Morpheus proclaimed Neo "the one" in the Matrix, but living in America, James Brown wears the crown. The Godfather of Soul, changed music forever with his rough, rugged and raw riff that was always on the one. He forged the foundation of funk, surged the sustenance of soul, and harnessed the history of hip hop. While Mr. Browns’ funk machine created what would become the most sampled music of our time, the one they call Jason Orr, devoted his life to keeping that legacy alive.
As a music producer, cultural specialist, James Brown aficionado, and certainly a keeper of the funk, in 1994 Orr created an unprecedented movement called FunkJazz Kafe, a collective cultural arts and music festival in during the height of Atlanta’s modern musical awakening.
FunkJazz, as it’s affectionately known, was held four times a year and served as sacred ground for soul artists to flow freely in their musical expression—the confines of radio and big production performances were non-existant. For a solid decade (1994-2004), FunkJazz Kafe' attracted artists like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Goodie Mob, Outkast, and Doug E. Fresh. “Live and organic” was what Cee-Lo Green declared FunkJazz.
With over 2500 people at every event, folks lined up around the block without knowing what musical guests were coming. The Tabernacle, an old church turned music venue in Atlanta, became the magical monument for the quarterly revival. Imagine entering a tent that from the outside looks ordinary and non-descript. As soon as you walk in, the ceiling expands magically to make room for the stilt walkers and widens far enough for the fire eaters! (Yes, FunkJazz really had both, for real, for real.) Other rooms were transformed into interactive suites: massages, visual artists painting canvases and bodies alike, house music in one room, reggae in the next. Spoken word artists in the poetry suite made fingers snap while other people shopped at the bazaar on the main level.
Meanwhile the concert hall was all the way live with Little John and The Chronicle, FunkJazz’s legendary house band, bringing the funk while the audience anticipated just who Orr would introduce next. One minute you are in a sanctuary packed with people of all backgrounds partying, and all of a sudden, Public Enemy emerges demanding the crowd to “fight the powers that be.”
The force of the collective could not be contained, fist pumping, blood rushing. FunkJazz Kafe' created an electric and exotic momentum making history each and every time.
It’s time for history to repeat itself. FunkJazz Kafe’ Arts & Music Festival will take place July 12-13, 2013 in Atlanta.
With over sixty-plus hours of historical FunkJazz footage, Orr instinctively knew the next step was a documentary. The light bulb came on when he noticed the grainy film stock of the November 1995 edition of Funk Jazz Kafe where Goodie Mob, Outkast, and Arrested Development turned the party out on the same stage.
That vision turned into the movie premiere of FunkJazz Kafe’: Diary of a Decade (The Story of a Movement) in 2011 to a sold out crowd in Atlanta’s historic Rialto Theatre. Orr wrote, produced, and directed the film then set off on a cinematic journey of screenings in New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Narrated by Public Enemy’s, Chuck D, Diary of a Decade chronicles the evolution of soul music as told by pioneers who created the cornerstones of Black culture. Legends like Roy Ayers, George Clinton, and Dick Gregory weigh in on the industry’s mainstream effect on soul music and the trials it has endured. The film also takes you on the FunkJazz journey, where it all began and how Atlanta became the music mecca of the south. The interviews from soul artists like Cee-Lo, Caron Wheeler, Joi, Dionne Farris, Talib Kweli, and even Jamie Foxx give a first hand account of what is was like to experience FunkJazz Kafe’ as artists.
In every city Orr toured with his film, he asked the audience to name a live soul band that is current in today’s music. Crickets. The audiences fell still. Not one band name came to mind. This is what drives Orr to first educate our people, namely Black youth on why we should continue to celebrate the traditions of Black music. “Preserving those things that invigorate us musically like jazz and soul help us to keep a platform where music is a source of inspiration. We need new geniuses like Stevie Wonder,” he says.
Most of all we need the funk and FunkJazz Kafe’ is where you will find it.
Experience the FunkJazz Kafe’ Art’s & Music Festival in Atlanta, GA this weekend with a special screening of FunkJazz Kafe’: Diary of a Decade at the Southwest Arts Center on Friday, July 12. www.funkjazzkafe.com