As a writer about music I regularly struggle to find sufficient vocabulary to express certain concepts and feelings. Take, for example, ‘funky’. I certainly know when a piece of music is funky. It has that sound of course, which is a bass-driven beat overlayed with jittery guitar or keyboards. Sometimes a dollop of brass in sprayed into the mix to fill (or accentuate) particular gaps. Funky music has a certain feel, for sure. It makes your knees wobble back and forth, up and down. Soon your shoulders are nudging around and your eyes are closing as your head sways in time to the beat. That feeling is good! Outasight!! Fantastic!!! Groovy!!!!
There is more to funky then a feeling or a type of rhythm. There is a spirit to funky. A funky person has a certain presence, perhaps even an aura. His clothes hang differently on his body. They are filled with a funky-ness, which is invisible, inaudible but most definitely palatable.
Funky, sources tell me, derives from a Kongolese word, lu-fuki, which means, in its literal meaning, ‘strong body odor’. The meaning is is perhaps reinforced by contact with fumet, ‘aroma of food and wine,’ in French Louisiana. But the Ki-Kongo word is closer to the jazz word ‘funky’ in form and meaning, as both jazzmen and Bakongo use ‘funky’ and lu-fuki to praise persons for the integrity of their art, for having ‘worked out’ to achieve their aims. In Kongo today it is possible to hear an elder lauded in this way: ‘like, there is a really funky person!–my soul advances toward him to receive his blessing (yati, nkwa lu-fuki! Ve miela miami ikwenda baki) Fu-Kiau Bunseki, a leading native authority on Kongo culture, explains: ‘Someone who is very old, I go sit with him, in order to feel his lu-fuki, meaning, I would like to be blessed by him.’ For in Kongo the smell of a hardworking elder carries luck. This Kongo sign of exertion is identified with the positive energy of a person. Hence, ‘funk’ in black American jazz parlance can mean earthiness, a return to fundamentals.
And as the truest form of funky music came out of New Orleans (adopted so wholeheartedly by Brotherman James Brown) this etymology which blends Louisana French and African languages seems completely plausible.
For all the interest the above digressed introduction may generate I am still at a loss to find a word that embodies the sound, the feel, the spirit and the smell of ‘funky’. So, I won’t even try.
One of most satisfying purveyors of funky music that I’ve come across in recent years is a French guy who goes by the name of Mr President. His birth name is Bruno “Patchworks” Hovart and he’s an accomplished groove-miester with a number of groups/identities/projects behind him, including the very cool Uptown Funk Empire. Here is an interview, which though a trifle old (2006, before his Mr President persona), speaks to the influences and journey of Mr Hovart.
There are so many uplifting, moving and grooving grooves on this record it is not possible to sing all of their praises. The revue-esque intro Mr President Theme, lets you know this is going to be a ‘show’ with lots of stuff going on. Hovart’s very bad (meaning good) guitar strokes are a highlight throughout, conjuring up aural images of afrobeat bands or the aforementioned Godfather of Soul. But it is not just the guitar playing, it is the arrangements, and structures of each song, that are so alluring. Each one has a different feel but not one misses the mark. Horns are here, organ and silky soul voices too. Highlights for me are the neo-soul, The Best is Yet to Come as well as the Al Green super classic Love and Happiness to which Mr. P has added a glassy edge. But the swinging closing number Trouble (the tenor sax that jumps all around the bottom of the groove is addictive) is hard to ignore. Ditto: Left to Right and Tribute to RZA.
Not bad for a Frenchmen I say!
01 Mr President Theme
02 Meet Again
03 From South To North
05 Tribute To RZA
06 Love & Happiness
07 The Best Is Yet To Come
08 Left And Right
09 Get It Sometime
10 You Move Me
11 Ginger X Walk
12 Homeless Soul
13 Bike Riding
14 Who’s Gonna Fall