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The Funk Era: More Than Music

Posted on September 24 2018

Soul Train, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

 

Funk. You’ve probably heard or seen the word in and around your home growing up. It may have dripped from the lips of your uncle or favorite auntie: Can’t get enough...of that funky stuff. But what, exactly, was that funky stuff? And where did it come from? The history and evolution of funk epitomize an era that, in many ways, allowed a culture of people to re-envision and fully embrace who they were in their own eyes, and it is a journey that continues to evolve in our world today.

 

Funk Foundations

The essence of funk began in the mid-1960s. In a time where segregation and prejudice ran rampant, simply existing as a black person in America proved to be a challenge. Black Americans had a set and separate “place” in society. That place existed anywhere that was out of mainstream society’s sight, and anywhere devoid of racial pride and self-love. Opportunities to express unadulterated “blackness” were few and far between, particularly in the creative arts. Aside from Motown, only a handful of record labels offered opportunities for singers, musicians and writers to present culture-specific content. Sadly, even those songs needed to have crossover appeal to better guarantee acceptance and approval by white listeners (the listeners that mattered).

Enter James Brown, the Godfather of Soul and founder of the funk who would change all of that.

 

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

 

Brown first initiated the funk by changing the groove of his music, flipping his songs to hit on “the one,” or the first beat of the measure. This new focus on the downbeat versus the traditional “2” and “4” of a measure sparked a rhythm revolution. Black musicians and artists caught the vision quickly and enthusiastically, and they reconstructed their sounds accordingly. The change shifted the natural cadence of soul music from its typical bright, sing-songy sway to a much grittier, tribal syncopation.

 

The Funk Philosophy

Not only did James Brown change the music, but he also changed the message within it. As one of the most prominent black figures in the 60s and 70s, Brown used his influence to speak to the people through funk anthems like “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

The bold, brash funk movement sparked a contagious conversion and emancipated black America from its social shackles. It shouted with tenacity that black was indeed beautiful, and that our reality was worthy of celebration and expression. The people listened—and believed. The power of funk brought black empowerment to all who heard it. The music, the message and the mindsets of funk providers and enthusiasts ignited an Afro-American attitude adjustment, one that gifted the power of pride to the people. The funk era had officially begun.

 

Funk, Fashion and Film

Funk was undeniable from its inception. It liberated black imagination within and beyond music. As the 70s solidified funk’s place in black America, the impact of funk could be seen throughout the creative aspects of black culture. Funk music gave way to visual representation in television and film. It ushered in opportunities to put blackness on full display, something Hollywood had not allowed or embraced. Black Americans finally saw themselves represented not only in the lyrics of songs and soundtracks; they saw themselves on big and small screens, as well.

 

 

Images of dark brown skin visibly permeated all walks of entertainment. Big beautiful afros that embraced African roots and rejected European assimilation finally felt like they belonged in society. Colorful clothing, swaying bell bottom pants, fashionable fur jackets, elevated platform shoes...funk put black America’s style on the map! It gave us a reason to explore our history and tell our stories. Mainstream society could no longer deny the importance of our identity. On the surface, it was an exposure to the realities of black lives and times not often seen or recognized. At its core, however, it was the impetus for a sorely needed cultural shift in American society.

 

The Forever Funk Era

So, what is funk? Author and activist Kevin Powell described it best: it is unapologetic blackness. The funk era highlighted the strength, pride and brilliance of Black America. It redefined our distinction and cultural magnificence. This is why Funk Era is our brand and namesake.

We at Funk Era recognize and respect the clothing people choose to wear. We understand those choices provide an insight into the individuality and personality of the wearer. We hope that you will allow our graphic tees, with their images and phrasings rooted in our rich history, to represent your connection to a picturesque past that continues to paint who we are and strive to be in the present. We invite you to relish with us the colorful culture, the creative contexts, the soul, the spirit and swagger of the Funk Era.

 

Can you dig it?