Tuesday, February 20, 2007

WeFunk Radio : Heat from Up North

by Antti Tietäväinen

WEFUNK is a radio show from Montreal broadcasting through the prime party hours of Friday night. Hosts DJ Static and Professor Groove have blasted hot funk and soul grooves, old-school hip-hop and raw underground hip-hop over the airwaves of CKUT (McGill University) since '96. The shows have been archived to the web (www.wefunkradio.com) since '98, opening WEFUNK's reach to a wide international audience. I talked with the hosts of the WEFUNK, DJ Static and Professor Groove, about their show and their views on hip-hop and funk.

Introduce yourselves and tell us how WEFUNK Radio began.

DJ Static:
I've been DJing since 1994. I grew up listening to an underground hip-hop mix show in Vancouver called the Krispy Bisket Show. That inspired me to learn to DJ. When I moved to Montreal in 1995 to go to university I started training at the university radio station CKUT. Groove was training there at the same time and that's how we met.

Professor Groove:
I got turned on to funk & hip-hop listening to college radio while I was in high school. When I started university I wanted to try to get a radio show of my own so I could play funk music. At CKUT, Static and I were paired up to do a weekly training show together. We quickly realized that the funk and hip-hop we were playing made a natural combination. Since we both wanted to have a radio show, we decided to try to do a show together. We were lucky and we got a show at CKUT pretty quickly.

Can you describe what kind of hip-hop and funk you are playing and feeling? How do you see the link between these two music styles?

DJ Static: There was a time when hip-hop drew heavily on funk samples. I would say from around 88 to 94. Funk was one of the foundations that hip-hop was built on. So in my mind the two genres go together naturally. One grew out of the other, like roots and branches. One purpose of WEFUNK is to establish that connection to listeners who might not be aware of it. Like any culture, it's important to remember where you come from so you know where you're going. The same holds true for hip-hop. For the hip-hop side of WEFUNK, I try to play a mix of old and new tracks so people don't forget where the music comes from. Because hip-hop culture is growing so fast and spreading to such far corners of the world, it's important to share its history with everyone new to it. I also try to mix up the so-called underground tracks with more mainstream tracks to bridge the increasing gap in the hip-hop community between commercial and underground, to open people's mind who might only likes one or the other.

Professor Groove:
In addition to keeping the link between hip-hop and funk, I try to present a wide perspective on the funk sound from the 60s to the 80s. Some people mainly associate funk with blaxploitation soundtracks and the George Clinton/P-Funk sound that was popular in the late 70s. Although that material is important, funk goes much wider than that. There's a lot of really funky music that came before, in the early 70s and late 60s. Thanks to the influence of James Brown, as well as the social and political messages that funk was channeling in the 70s, funk was a very powerful sound. Jazz cats got caught up in being funky. Soul and R&B got really funky. Soundtracks got funky. Rock got funky. Reggae got funky. So for me, when I say I play funk music I'm not always thinking of funk as a genre, I'm going from that funk feeling that was forged in the late 60s and continues through today. You can hear that sound and that feeling in all the soul, funk, jazz, disco, and other grooves that I play under the umbrella of “funk” on WEFUNK.

We don't try to play for a particular demographic or audience, we just play the music we love and try to do it well. But as WEFUNK has grown and more and more people are listening, we've become more conscious of the wide variety of people we reach. It's important to me to share my love of this music and expose more people to these sounds. It's also important that our show remain connected with people who grew up with funk or hip-hop, and that we keep our sound relevant to the culture. Like a tree, staying rooted while reaching out.

Do you feel the music you play has a political dimension?

DJ Static:
I moved to Canada from Hong Kong when I was 11. That's when I heard hip-hop for the first time—and I fell in love with it immediately. In fact, listening to hip-hop probably helped me learn English as much as going to school did, at a time when I could barely speak a word of it! When I moved to Canada hip-hop attracted me so much because it gave me direction and a community at a time when I was uprooted and isolated as a young immigrant kid. Hip-hop at the time was real militant too. It taught me profound lessons on self-preservation in a society that doesn't always respect you and the importance of pride in yourself and your culture—lessons that I'm still trying to digest up to this day. Hip hop has always been the form of expression of people who are marginalized. That's why it's important to listen to it and the message it gives.
As I see it, hip-hop and funk both have heavily political roots. Funk in the 60s and 70s mirrored a lot of the developments in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. A lot of the more political hip-hop around 1990 was an outcry over the conditions imposed by an extremely reactionary George Bush Sr. Of course the face of hip hop has changed a lot over the last 15 years. In the process of becoming a more mainstream music, hip hop has definitely lost its more militant edge. But at the same time, hip-hop now has more potential as a political movement than ever before precisely because of its wide reach and appeal on a global level. Check out one of my favorite documentaries of all time - Wattstax. It's about a black unity rally to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the LA Watts rebellion in 1965. Really powerful film. Powerful music, powerful speeches.

