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Music Sound


Funk dance | P-Funk | Funkcore | Funk metal

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Stylistic origins: Soul music with a more pronounced beat and influences from Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Rock and Roll and Psychedelic music
Cultural origins: mid to late 1960s US
Typical instruments: Guitar - prominent Bass - Drums - Horns
Mainstream popularity: High in the 1970s, later revival of funk beats in metal and hip hop
Go go - P-Funk
Fusion genres
Afrobeat - Funkcore - Funk metal - G-Funk

Funk is a distinct style of music originated by African-Americans, e.g., James Brown and his band members (especially Maceo and Melvin Parker), and groups like The Meters. Funk best can be recognized by its syncopated three against four rhythms; thick bass line (often based on an "on the one" beat); razor-sharp rhythm guitars; chanted or hollered vocals (as that of Marva Whitney or the Bar-Kays); strong, rhythm-oriented horn sections; prominent percussion; an upbeat attitude; African tones; danceability; and strong jazz influences (e.g., as in the music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Eddie Harris, and others).



Compared to funk's predecessor, the soul music of 1960s, funk typically uses more complex rhythms, while song structures are usually simpler. Often, the structure of a funk song consists of just one or two riffs. Sometimes the point at which one riff changes to another becomes the highlight of a song. The soul dance music of its day, the basic idea of funk was to create as intense a groove as possible.

One of the most distinctive features of funk music is the role played by bass guitar. Before soul music, bass was rarely prominent in popular music. Players like the legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson brought bass to the forefront, and funk built on that foundation, with melodic basslines often being the centerpiece of songs. Notable funk bassists include George Porter, Jr., Bootsy Collins and Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone. Graham is often credited with inventing the percussive "slap bass technique," which was further developed by later bassists and became a distinctive element of funk.

Some of the best known and most skillful soloists in funk have jazz backgrounds. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker are among the most notable musicians in the funk music genre, both having worked with James Brown and George Clinton. Many funk musicians were directly reacting to the increasingly complex structure of Bebop and Modern Jazz. Modern Jazz was becoming so complicated that there could be 4 chord changes per measure, creating a dizzying rapidfire movement through key centers and themes. Funk virtually abandoned chord changes, creating static single chord vamps with little harmonic movement, but with a complex and driving rhythmic feel. Jazz was, in turn, strongly influenced by funk in the 1970s, beginning with Miles Davis, the founder of the jazz fusion movement.

In funk bands, guitarists typically play in a percussive style. "Dead" or muted notes often are used in riffs to strengthen percussive elements. Jimi Hendrix was the pioneer of funk rock and his improvised other-worldly solos influenced Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic. Eddie Hazel, who later worked with George Clinton is one of the most notable guitar soloists in funk. Jimmy Nolen and Phelps Collins are famous funk rhythm guitarists who both worked with James Brown.


Origin of funk

The word "funk", once defined in dictionaries as body odor or the smell of sexual intercourse, commonly has been regarded as coarse or indecent. African-American musicians originally applied "funk" to music with a slow, mellow groove, then later with a hard-driving, insistent rhythm because of the word's association with sexual intercourse. This early form of the music set the pattern for later musicians. The music was slow, sexy, loose, riff-oriented and danceable. Funky typically described these qualities. In jam sessions, musicians would encourage one another to "get down" by telling one another, "Now, put some stank ('stink'/funk) on it!" At least as early as the 1930s, jazz songs carried titles such as Buddy Bolden's Funky Butt. As late as the 1950s and early 1960s, when "funk" and "funky" were used increasingly in the context of soul music, the terms still were considered indelicate and inappropriate for use in polite company.

The distinctive characteristics of African-American musical expression are rooted in West African musical traditions, and find their earliest expression in spirituals, work chants/songs, praise shouts, gospel and blues. In more contemporary music, gospel, blues and blues extensions and jazz often flow together seamlessly. Funky music is an amalgam of soul music, soul jazz and R&B.

