Except funky is not quite so simple. Early European word origins from France, Flemish, and Old English have it linked to an aroma. There is even a reference in Shakespeare’s work. Maybe because the French and English co-mingled with Africans in New Orleans when and where jazz was born that the term began to be associated with jazz musicians and to an earthiness (i.e. a funk) to their playing. After a few generations of funky musicians—Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, James Brown, The Meters, comes the Funk cosmologist George Clinton who half-facetiously who claimed funk was “an eternal force-placed among the secrets of the pyramids,” and elevated ‘The One” to a magical touchstone for how to live one’s life.
The description I find most thought-provoking comes from scholars of African art and philosophy such as the late Robert Farris Thompson. Thompson links our standard use of funky back to the nations of Kongo and Anglo, where two-thirds of the slaves in the Americas originated. He wrote “The Ki-Kongo word is closer to the jazz word funky in form and meaning as both jazzmen and the Bakongo use funky and ‘lu-fuki’ to praise persons of integrity for their art, for having worked out to achieve their aims. And in Kongo, it is possible to hear an elder lauded, ‘there is a really funky person—my soul advances toward him to receive his blessing.’”
Tune in on Sunday, February 6, at 5 pm when The Jazz River gets funky and give praise to the integrity of these artists who also make us shake our rumps. Only on KUVO JAZZ.