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Island Funk
Nassau & Beyond
Funk can be fused with most any other genre, often with pleasing results. But barring a handful of ill advised combinations, Funk has always fused best with countries whose native musical styles are rooted in p..
Island Funk: Nassau & Beyond     by DJ TREW
 

What's most interesting about the advent of Funk music was that when it dropped, it dropped hard. I'd posit that heads weren't ready but as we all know, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) made every head ready. Change was not only on the horizon, but it was also high in the sky, to the left, and behind that building over there.

The 60s played host to a massive cultural paradigm shift and as a result, musical expression followed suit both at home and abroad. No genre was untouchable. Jazz, R&B, and Rock all took on new forms, while traditionalists decried any addendums to their tried-and-true formula, clinging desperately to the past. While understanding your roots is admirable, it takes a pioneer to embody those roots and progress forward.

An unstoppable force in R&B music, a showman of the highest order, and one of the most mediocre organ players to ever to step to a B-3, James Brown took the word 'opportunist' and gave it's meaning integrity. In the early 60s, after Little Richard dropped out of the secular game and returned to the church, James reassembled the pieces of Little Richard's backing band to create the Famous Flames. Building upon the groove that Richard laid down, James took R&B, went heavy on the one, gave the drummer some, and vamped until the morning after. Once the dust settled, a new genre was born.

Funk first infected the United States before taking the world by storm, and subsequently no country was safe from the Godfather's high pitched wails and lightning speed footwork. West African musician Fela Kuti was so inspired by the Funk sound that he exported it back to Africa and made himself a new genre, later dubbed Afrobeat. A similar occurrence happened in nearly every continent and sub-continent, crossing over oceans like a Concorde gassed up on rocket fuel.

Kind of a 'cranberry juice' of the music world, Funk can be fused with most any other genre, often with pleasing results (see the jazz fusion group Return to Forever for an example of bad results.) But barring those ill advised combinations, Funk has always fused best with countries whose native musical styles are rooted in polyrhythmic African tradition. So for this month's Loudspeaker we'll be taking a look at a few groups who jumped aboard the JB Monorail, meshing their native 'Island' sound with Funk.


Batti Mamzelle - I See the Light (Cube Records, 1974)

Deriving their name from the French patois phrase meaning "crazy lady," Batti Mamzelle was the brain child of drummer Richard Bailey. As the entire band was Trinidad born, he wanted to take pan drums and inject them into a Rock/Funk setting. The result is this, their only full length album. What's most captivating here is that pan drums are capable of both rhythm and melody, so when you hear the electric guitar riff on the title track being accompanied by syncopated steel drum hits, the song seems to take on a whole new form. Beat junkies will definitely want to check out "Love is Blind" with its proto-disco vibe as well as "Bird" and its b-boy friendly timbale/steel drum breakdown.


Tabou Combo de Petion-Ville - Respect… (Mini Records, 197?)

The Tabou Combo plays the traditional style of Haitian dance music called Konpa. Never dipping below 115 bpm, these cats were the perfect vessel for high energy Funk fusion. What's more, on their website (yes, they still get down!) they explicitly credit James Brown as one of their influences. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the cut "Ti Gran Mou'n" where maestro Jean-Claude Jean works a call-and-response intro, barking to guitarist Yvon Cine "Yvon, howabout some heat right here?!" I should also mention that this tracks sports a fatty b-boy drum intro.


Dry Bread - Calypso Getaway (GT Records, 1983)

Representing the Bahamas, Dry Bread was a renowned calypso singer. Dipping into the world of music during Funk's first influx to the Islands, on 1983's Calypso Getaway he gets down on the one like it's going out of style. Which is ironic since during the early 80s, Funk had seen better days. But thankfully U.S. musical trends had a tendency to hit Caribbean shores with a bit of lag time. Here, the song to check for is the short but sweet "The Streaker" with its chunky open drum intro, eardrum piercing horn section, and JB-influenced groove. The rest of the album is fairly straight forward Calypso, but if you cop any one-tracker this year, make it this one.

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