Interview: Brooklyn Funk Essentials

Brooklyn Funk Essentials is a music collective founded in 1993 by producer Arthur Baker and bassist and musical director Lati Kronlund. By the mid-1990s, their exciting mix of jazz, funk and hip hop became a solid part of the New York City club scene and they have been funking ever since in an ever-changing, ever-evolving musical outfit, that has featured countless musicians and poets from around the globe.

Brooklyn Funk Essentials release their their fifth studio album ‘Funk Ain’t Ova’ worldwide on Dorado Records on 13th November 2015. We talk to two of the founding funksters Lati and Papa Dee about the old, the new and the downright funky. Hoxton is about to get funked up!

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The sound of Brooklyn Funk Essentials is a vibrant mix of funk, soul, jazz, latin, house, drum & bass, ska and afrobeat (and more!). Was it always this eclectic from day one – or, like a rolling snowball, have you picked up more and more influences along the way?

Lati: It was always eclectic. The original band had members from New York, Jamaica, New Orleans, Sweden, Puerto Rico, Chicago, Tokyo, Surinam – you name it. It was a natural thing that the music would be a mix of many styles.

If anything, we have moved away from musical trends on this new album, and focused on writing really good songs and getting really good sounds out of instruments and voices.

PD: We always used to mix up styles and influences from the beginning. We love to pick up new stuff along the way. Like when we did the album ‘In the Buzzbag’ in Turkey, late 90s. That was a new experience, incorporating eastern scales and melodies and mixing it with our Funk. We have a solid foundation but we spice it up all the time!! Just a natural thing.

 

What controls do you put in place to make sure it all gels together well and doesn’t end up sounding like a crazy mish-mash??

Lati: Our ears mainly. Also, I think that as DJs who like to play eclectic sets, we also know what type of songs work to mix together. Like our version of ‘Gabriel’ on the new album – the original is a house classic with a 2step feel, so it’s uptempo.

We wanted to stay in the uptempo, but changed the groove to a cross between ska and latin boogaloo, which we had done before on earlier songs, so it’s a part of our sound. Then we worked the vocals more like a seventies soul group arrangement.

PD: Well thats the thing. I personally have a slight problem with many bands that fuse different kinds of music. It’s a very delicate balance and you don’t wanna end up in musical no-mans-land. You wanna make good music, not interesting music!! I really feel we manage to get that balance right somehow. We try to keep the funk in there so we don’t lose ourselves. Good musicians and a whole lotta good musical taste in the band, so…

 

We’re super excited about the release of ‘Funk Ain’t Ova’ – have you brought a new vibe to the table with it, or is it more of a return to your roots?

Lati: We wanted to make a record that was more like finding a leather jacket that you want to wear for life rather than some incredibly fashionable thing that you’ll wear five times and be fabulous and then it will collect dust in your wardrobe.

PD: Well we always stayed with our roots but with this version of the band we’ve really got our groove and our sound right. I’m thrilled about the album cause it’s got so much energy and vibe! It’s also great that we have a lot of original members guesting on various tracks, like the fantastic singers Stephanie Mckay and Joi Caldwell, also players like Bill Ware, Danny Sadownick and Joshua Roseman. So… I guess in some aspects we’re going back to our roots.

 

What’s your personal stand-out track on the album? Is there one that is your baby?

Lati: ‘I’m Gonna Find Me A Woman’ is very special to me. We originally recorded it with Isaac Hayes in the 90s for a movie that was never released. During the recording session, my son who was two at the time, was hanging around the studio, and him and Isaac Hayes got on really well. On this new version, it is my son who sings Isaac Hayes intro part of the song. He is now 20.

PD: Well my baby is probably ‘Hold It Down’… but not necessarily my favourite. Hmm, I was listening to album the other day. I cant really pick one. It’s a solid album! Maybe ‘Find Me A Woman’. Classic soul/funk. Love to sing it live!

 

You’ve worked with so many artists and musicians over the years – is there anyone who you were in absolute awe of?

Lati: Apart from Isaac Hayes, it was also great to work with Maceo, not to mention the Turkish musicians.

PD: Well meeting James Brown when we were support act for him was fantastic! It was great hanging out with the Meters. Larry Graham, Bootsy, George Clinton, Lee Perry, Roy Ayers, Isaac Hayes. I could go on. We’ve met so many heroes through the years. I really feel privileged.

 

What’s your favourite era for music?

Lati: Hands down – the 70s.

PD: Personally, I’m a kinda mid 60s to mid 70s guy when it comes to a lot of genres – rocksteady/reggae, funk/soul, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, latin etc. But growing up in the 80s, hip hop and 80s funk and dancehall was a huge influence of course.

 

Are there any new artists you’ve been working with recently who have knocked your socks off?

Lati: I went to a jam session at Arlene’s Grocery in New York a while back. Full band, three rappers and two singers took turns over a groove that developed over about 20 minutes. Absolutely mind-blowingly good!

 

There seems to be a bit of a funk revival over here at the moment, with George Clinton getting out there more and funk working its way into mainstream pop like Bruno Mars tracks – what do you think of all that?

Lati: Funk is fun and sexy music. I think those aspects have been missing in a lot of modern dance music. Hopefully people will also discover that, to really feel the music, it’s best to experience it live.

PD: I think its great. Unbelievable that Clinton is still out there reinventing himself and making music for new generations. MY hero since I was a kid!! The funk revival might not always break new ground but hey, if it’s funky, bring it on!!

 

Here in London, we’ve still got loads of great small live music venues going strong, like the Underbelly, Roadtrip & The Workshop, The 100 Club and Camden’s Electric Ballroom – what do you think of London’s music scene?

Lati: The London scene remains one of the best and most creative places for music anywhere in the world.

PD: The London scene is still great!! People love music! People love live music! I’m heavily influenced by London’s live and club scene! Respect!

 

Finally – is Hoxton ready for the funk?

Lati: Hoxton was always funky. The great thing is that it has retained it’s funkiness despite the monetisation of the city. Zigfrid is a testament to that.

PD: I know for a fact that Hoxton is ever ready for the Funk… and it ain’t ova until we say so!!

 

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See Brooklyn Funk Essentials DJ set & listening party at Zigfrid von Underbelly of Hoxton on Thursday 19th November at 8pm. FREE ENTRY.

http://www.brooklynfunkessentials.com

 

 

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Jenny Amp

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