they say funk is coming back, but funk never died!
August 16, 2018
What is funk? Is it an attitude? Is it the face you make when you hear it, like you just caught a whiff of something gross? Or is it just a genre of music? The decade-long movement started in the mid-1960’s where up-and-coming, African-American musicians told stories about love, money, the love of money and everything in between. It wasn’t characterized by any particular style, just the promise that the groove would be infectious.
Artists like Bootsy Collins, Rose Royce, Chaka Khan & Sister Sledge combined gospel roots, blues knowledge, and jazz influence to create songs that topped the charts. Samples of their music have since been transformed into Hip Hop hits of the 90’s and pop of today. One artist, in particular, won a Grammy for their funk-infused album that old fans and new fans can’t stop revisiting. That artist is Bruno Mars.
While the singer-writer-dancer has garnered much success, praise from current and past artists, Mars has also received backlash that accuses him of appropriating African-American culture. Funk is very much an experience that developed as a result of imaginative singers, guitarists, pianists and other musicians from lower to middle-level socioeconomic backgrounds. And after ten years of rocking speakers, filling rooms and selling out shows, a hiatus took place until the likes of Teddy Riley, Mary J. Blige, and other musical figures laced R&B ballads with funk grooves.
However, since those wonderful years in music, not much has happened on the mainstream, widespread front (as far as funk is concerned) until Bruno. So, what caused the resurgence? What about funk made it irresistible in the first place and why can we expect to hear more of it in the future? Michael Nash is an original member of the 70’s funk band, Rose Royce and he also happens to be my dad. The band is known for their songs ‘Car Wash’, ‘Wishing On A Star’, ‘I’m Going Down’ and more. He loves Bruno Mars’ music and makes a pretty good guess about why the ‘I Wanna Be A Billionaire’ singer made the transition.
When asked what about funk makes it virtually timeless, here’s how Nash set the scene:
“Funk touches a lot of different people from different cultures because the emphasis is on the one which is the first beat. It’s easy to dance to, it can be party music and include features from every musician in the band whether the drummer takes the beat, the guitarist, etc. Different bands can take the concept of funk and create their own sound all the way from something sophisticated like Earth, Wind & Fire to something simple like James Brown.
Earth, Wind & Fire had a song called ‘Serpentine Fire’ which talks about Egyptian history, but the beat had people doing the Soul Train line on television. So, it’s a great foundation for musicians because it allows them and the listeners to be individuals. It can’t get too intellectual it has to be emotional so when a guy is playing it you’ll hear him say, “that feels good.”’
Nash has been playing the piano since he was thirteen years old, making this year his 50th as a well-versed and multi-talented pianist. When asked what peaked his interest about the instrument, he said, “Everything about it made sense. It’s an intellectual instrument and I had a thirst for knowledge. I never felt lonely when I was playing the piano.” The songwriter/pianist continues to tour with the funk band has just returned from Atlanta, Georgia where they shared the stage with Joe, Stephanie Mills and Tony! Toni! Tone!. He also mentioned that while the music they performed over the years has not changed, their fan base certainly has.
Fans their age have introduced the music to their children and now new generations are attending their concerts. I can remember traveling with my dad as a kid, seeing the preparation that took place backstage and the way crowds would react to their music. While I, of course, thought it was very cool, I also over time became so used to tagging along that I started to undervalue their importance to music and to artistic communities everywhere. They made it! Out of the hundreds of bands that developed and disbanded, Rose Royce is still going.
They’ve built a legacy that lives on in the fans who support them and raise their children to love this timeless body of work. So, I guess it’s the passing on and the special moments of sharing something near and dear that creates the value; and artists are starting to see that recreating and recapturing that energy goes a long way.
Mainstream music has become a bit mundane, but with artists like Black Coffee, Tank and the Bangas, Anderson .Paak and Roman GianArthur who are transforming and revitalizing funk through electro, big band, R&B, we can hope for a funkier future while also paying homage to those that paved the way. In the words of my dad, “Knowing your instrument/craft never dies and the artists that do have long-lasting careers.”
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