A while ago I ordered the WEFUNK Live Flavour EP, which contained freestyle and beatbox sessions from your show. It was excellent! Tell us about WEFUNK family, your friends who sometimes take part in your show. Any sessions you'll never forget?

DJ Static:
The WEFUNK family is basically friends of ours from Montreal (like Butta, Loes and Tony Ezzy) or visitors passing through Montreal (like DJ Vadim and J-Sands).

Professor Groove:
Man, a lot of great sessions have gone down on WEFUNK. J Sands' marathon 10-minute freestyle when he came down after a Lone Catalysts show… When Cuban group Obsesion came through with Lou Piensa and Butta Beats earlier this year it was bananas… lots of MCs and beatboxers throw down every year for our anniversary shows (show 150, 200, 250, etc)…. The “Appleton Rum”session in 2002 with Butta, J King and Miyagi was amusing. Throughout the show those guys worked their way through the bottle and you can hear the rhymes coming smoother then eventually getting unhinged. J King spit some crazy verses during that session…. Some of the old, old shows back in 2000 were pretty crazy too, although they're not in our audio archive unfortunately. This kid Bless came by a bunch of times back then —a 16 or 17 year old kid but he could freestyle for days. Like a freight train—you couldn't throw him off, he never missed a beat. He eventually hooked up with Guru (from Gangstarr) and put out some decent tracks, but he really comes alive in a freestyle cypher. There's some great sessions with him and MC Abdominal.

What else you do besides WEFUNK Radio?

DJ Static:
I spend a lot of time DJing. On average I play 4 gigs a week. The gigs range from DJ gigs in clubs and bars, shows with my group Nomadic Massive (I'm the DJ for the group), loft parties and breakdance competitions. In the daytime I work as a professor's assistant at McGill University here in Montreal.My boss works in the Faculty of Religious Studies, specializing in East Indian Religions, Comparative Religion, and Religious Pluralism.

Professor Groove:
I split my time between DJing and doing research. For my PhD project I'm studying how musical training can reshape the human brain. People sometimes ask me if studying the brain has helped me as a DJ —not really! But I think DJing and being a musician has helped me understand how the brain processes music. I also produce beats and am looking for MCs to work with.

DJ Static, tell us some more about the Nomadic Massive collective.

DJ Static:
Nomadic Massive is the new super group coming out of Montreal! We've only been together a year but we already have quite a reputation and following in Montreal. The group was first formed when Lou Piensa got an invitation to bring a group from Montreal down to perform at the annual Havana Hip-Hop Festival. Since he didn't have a group at the time, he asked a couple of people he knows from the Montreal hip-hop scene if they wanted to go to Cuba with him. We said yes and Nomadic Massive was formed! Our trip to Cuba really left an impression on everyone in the group, and made us into a family almost!
What sets Nomadic apart from a lot of other rap groups is the diverse nature of the group. We have 3 Haitians, a guy from France, an Argentinean, a Chilean, an Algerian, and a Chinese (myself!). We each bring to the group our different musical influences (hip-hop, dancehall, Latin music, Arabic music…) and we try to integrate all those influences into the sound of the group. As a result we cover a wide range of sounds, and appeal to a wide range of people (more than just hip-hop headz). Musically we incorporate live instruments (guitar, bass, drums), beatboxing, a singer, and turntablism, which allows us to have a richer and more varied sound than hip-hop groups that just have a couple of MCs rhyming over CD beats.

What other Canadian funk and hip-hop groups would you like to recommend to our readers?

Professor Groove:
Our friend Tony Ezzy is a crazy funk musician that has a sound like no other! His sound reminds me of Prince in the early 80s. His shit is hot! He is a really crazy performer who puts on a great live show every time. On or off stage, he's quite the character. Another group from Montreal you and your readers should look out for is Kalmunity Vibe Collective. They're a loose group of over 30 top-calibre musicians and vocalists who play a range of soulful sounds—from funk to reggae to soul and spoken word.

DJ Static:
Off the top of my head, the most important hip-hop artists from Canada are Maestro Fresh Wes, the Rascalz, Kardinal Offishall, and Swollen Members. From Montreal, the group that's best known internationally is probably Muzion (who has worked with Wyclef Jean). Because of the really diverse cultural communities that live together in Montreal, hip-hop exists in a rich musical mix that includes dancehall, reggae, reggaeton, R&B, house, etc.

Finally, tell us something about your future plans. Any shout-outs you wanna make?

DJ Static:
Share my love for the music and try to get my music out as much as I can. Shout-out to all the pioneers that paved the way and to all my family and friends who have supported me through the years.

Professor Groove:
Keep finding funky & soulful music, and sharing it with people across the globe. Thanks to all the people whose enthusiasm for good music has given me inspiration over the years—my family, friends, radio DJs while I was growing up, and all the talented musicians and DJs I have the pleasure of playing with in Montreal. Everyone who listens to WEFUNK—thanks for such amazing support over the years!

WEFUNK: www.wefunkradio.com
Nomadic Massive: www.nomadicmassive.ca


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