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.