FunkJazz Kafe’ Founder Jason Orr Talks Evolution, Trayvon Martin, and Computers Stealing Donny Hathaway’s Vibe
Jason Orr interviewing Dr. Cornel West & Clifton West @Sweet Tea Ethics photo: www.shannonmccollum.com
Funk Jazz Kafe’ is a wellness festival. I have to trick you into eating your vegetables. If I tell you in advance to try some of this vegetarian food, you might tell yourself to eat before you get there.
Jason Orr’s FunkJazz Kafe’ is spiritual. While attendees sweat out the troubles of our times, icons commence healing via microphones. As Orr launches his 19th year of production, in collaboration with NBAF’s 25th Anniversary National Black Arts Festival Celebration, there is a quiet confidence that envelops him. For two consecutive days, July 12th and 13th, FunkJazz Kafé® will execute ‘music magic’ through film and unscripted environments of high-energy live performance. In a far reaching conversation with award winning writer Ed Garnes, founder of From Afros To Shelltoes, Orr discusses black cultural evolution, Prince, Trayvon Martin, and computers stealing Donny Hathaway’s vibe.
Mentioning the name FunkJazz Kafe’ moves people on a deep emotional level. As you process through the completion of the documentary and years of labor, what have you contributed to black musical culture?
FunkJazz Kafe’ is not an artist platform. It is about cultural sustainability and personal wellness. I didn’t discover artists. They were already discovered. I just gave them a space and chance for people who never knew about them to see their talent on stage.
I know we have captured the quintessential story on the late 20th & early 21st century in black music. People wont realize how important it was until 20 -30 years from now. Folks gonna look back and ask what happened. Just like we ask what happened to slow drags. On one level, the programming is so thick most people don’t ask what happened to slow drag. And that’s what was frightening to me…that soul music could evaporate out of the commercial market without anyone asking what happened. A soul category sure would have helped Raphael Saddiq. Even at the Soul Train Awards they wont have Best Male Soul Album. That’s some wild “ish.” The question becomes: “ How important is soul music to us as a people?”
What I am most proud of is putting people together. People telling me I met my wife at Funk Jazz and here are our four children. It gives me greater sense of purpose. When you can put all the tribes of black folks together and they are not being pretentious, that is what it is.
Every year there is a new music conference, festival, etc, why have you been successful in sustaining a movement while others have ceased to exist?
It’s the fact that we can keep mystery. Mystery leads to magic. All the performances in the film are those magical moments. I would love to see Al Jarreau, Bilal, and Bobby McFerrin scat together. That would be magical. With Funk Jazz, I try to keep a platform open to do that. Magic only happens to people that believe in it.
I have always admired how my dear brother Phonte and our friends at The Foreign Exchange Music are not being chained down to any machine or market force. Since going totally independent, they have achieved their greatest success. You have always been guided by an internal fortitude and distinct sense of self to exceed in spite of. How can that independent spirit be cultivated in black artists?
It takes a thinker to really come out of the mind state of being a consumer. Am I a puppet or puppet master? Is Prince independent or major? He is doing major things independently, still working, and one of the greatest artists of all time. If you can do The Forum twenty-one nights or Madison Square Garden five nights, is that independent or major? I’m sure Prince is self -driven. He probably does not want to lose his musical chops. He has broken the bank five times. The publishing on the song “1999” from 1982-2000 every new year…just imagine that. That’s major. I think its an individual decision to say what I do is major. But, you can use independent methods and new technology to get it to the public using digital media, texting, or whatever. You have to be a self-motivated individual to recognize who you are and the service you provide. We are only dealing with products and services. I aint never made a product. I just provided a service.
Why is there such much fear in in evolving our consciousness and musical/cultural tastes?
