Mike Bell, Calgary Herald: Calgary Folk Fest brings the funk

Posted by Johanna on 26 July 2011

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Kerry Clarke admits that the funk is a bit of a trademark of the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

It’s one of the things she strives to do in her role as the artistic director of the event as well as exploring African-American music in all of its forms.

But this year she discovered that there was an overwhelming funk feel to the fest as it was starting to take shape — be it artist’s past works, their influences, people they’ve worked with, or even just the use of elements of it — thanks to a thread she began following after beginning the booking process.

“It was links in a chain that led me to be funktified,” Clarke says, prior to the festival which kicks of Thursday and runs through Sunday on Prince’s Island Park.

“And it was the funk side, but also just that history. And once we got into it and talked to someone else and talked to someone else then the funk started to emerge.”

That jumping off point began with past performer DJ Logic, who’s in the project the Yohimbe Brothers with guitarist Vernon Reid, from funk and hard rock band Living Colour. They were signed.

Together, they’ve collaborated with Bernie Worrell, one of the founding members of Parliament-Funkadelic, and who has a current project called SociaLybrium, with fellow P-Funker DeWayne (Blackbyrd) McKnight. And they were signed on.

And from there it went, including Canadian roots-funk act the Minotaurs and Brooklyn spoken-word artist and poet Carl Hancock Rux. Ironic, then, that the person who kicked it all off won’t be attending.

“He, genius that he is, managed to double-book himself and did it in such a way that the previous engagement took precedent — he overcommitted,” says Reid with a laugh.

Instead, Reid will be bringing a special edition of the Yohimbe Brothers, which will feature the very able replacement DJ Excess. In the Yohimbe project, the funk comes through in some of the samples spun and also in some of Reid’s guitar work, which runs the gamut from metal to jazz.

But, like Reid himself — whose other projects have included solo work, production work with bluesman James Blood Ulmer, the jazz funk affair Masque, and the still very much alive Living Colour — classifying it merely as one thing doesn’t do him justice.

The same could be said for the work of keyboardist Bernie Worrell — who will join the Yohimbe Brothers for a collaborative show during the folk fest — and about the elder funk statesman’s lasting influence.

“George Clinton’s music has never recovered from his absence,” Reid says matter-of-factly. “George is a great composer and P-Funk exists as a repertory company and that’s as it exists. . . . But George Clinton’s music has never recovered from the absence of Bernie Worrell. It’s just flatly stated — it simply has not.”

For his part, Worrell, humble as he is, downplays his importance to the sound and to the band, and even bristles when his ability to bring the funk is noted.

“I like to say that I bring the music,” says Worrell, in the midst of a European tour with fellow P-Funker Bootsy Collins. “Everybody forgets I’m classically trained, since I was four years old. So, I bring music. I was given the gift of perfect pitch and I can play anything I hear. And I mix musics, that’s what I like to do.”

Worrell points at the unclassifiable composer and pianist Victor Borge as someone whose career he admires, and his ability to not get painted into one corner. Perhaps that’s why, since leaving the P-Funk in the ’80s, he’s worked with such contemporary acts as The Talking Heads and Gov’t Mule, recorded solo albums, played with everyone from Buckethead to Mos Def, and still has time for the out-there jazz act SociaLybrium.

“I get bored quick,” Worrell says and laughs. “I don’t like sticking to one thing — it’s boring.”

Still, it’s that work with Clinton for which he will forever be linked, having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the band, and having much of his work with the group kept alive by new generations discovering it, grooving on it and sampling it — something Worrell views as a mixed blessing.

“I deal with the senses and sounds. It’s a gift I was given, and I’m glad that I’m one of the ones who gets sampled,” he says, then pauses. “I just want my money.”

And his due respect, which, above-all-else for Worrell, would probably mean no more use of the F-word when it comes to him.

“Yes,” he says. “It didn’t use to bother me as much as it bothers (my wife and manager) Judie. But when I take the time to think about it, yes, it’s stupid. But that’s the way this business is.”


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