roll double stops and chords as the song fades out.

The Ibibio people are a 5,000,000 strong ethnic group in Nigeria that I’d never heard of, and this album represents the first time their language has been sung and recorded for a worldwide audience. Williams mentioned in an interview that to her, Highlife music, the one time most popular genre in all of West Africa, was as traditional as any other music to her growing up. Of course, this is the same view a modern Black kid might have in America with regards to funk, viewing it as something older and akin to the early blues and rock and roll. Ibibio Sound Machine is another wave in the reclaimation of Funk and Afro-Funk styles. Their vibrant music brings one back to a time when the Black communities of the world were full of much hope and forward movement, and hopefully children of the future will one day look back on music such as this as the soundtrack to another positive time in their history.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove 3/28/14 Rique’s Pick : “By My Side (Illith’s Blues) by Nicholas Payton

 

“By My Side” is the first track on Nicholas Payton’s 2011 mixtape  “Bitches.” Payton is known for being an excellent jazz trumpeter, but that fact notwithstanding he, like the great Lester Bowie, disdains the term “jazz”, viewing it as a limiting term. Today’s “Anatomy of the Groove” feature, “By My Side”, the first song on the album, shows him to be a musician as comfortable with funk, R&B and soul as the worlds of improvisational swing.

The tune kicks in the door with funky, clamourous New Orleans dope beat. The kick drums sounds like somebody either knocking on a hollow wooden door or stomping on a wooden plank floor. The snare sound is just as rowdy, clanging out a clave-ish rhythmic pattern.

The bassline is very special, the bait that lured me into the story of Illith’s Blues.  It uses an analog synth sound with portamentau/glide. I love the funky glide, moving from one pitch to the next, with a slow attack, pitches that take their sweet, funky time going from tone to tone.

The effect of the synth bass’s skipping, scooping, dragging and scrapping is something like a chipper tipsy man trying to get dried dog poop off his brand new Italian loafers. The hard New Orleans percussion is therby mixed with a lazy, drawling Bayou feel.

The sunshine on the track comes from Payton’s bright, ’80s style digital synth tones. The mix of analog and digital sounds, bluesy melody and bright major chords all add to a feeling of desperate brightness. There is both happiness and pain in the sound. The harmonic foundation is bright and major, but Payton gives an impassioned bluesy/soulful vocal, backed up by a digital Clavinet sound that provides even more rhythm, along with counterpoint and testimony to Payton’s story of life enhancing love.

“Travel deep inside the jungle/to find the best of my soul”, is how Payton begins his soul searching love affirmation. The song goes into “So What” style chords as Payton says “I ain’t afraid of the next level/although I’m sure to see the Devil.” The song paints the picture of a tough, rascalish “Trouble Man” who has finally found that “ride or die” woman, and is feeling good about it. I should tell you, “By Your Side” is the first song of an album based around the full story of a relationship. Like Payton’s favorite artist Marvin Gaye’s album, “Here My Dear”, the story does not end “well” in the conventional sense. But it does have many riches of sentiment, soul, funk, love and reflection to offer. “By My Side” begins the story of this love affair on a funky, soulful, hopeful note, and it will do the same for you on this or any other weekend on your own journey of love.

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Anatomy of THE groove 3/14/14: Kenna “Relations” featuring Childish Gambino

If Don Cornelius were here and the Soul Train was still on the air, here’s how a segment featuring this weeks funk banger, “Relations” by Kenna featuring Childish Gambino might go down:

“Here’s a biggin every one round here is sho nuff diggin/it’s by Kenna/and he says/LETS HAVE RELATIONS!”

Cut from the Don to a dance floor set with people standing around, as soon as the music kicks in, a soul sister begins to do a mean hip twisting, turning dance. As if on cue, her dance partner begins to cut up with forceful acrobatics, inspired both by the ladies sensual manuvering and the rigid thrash of Kenna’s groove. The camera moves through various funky people until it reaches super cool Kenna on stage, dressed hipster sharp and looking at the audience behind shaded eyes. The crowd hollers and screams, it’s their favorite funk groove of the moment! Kenna is a monolith of cool while everybody around him goes crazy to the funk groove. He goes on to give an idiosyncratic performance influenced by David Bowie, Prince, Kraftwerk and Marvin Gaye. Afterwards the Soul Train dancers yell for 45 seconds as the Don draws a witty interview out of the star.

Kenna’s “Relations” begins with an intro of a dude talking worthless jibberish, over a bass guitar that’s riffing aimlessly. This jibberish is the prelude of a romantic fumbler talking around what he really wants….in the words of the Klump’s grandmama, “Relations!” Kenna and Neptunes producer Chad Hugo soon ditch the romantic non sequitors for a serious, simple thrash of a groove they call “Relations.”

No beating around the “push in the” bush here. The most salient feature of the music is a devestating analog synth sound bassline, two pitches played three funky times, on the “get” up beat. The focal note is a longer tone, this dotted eight note that provides the Hump in the track, the WD40 that lubricates your back bone as it begins its slip.

“Relations” is killer, sparse funk, with what sounds like an analog synth tone and bass guitar killing the bass line, an insistent synth sequence that provides futuristic color, minimal rhythm guitar riffing, and flashes of conga and synth squiggles that give the track some locomotion, as Kenna lays down a blunt yet classy come on to be “let in.” Kenna’s vocals have a wonderful middle eastren/African tone to them. He also reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s declaiming in his classic song “Anger” from ‘Here My Dear”, when he announces “Lets Have Relations!” in a stentorian tone that gets much more aggressive than your typical R&B singer is prepared to get when asking for the draws these days. Kenna fills his song with lyrical come ons from the classic male school of let’s take advantage of the moment because tommorow may not come : “How could we know the stars are alighned?”

I like the way Kenna passes the baton to Childish Gambino, with Gambino’s rhyme being an extension of his last phrase. And the immature mobster delivers a nice one, out of the book of early Kanye and Jay Z. Kenna ends the song with haunting vocals, scaring off any panties he might have left standing earlier.

Kenna Zemedkun is an Ethiopian born artist who I knew from his association with the Neptunes over the years, including a stone cold jam he did in 2007 called “Say Goodbye to Love”, one of my favorite songs of the last decade. His struggles in gaining an audience despite his obvious talents are covered in the Malcom Gladwell book “Blink.”  But if he keeps delivering songs like this, I think an increasingly growing number of fans will be willing to have relations with him.

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