Programming sedates you. It goes deeper than what you see on television. It goes into your soul. Most of American society is composed of working class consumers. We are taught to constantly buy. We are taught to like reality television. And if you don’t like certain reality TV shows they will find some stats stating X percentage of people love it. It’s number one. Since it’s number one, people look at one more episode and find something they identity with. We are becoming programmed into not trying to evolve. Funk Jazz Kafe’ is a wellness festival. I have to trick you into eating your vegetables. If I tell you in advance to try some of this vegetarian food, you might tell yourself to eat before you get there.
This historical moment is a critical time for black America as we encounter challenges to Voting Rights Act, the Trayvon Martin trial, and distractions like public figures employing racial slurs. What is your take on it all?
I really don’t think about all those things. But it’s true in the sense that you bring it up. I haven’t had a TV in four or five years and that may be part of the difference. I got tired of the commercial programming. Everything you just mentioned is the “commerce” programming. If there is a current issue like the Voting Rights Act being repealed, it is soon followed by someone saying Beyonce is having a baby or this person is getting a divorce. That’s programming and it distracts you from the real issue. It’s clear and plain. News aint news. I use to get caught up in keeping score all the time. I’m a researcher but I don’t need to keep score anymore because all it does it put that kind of stuff in my brain. What does that have to do with me evolving as a person, artist, creator, or musician…. it only prohibits you.
Programming has sped up, advanced, and evolved so much that folks are not gonna ask any real questions. People may have Trayvon Martin on their brain. But what you gonna do from your couch (watching TV). You could easily get a petition going on a website. Are folks doing that? No! When I see it, I feel they are about to pull an OJ on this one. Just like Tupac and Biggie Smalls ‘ killers can’t be found. Programming is used to get your mind off it. There is always something else going on. Brother Dick Gregory is forever pulling those kinds of things out.
A show I do like is Unsung. They try hard to explain how our icons die. We never really believe it. In the 1970s, Donny Hathaway balling up and saying these folks trying to steal my vibe with a computer sounded completely crazy. In this day, it doesn’t sound crazy. Sounds like he had enough sense and self-analysis to know what’s going on. These people are programming and stealing my vibe.
Friday, July 12 @ 7pm – Southwest Arts Center
SEE THE HISTORY and EXPERIENCE THE LEGACY of FunkJazz Kafé® through its highly acclaimed, award winning documentary film, “FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement)”.
Narrated by Chuck D of Public Enemy, this nationally popular, consistently SOLD-OUT, film documentary chronicles the history of the FunkJazz Kafé® and highlights the underground African-American arts and entertainment scene from 1994-2007 with historical content spanning as far back as the late 1980s. Perspectives are provided by Dr. Cornel West; Dick Gregory; Organized Noize music producer, Ray Murray; Speech of Arrested Development; Stic-Man of Dead Prez; bassist and music producer, Khari Simmons; Jamal Ahmad of WCLK 91.9FM; FunkJazz Kafé® Chief Operations Officer, Ron Williams; Lil John Roberts, drummer extraordinaire and founding member of FunkJazz Kafé’s original house band The Chronicle; Joi Gilliam; Erykah Badu; India.Arie; Jill Scott; Doug E. Fresh; Cee-Lo; N’Dea Davenport; Professor Griff; Chuck D.; Dallas Austin; Caron Wheeler; Roy Ayers; George Clinton; and many others.
Saturday, July 13 @ 8pm – The Tabernacle
Atlanta’s premiere cultural arts & music festival, FunkJazz Kafé®. Known for ‘the unknown’ for nearly two decades, high-quality, unannounced talent such as Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, Public Enemy, Janelle Monáe, India.Arie, Cee Lo Green, Jamie Foxx, Bilal, Dionne Farris, and hip-hop legends Doug E. Fresh and MC Lyte have graced the FunkJazz Kafé® stage. Expect once-in-a-lifetime artist experiences, exclusive music performances and various interactive components, displayed in nine separate areas or suites. The FunkJazz Kafé® marketplace will host a variety of exhibitors, Capioera Angola martial arts demonstrations, interactive drumming and dancing and a “House Party Suite” powered by Savoy Magazine.