James Brown and funk as a genre

Only with the innovations of James Brown in the late 1960s was funk regarded as a distinct genre. In the R&B tradition, these tightly rehearsed bands created an instantly recognizable style, overlaid with catchy, anthemic vocals. Often cueing his band with the command, "On the one!" Brown changed the rhythmic emphasis from the two-four beat of traditional soul music to a one-three emphasis previously associated with white musical forms -- but with a hard-driving, brassy swing. This pumping, one-three beat became a signature of classic funk. While James Brown's 1965 Top 10 King Records hit "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" is widely presumed to be the song that paved way for the funk genre, much of Brown's work in 1965 and 1966, though remarkable, still maintained the rhythms and approach found in earlier records. It was the #1 R&B hits "Cold Sweat" in 1967, "I Got The Feelin'" and "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud" in 1968 that further defined the feel of funk. R&B #1's "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose" and "Mother Popcorn" in 1969 continued to solidify the tight rhythms, riffs and grooves for which funk music is known, setting the standard for James Brown's future work and the rising wave of funk to come in the 1970s.

Other musical groups picked up on the riffs, rhythms, and vocal style innovated by James Brown and his band, and the style began to grow. Dyke & the Blazers based in Phoenix, Arizona released "Funky Broadway" in 1967, perhaps the first record to have "funky" in the title. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were releasing funk tracks beginning with their first album in 1967, culminating in their classic single "Express Yourself" in 1970. The Meters defined funk in New Orleans starting with their Top Ten R&B hits "Sophisticated Cissy" and "Cissy Strut" in 1969. Another group who would define funk in the decade to come were The Isley Brothers whose funky 1969 #1 R&B hit, "It's Your Thing", signaled a breakthrough in black music bridging the gaps of the rock of Jimi Hendrix and the upbeat soul of Sly & the Family Stone.


1970s and P-Funk

In the 1970s, a new group of musicians further developed the "funk rock" approach innovated by Jimi Hendrix. George Clinton, with his bands Parliament and, later, Funkadelic, produced a new kind of funk sound heavily influenced by jazz and psychedelic music. The two groups had members in common and often are referred to singly as "Parliament-Funkadelic." The breakout popularity of Parliament-Funkadelic gave rise to the term "P-Funk," which both referred to the music by George Clinton's bands and defined a new subgenre.

George Clinton with rainbow dreads at the VH1 Fashion Awards. George Clinton with rainbow dreads at the VH1 Fashion Awards.

"P-funk" also came to mean something in its quintessence, of superior quality, or sui generis, as in the lyrics from "P-Funk," a hit single from Parliament's album "Mothership Connection":

"I want the bomb. I want the P-Funk. I want my funk uncut."

The 1970s was probably the era of highest mainstream visibility for funk music. Other prominent funk bands of the period included Earth, Wind & Fire, Bootsy's Rubber Band, The Meters, Tower of Power, Ohio Players, The Commodores, War, Kool & the Gang, Confunkshun, Slave, Cameo, Midnight Star, Lakeside, the Bar-Kays, Betty Davis, Zapp, and many more.

Two bands in particular, Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power, took the rythmic power of funk and added to it more complex song forms, combined with large scale instrumentation -- large horn sections, latin percussion, numerous capable soloists. These bands sold many records and brought the funk ethos to a larger audience.

Already, in late 1960s, many jazz musicians — among them Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock (with his Headhunters band), Grover Washington, Jr., and Cannonball Adderley, Les McCann and Eddie Harris — had begun to combine jazz and funk. Sometimes this approach is called "jazz-funk". Additionally, in the late 1960s work of Miles Davis (with girlfriend/wife Betty Davis) and Tony Williams helped to create Jazz fusion and influenced funk.

Funk music was exported to Africa in the late 1960s, and melded with African singing and rhythms to form Afrobeat. Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician who is credited with creating the music and terming it "Afrobeat".

Disco music owed a great deal to funk. Many early disco songs and performers came directly from funk-oriented backgrounds.

