[wpspoiler name=”Get on the Night Train with James Brown in 1963″ open=”true” style=”aatw-video”][/wpspoiler]

Then came JAMES BROWN.

James Brown was an R&B crooner, a gospel preacher, the most soulful of soul artists, and, at the same moment, something completely new. Brown and his awesome, awesome band, THE JBs took the emphasis off of melody and harmony and put the focus on a driving, gutturally groovy, rhythm. In particular, unlike much soulful music of the time, Brown’s music emphasized “the downbeat,” or the first beat of a musical segment known as a measure. (Count 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 and you’re counting out two measures of four beats each. Emphasize the first beat of each measure–1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4–and you’ll be in the ballpark of funk.) Brown’s band brought together many rhythmic instruments that had become standard in rock ‘n’ roll, like the electric guitar, electric bass, Hammond organ and a drum kit, and married them with a searing horn section. The band would then play songs that might consist, for the most part, of the same chord over and over. (This distinguished the form from R&B and soul songs which focds on more closely structured compositions.) “Godfather of Soul” Brown would use this repeated chord as a foundation upon which he’d sculpt the development of the performance, manipulating the pace of the band and the enthusiasm of the audience in order to whip everyone who was there into a frenzy.

In the ’70s in America funk formed the foundation for a less politically stirring form of music called disco, which we’ll explore in another week. It also inspired the even more intensely political Nigerian musician, FELA KUTI, to blend it with African rhythms to originate a genre called Afrobeat. [Watch Fela perform “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” live in the UK in 1984. Note the funky James Brown-style guitar underneath.]

Today you’ll hear funk music many places–usually places where people dance. DJs at dance clubs regularly use funk records to get people grooving, hip hop artists regularly sample funk chords and progressions, and funk bands…well, they just do their darndest to stay funky.

[Watch James Brown tear it up with “Night Train” in 1963, Live at the Apollo, “Super Bad
(which we’re going to hear in class) performed on Soul Train in 1970 and “Get on the Good Foot,” another Soul Train appearance, this time in 1973 | Watch SLY & THE FAMILY STONE funk it up on Soul Train | Free your mind with PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC as they perform live in 1979]

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