47035023_2286783611605328_1546786421015052288_oThe second section of a long essay about popular black music and bands examines, “where have the black bands gone?”

Basically, into the 21st century black bands have become irrelevant to production of commercial black music, which reflects aesthetic changes driven by technology, industry economics, and the same social policies that created hip hop.

Funk, a music with roots in the ‘50s, blossomed in the ‘60s and the dominated the ‘70s, is one of hip hop’s backbone. But for the artists that made the records sampled by the hip hop generation that’s been bitter fruit. In the 21st century funk has made a slight return with some curious twists and turns. But before I get to now, I am going to go back to funk’s roots and trace it’s journey forward.

Funk rose out of the rebel spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s and embraced frank sexuality and straight up freakiness with a hippie’s heart. It was music with a head to the sky that would welcome ideas now termed Afro-Futurism. In its original form it came from Midwestern cities, like Detroit, Chicago, and Dayton, along the path that took African-Americans out of the segregated town of South. Funk was informed by the complex polyrhythms of New Orleans, the harmonies of the Christian church and street corner doo wop groups. Funk was powered by the heavy pedals of the Hammond B3 organ and electric basses picked, plucked, and thumped by men like Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins and Verdine White.

THE TONISMan’s natural state is funk. If you don’t wash, don’t brush your teeth or splash on cologne you will be funky. So, funk is the unfettered essence of men and women. So, funk never dies. It is eternal. It just smells a little different from time to time.

Not surprising then that the folks who played funk had a variety of definitions for it. “I would probably say it was rhythm & blues with people that couldn’t cuss,” innovative bandleader and legendary eccentric Sly Stone of Sly & the Family Stone told me, “but it sounded like they wanted to cuss. It was like they had that edge on it.”

“When people say, ‘How do you define funk?’ It’s like how do you define life?” said Mtume, maker of the electro funk classic “Juicy Fruit” and brilliant musical philosopher. “You are living, and funk is what you receive through your antenna. Some peoples’ antenna goes a few meters. Some peoples goes a few miles. Funk is what you are able to receive. The funkier you are the more you can receive. I never look at it as a definition as much as a state of being.”

BOOTSY 2Bootsy Collins, the bassist in several incredible ensembles (the JBs Parliament-Funkadelic, his own Rubber Band) and life size cartoon character said, “Funk is deeper than music. We just attached it to music, but fun is the street life where we come from. Funk is all those things that we went through to bring us to this point. People don’t want to accept their funkiness, but everybody got a segment of funk in them and they don’t wanna recognize it.”

Steve Arrington, drummer/ vocalist with two hard charging ensembles, Slave and Hall of Fame, and one time preacher felt “funk is a little bit of the blues, a little bit of rock & roll, blended with an attitude that is a little faster than the blues and a little slower than rock & roll. It was right in the middle with some extra hefty groove. We’d just went through the civil rights movement with people integrating a lot more. I say funk is the place where everything came together and freedom was really touched on for the first time and it showed up in the music.”

VERNON REIDVernon Reid, the cerebral and versatile guitarist of the rock band Living Colour, gave me a shrewd historical overview, saying “Mainly when people talk about funk they talk about a form of rhythm & blues that became very popular in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It emphasized rhythm. It emphasized explosive rhythm from the drums, bass and guitar. A lot of arranged horn lines. There are many sources for where the rhythms came from. You can go back to Louis Jordan from the 1940s and the jump bands that defined the post-big band era. A certain segment of the doo wop era was really important in terms of the music’s development. But I would say that it was rhythm & blues that became focused on a certain kind of back beat.”

MINT CONDITIONAnd that back beat, whether it was from James Brown, Sly or P-Funk, would become the essence of the break beat religion. So why didn’t these bands survive as commercial entities past the ‘80s and why haven’t they been replaced by new ensembles?

NILEG“Funk is ensemble music, you need that collection of people to play funk,” says Chic co-founder, disco disciple, and legendary producer Nile Rodgers. “I can play a funky lick, but you can’t play a funk song without the rest of those people and that’s the thing. So, when black music started to change the financial essence of the black music business was just ripped apart. Once you start taking those bands away you are taking away the whole building, because now you don’t need seven people or ten people or twelve people. Now you just get one guy. You get a producer and that makes the record. So, the whole foundation of our industry from being a black musician started to fall apart with the collapse of the Funk band.”

 

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