1980s and stripped-down funk

In the 1980s, many of the core elements that formed the foundation of the P-Funk formula began to be usurped by machines. Horns were replaced by synths, effectively phasing out horn sections, and the horns that remained were simplified from the patterns and hooks of the earlier funk sound. Horn solos were out. The classic keyboards of funk, like the Hammond B3 organ and the Fender Rhodes piano began to be replaced by the brash sound of new digital synthesizers like the Yamaha DX7. Drum machines began to replace the "funky drummers" of the past, and the slap and pop style of bass playing began to fall out of favor, often replaced by thinner sounding and rhythmically simpler keyboard bass. The lyrics and hooks of funk began to change from often suggestive and using double entendre to more graphic and sexually explicit. Rick James was the first funkateer of the 80s to assume the funk mantle dominated by P-Funk in the 70s. His 1981 album Street Songs with the singles "Give It To Me Baby" and "Super Freak" resulted in James becoming a bit of a rock star, and paved the way for the future direction of explicitness in funk. Prince, using a stripped-down instrumentation similar to Rick James, went on to have as much of an impact on the sound of funk as any one artist since James Brown. Prince combined eroticism, technology, an increasing musical complexity, and an outrageous image and stage show to ultimately create a musical world as ambitious and imaginative as P-Funk or The Beatles. The Time, originally conceived as an opening act for Prince and based on his "Minneapolis sound", went on to define their own style of stripped-down funk based on tight musicianship and sexual themes.

Bands that began during the 1970s P-Funk era incorporated some of the uninhibited sexuality of Prince and state-of-the-art technological developments to continue to craft funk hits. Cameo, Zapp, The Gap Band, The Bar-Kays, and The Dazz Band all found their biggest hits in the 80s, but by the latter half of the 80s, funk had lost its commercial impact.

Afrika Bambaataa influenced by Kraftwerk created "Electro Funk", a minimalist machine-driven style of funk with his single "Planet Rock" in 1982. Also known simply as Electro, this style of funk was driven by synthesizers and the electronic rhythm of the TR-808 drum machine. The single "Renegades of Funk" followed in 1983.

Recent developments

While funk was all but driven from the radio by slick commercial R&B and New Jack Swing, its influence continued to spread. Rock bands began adding elements of Funk to their sound, creating new combinations of "funk rock" and funk metal. Jane's Addiction, Prince, Primus, Fishbone, Faith No More and the Red Hot Chili Peppers spread the approach and styles garnered from funk pioneers to all new predominantly white audiences in the mid-to-late 1980s and the 1990s. These bands later inspired the underground mid-1990s funkcore movement.

Artists like The Brand New Heavies and Me'shell Ndegeocello carried on with strong elements of funk in the 1990s, but never came close to reaching the commercial success of funk in its heyday.

Today, hip hop artists regularly sample old funk tunes. James Brown is said to be the most sampled artist in the history of hip hop. P-Funk also is sampled frequently—samples of old Parliament and Funkadelic songs formed the basis of West Coast G Funk. Dr. Dre (considered the progenitor of the G-Funk genre) has freely acknowledged to being heavily influenced by George Clinton's psychedelic funk: "Back in the 70s that's all people were doing: getting high, wearing Afros, bell-bottoms and listening to Parliament-Funkadelic. That's why I called my album "The Chronic" and based my music and the concepts like I did: because his shit was a big influence on my music. Very big".[1]

Funk is a major element of certain artists identified with the Jam band scene of the late 1990s and 2000s. Medeski Martin & Wood, Galactic, Soulive, and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe all drawing heavily from the funk tradition. Vermont-based Phish went through a period of funky jams which fans refer to as their "cow funk" stage.

Since the mid 1990s the New Funk scene, centered around the Deep Funk collectors scene, is producing new material influenced by the sounds of rare funk 45's. Labels include Desco, Soul Fire, Daptone, Timmion, Neapolitan, Kay-Dee, and Tramp. Bands include Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Soul Destroyers, Speedometer, The Poets of Rhythm, The Neapolitans, Quantic Soul Orchestra, The New Mastersounds and Lefties Soul Connection. These labels often release on 45 rpm records. Although specializing in music for rare funk DJ's there is beginning to be cross over into the mainstream such as Sharon Jones' 2005 appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

See also

Further reading

  • Vincent, Rickey (1996). Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-13499-1.
  • Thompson, Dave (2001). Funk. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-629-7.

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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