Lasting Impacts of Funk and Disco

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  • Topic: Disco, Funk, Bee Gees
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  • Published : September 26, 2012
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The Lasting Impacts of Funk and Disco
The transition from the 1960’s to the 1970’s was a rough one. A decade characterized by the supposed defeat of poverty and racism as well as the conquest of space, was subsequently and surprisingly followed by a decade of chaos and disorder in the world. The country was running out of promise, the troops were running out of Vietnam, and the President was running out of office. Luckily however, the emergence of great music simply could not be affected by the unfortunate economic and social issues going on in the world at the time. The surfacing of both funk and disco characterized the time period starting from the late 1960’s into the 1970’s, and although each music movement had its own style, its own rhythms, and its own artists, both were similar in a plethora of different ways.

Let’s start with funk, with its distinctive characteristics rooted in West African musical traditions and influences from early expressions such as praise shouts, spirituals, and gospel and blues. Funk, some might say, was also a mixture of soul music, R & B, and soul jazz. However, there were distinct differences that separated funk from the music that had preceded and succeeded it. This was exemplified by the fact that this style completely abandoned chord changes, creating static and single chord vamps with little harmonic movement, but with a driving and complex rhythmic feel. The term funk, surprisingly, “comes from the Ki-Kongo word ‘lu-fuki,’ which means foul body odor. But insofar as this odor is produced from perspiration that is induced by vigorous exertion.” (Bolden 15) They used the word to praise other people’s music, acknowledging the time and effort each had put into such musical pieces.

When one talks about the emergence of such a large musical movement, one must not leave out the influence of James Brown, who many regard to be one of the founding fathers of funk. His music in the late 1960’s was perhaps the “single most unifying facet of popular black culture of the time.” (Bolden 51) With “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in 1965, “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in 1966, and “Cold Sweat” in 1967, Brown was “pushing an assertive black masculine aesthetic” into popular music in a way that America had never seen before (Bolden 52). At the time, he developed his music in a way that was unique to African American music. He developed a signature groove that emphasized that downbeat, which was the opposite of what the norm was, placing a heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure rather than the backbeat. This style became so popular, that not only did it gain massive popularity among his fans, but other artists and composers started to pick up on the rhythms as well. Such groups included Dyke & the Blazers, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, and finally, Sly and the Family Stone, who released “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," which reached number one of the charts in 1970.

Finally, a new group of musicians decided to develop a funk rock approach. George Clinton is widely regarded as the head this movement with his bands Parliament and Funkadelic. His bands became such big name in this sub genre, that this style had been known to be called P-funk, or Parliament-Funkadelic. His music took the funk style that had been prominent in most of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and combined it with jazz and psychedelic rock. It was nothing like the black or white community had ever seen before. Like Amy Nathan Wright describes it, “through their music, performances, lyrics, and image, P-Funk confronts and collapses white norms, creating a postmodern, post civil rights black ideology.”

Starting in the early to mid 1970’s however, a new style of music was arising that seemed to be bigger, more popular, and more influential than funk was. Many think that the roots of Disco lie in America, but technically it was started in Europe. During the years of the World...
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