As a locker, what first attracted me to the art form is the music which lockers dance to – funk. During the years of practising the style of dance called locking, you will be exposed to funk songs such as those by James Brown, Average White Band, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, just to name a few. Till date, many artists are influenced by the music theories of funk and you can find yourself grooving to the funk beats that pulses through modern hits such as Uptown Funk and 24K Magic by Bruno Mars.
Recently, AllOut.Lifestyle, released their first ever jacket with the tag line “Unity On the One. One Nation Under a Groove”. The back of the jacket features the godfather of funk, James Brown, and George Clinton of Parliament. The tag line made me think more about funk music and its theory of being ‘on the one’, and hence this article.
Funk has a chapter in the long history of black music and culture. I won’t bore you with the detailed explanation about the origins of funk from my readings but here is a simple framework of the evolution of funk music, showing the convergence of styles which led to the birth of The Funk.
What is ‘Unity On the One’? You might or might not heard of the term before. But if you have, you will know that it is related to funk music and this theory can be heard in most of the funk songs during the seventies.
When George Clinton of P-Funk was chanting onstage, “On the one, everybody on the one”, he was not trying to get the band to be on the beat but he is relishing the rhythmic lock that would bring the entire band, including the audience, as one. In simple terms, each instrument in the band can be playing different patterns of rhythms in between but the instruments would all come back together on the first count of the eight. This is the basic and most essential element of funk music back then.
During concerts, this structure of funk music would encourage audience participation such as when James Brown exhorted his audiences to “Get up!”, leading to the crowd repeating each chant and got drawn into the meaning. This is when the performer and audience become one, united by the music, and a harmony among all people is achieved.
The concept of ‘Unity On the One’ and ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ also comes from the daily fights of racial inequality back in the days. Funk was a street term applied to the late 1960s and 1970s black style of music, arts and fashion. Being the original funk pioneer, James Brown used his fame to inspire the black community to work hard and succeed in the white-run world. In 1968, he released ‘Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud’, carrying a message of black empowerment directly to the mainstream America. It encourages listeners not to be ashamed of themselves.
Funkadelic also released a hit song in 1978, “One Nation Under a Groove” which refers to dancing as a path to freedom.
As a street dancer, you tend to emphasize on the first count of an eight as well. You see box splits going on the one. You see B-boys freezing on the one. Try to listen and observe the next time you attend a local jam. And that’s when you will further understand the structure of funk music.
This article is only a gist of the long and rich history of funk. I hope I got to feed a bit of your curiosity and maybe inspire you to do more of your own research. I would like to thank Robin Teh for allowing me to write a little on the tag lines featured on AllOut.Lifestyle’s jacket. Also, to Ben ‘pSyk’ Koh for the short talk and discussion on the theory of ‘Unity on the One’. If you want to know more details or feel entirely lost from reading my article (I hope not), there are always knowledgeable people in the Singapore street dance scene whom you can look for to ask questions such as the following people – Ian ‘Chunky’, Robin Teh and Ben ‘pSyk’.
This article was written from different books and video sources. Below are some interesting documentaries which you can take a look at!
The Story of Funk – One Nation under a Groove