PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC / “P-Funk Live Mixtape”
Do you wanna dance? By the early seventies, the golden era of black self-determination in the USA, every black person who had half a brain was involved, in one way or another, at actualizing black empowerment. Even those who were opposed in principle to “black power” were engaged in trying to mold America into a more egalitarian society and thus even when integration was the goal, the actualization of that goal demanded that blacks be raised from a position of inferiority to equality. On the cultural side, such activism created a climate in which artists not only were socially and politically involved in daily life but the general outlook became one of reaching for the stars. We literally thought everything was possible, if not today, surely by tomorrow! Today we know the sixties/seventies as a golden era of black music: Motown, Atlantic, Blue Note, Prestige, Stax, Philly International, Curtom and bunches of smaller independent record labels produced an unmatched catalogue that remains a standard for today’s popular music. One interesting wrinkle is the ascendancy of Parliament/Funkadelic, bka P-Funk. Prime P-Funk was literally a spin-off from 1. James Brown, who was a kingdom unto him own superbad self, 2. Motown, where George Clinton cut his musical teeth but quickly departed, and 3. Jimi Hendrix, who brought the screaming lead guitar to the forefront. Of course there were other elements but those three are the foundation and James Brown was both a influential musical cornerstone as well as a direct source of musicians—first it was bassist Bootsy Collins, and then Maceo and Fred Wesley (who morphed into P-Funk’s “horny horns”). James Brown was the progenitor of modern funk and P-Funk was the perfection thereof. You can call me Chinese because I was born in interesting times. My birthdate is 24 March 1947. I was active in the civil rights movement while in high school: sitting-in (and getting arrested), picketing, voter registration. By the seventies I was a delegate to the sixth Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1974; had led a delegation to the People Republic of China in 1977; and was a member of a Pan-African Nationalist organization, Ahidiana, that operated an elementary school, and was active in community organizing especially around police brutality. When I was in my early twenties, black music was at it’s highest overall level. From 1970 to 1983, I was the editor of The Black Collegian magazine and writing on the regular about the music, which included writing and publishing over 100 interviews featuring a wide range of black artists. Indeed, I was present when the mothership first landed. The premiere of that iconoclastic musical event was at the Municipal Auditorium located, appropriately enough, in New Orleans’ Congo Square. I was sitting in the first balcony with an excellent view of the whole stage. When they called down the mothership the first thing that happened was a small model mothership attached to a wire flew from the back ceiling down to the stage. As it passed overhead, I remember being underwhelmed—label promo man Tom Vickers had promised me it would be a not to be missed event. That small cardboard or tin foil or whatever-it-was-made-of contraption hardly qualified. The music was jamming but the special effects wasn’t so special. The model disappeared behind the stage curtain. The band was whipping harder as if to make up for the failure of the model mothership to wow the audience. Then the dry ice smoke started, and lights starting blinking, and HOLY SHIT GODDAMN… a big ass spaceship started descending over the stage. I mean a BIG ASS SPACESHIP. This wasn’t no play toy model nothing. This was THE MOTHERSHIP. At that point I wasn’t the only one jumping up, screaming, and shaking my ass to the music. The whole auditorium was throbbing. We could hardly believe our eyes. Then they pushed this sixteen-or-so foot ladder up to the mothership. Mind you the band has locked into a fifth gear and the whole place was going ape-shit nuts. Which is when the door on the spaceship slide open and a sun-glasses-wearing George Clinton dressed in white fur from head to toe stepped onto the ladder and just stood there for what was probably no more than a couple of minutes. You know the Christian rapture belief that at the appropriate time God is going to send a chariot of some sort to collect the hundred-and-some thousand believers, well this wasn’t Jesus but it was certainly a preview of what it was going to feel like. By now we were all delirious with joy. Certainly we had just been saved from the blahs. From that point on, anything was possible. You ever saw a black man dressed in fluffy white descend from on high? I don’t know how he did it in those platform boots but my man’s swag was literally a strut. And when he touched down on the stage the party was on in full effect. I don’t remember what happened next. It was sensory overload. I had just seen a spaceship land and this wasn’t no unidentified flying object. This was the mothership connection. It is important to understand the collective unconscious evidenced by the majority of blacks in the diaspora. We all dream of flying. This was a soundtrack for our deepest desires. So this week’s Mixtape is an hour-and-a-half attempt to replicate the sublime creative chaos of P-Funk at its zenith, which was a collective of probably twenty-some musicians, singers, dancers cavorting on the stage. Throw away your damn watch. P-Funk was known to go until morning light, literally. A P-Funk performance was a potent mix of heavy funk, Hendrix inspired rock, and gospel inflected vocals (including a chorus) garnished by a running cosmic rap from Dr. Funkenstein. This musical mélange was created live, in real time, right before you very eyes, straight on into your earhole. A P-Funk concert was damn near a religious experience. In the eighties and the nineties there were attempts to recapture the P-Funk experience but the times had changed. Yes, the notes and the beats could be replicated but the collective consciousness was not there so the music didn’t feel the same because in fact the heads in the audience were not in the same place. Many, many commentators on the music miss the importance of the audience and the consciousness of that audience. Transcendental music requires people who ready to rise up and while there will always be small pockets of people ready to take a trip, prime time P-Funk happened when whole communities were ready ride. The general community consciousness is the missing ingredient but the cycle will return. That is the way life has always been. Ebbs and flows. Ups and downs. Listen to the last track on the Mixtape and you will hear the instructions. Swing down sweet chariot. Stop and let me ride… To be continued. Surely… —Kalamu ya Salaam P-Funk Live Mixtape Playlist Live: P Funk Earth Tour 01 “Dr Funkenstein” 02 “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker Medley” 03 “Dr. Funkenstein's Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication Medley” 04 “Comin' Round The Mountain” Live 1976-93 (out of print) 05 “Cosmic Slop” 06 “It Ain't Illegal Yet” 07 “Funkentelechy” 08 “Into You” 09 “Aquaboogie” 10 “Children Of Production” 11 “Mothership Connection”
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