Category Archives: funk & soul

RIP Prince: Musicology

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Daryl Hall and Chromeo: swimming, home rehab and “Tenderoni”

Daryl Hall is such a boss.  Here he is inviting Chromeo’s P-Thugg to swim in his 1700s farmhouse with the baller indoor pool before launching into Chromeo’s Tenderoni with the crew.

Strong music and a great moment for the talkbox.  Oh, and salute eighties musicians who put in work with a big glass of red wine.

Here is “No Can Do” from the same session.  

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Filed under dance, funk & soul, music

Prince 101: Let’s Work

[I’ve tried to load a live clip from Prince in the early 80s doing “let’s work” and I’m unable to make a digital connection.  You’ll have to search for that tune yourself. I suggest the live eighties versions with Prince in a unitard. ]

“Let’s work” is an understatement from the enigmatic Prince.  His output is stunning.  I probably a dozen good Prince albums.  Prince certainly worked.

You’ve got to work.  You’ve got to work to be funky.  You’ve got to work to be real.  You have to work to be anything.

James Brown: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

But this is the least indulgent song imaginable.  This is emblematic of funk-a-teers going to work. Militarily precise in the application of snare and slap bass.  Dance floor mandatory!  With just enough swing to make sure you know it came from the land of 8 billion lakes or where ever Prince is from.

The real power of Prince is that if you are open and aware then you have to acknowledge his brilliance.

Also suggested is the Wax Poetics Alan Leeds article about tour managing Prince.


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Filed under funk & soul, memorial, music, rock and roll

Janelle Monae & 500th post

This is the 500th post on life of refinement.  I’m proud of the non-linear series of artifacts gathered here that point toward new understandings.  I use this web site to archive interesting things.  Meaningful things.  This is a curation of the rambling series of artifacts and patterns of representation I find significant enough to be marked and analyzed in a free open public space.  This is as close to learning as we’ll ever get.

Thanks to all who read the website.



I knew of Janelle Monae and appreciated her music but only had singles in my library.  Inspired by a Wax Poetics write up, I bought a copy of “The Electric Lady” last night.  With two full listens into the album (barely enough to comprehend what is going on) I’m sold.

This project is wonderful dance music and a really good concept album (or an extension of a concept album to multiple projects — Monae plays an alter ego pretty consistently).   The record is an extended riff on technology, cyborg/human interactions, civil rights and living life with dual identities.  Given that “The Electric Lady” could be a Phillip K. Dick novel, the smooth inviting production and musicianship is what carries the project.

This albums sounds VERY eighties to me.  From the sonic structure and choices of beats/samples to the rock opera lyricism of the concepts.  At points I was reminded of my nostalgic childhood filled with Styx, Heart, Bon Jovi and Run DMC.    The strings sound eighties.  The drums sound eighties.  Even the vocal harmonies remind me of eighties hits.   But the eighties were a point of technological jump off and the slight broadening of pop music.

I like the futuristic world that Monae is painting.  And the willingness to build futuristic pop music out of the sonic blocks of the past.  Astute Monae names tracks after inspiring pioneers: “Sally Ride” (astronaut) and “Dorothy Dandridge Eye’s” (first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award).

In the context of the blog, I’ll quote the end of the “Dance Apocalyptic” when Janelle Monae says: “I really really want to thank you for dancing to the end.”   Thanks for reading and dancing ’til the end.


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Filed under art, communication, funk & soul, hip hop, human rights, music, representation, resistance, rock and roll, technology

Brasilintime: culture and syncretism

Hip hop syncretism — the aggressive combinations of sounds and players from many cultures.  Here visible in the nice B+ film — Brasilintime w/ a cadre of great drummers and DJs.   It includes:

–> One of the best examples of cultures appropriating culture ad infinitum when Jay Rocc cuts up “Apache.”

–> The Brazilian parallel with “Comanche!”

–> Not enough Nelson Triunfo.

–> Babu’s scratch session which seems the most inspired and flexible — connected to the music.

–> Paul Humphrey and Ivan “Mamao” Conti seem to jam exceptionally well together.

–> The inspired chaos of the polyrhythms made when six drummers get down and DJs cut on top of each other is a little much at times.  Maybe my ears aren’t big enough . . .

–> The graphics seem excessive in the first half.

–> Hip Hop’s version of the colonial lens includes shopping for rare records in the field.  American learning is commensurate with getting a bargain or getting something that other people can’t as easily get.  In this case we get Paul Humphrey, Derf Reklaw and James Gadson shopping for out-of-the-ordinary percussion instruments and Cut Chemist, Egon, Madlib, Jay Rocc, and Babu shopping for records.

In some ways we can call this syncretism — where distinct cultures inform each other – exchanging language, food and music.  The nod to difference that comes when the American DJs and drummers acknowledge they don’t know something about Brazilian music is matched by the assumption that they can buy and lift chunks of that music for western audiences.

I don’t have any problem with people traveling to other nations — there is something funky about this particular narrative — hunting for nuggets of music seems so crass at points.  Like Egon getting the group price for all the records the crew was buying.

I dislike it when the specifics of the culture blend into the background and I like the moments of the film where the details pop out.  The interviews with Brazilian drummers make this film (despite my linguistic inabilities to get chunks).  I’ll probably mark some cue points in the video and chop it up — take the parts that I like and leave the rest on the digital scrap heap.

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Filed under colonialism, cultural appropriation, funk & soul, hip hop, music

Fela Kuti: Music is the weapon documentary

Consider this a juxtaposition to the clip about Paul McCartney and Fela.  Here is Fela narrating a portion of his life.  Included in this film are some great musical moments and some insights about what made Fela so dangerous.

In my opinion the liberated space he embodied and willingness to share risks make him a poignant anti-colonial force.   Of course I have problems with Fela’s sexism, but the quotes from the queens in this film give us some insight into their experience.

Of course when you google “Fela’s queens” you get western women reprising the roles of the women who married and risked with Fela.  Perhaps this is colonialism, that I can’t find any interviews with the “queens,” but I can find interviews with Americans playing Fela’s wives on broadway.  Some communications pushes out other communications.

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Filed under colonialism, communication, documentary, feminism, funk & soul, human rights, juxtaposition, music, protest, race, representation

Happy Birthday Sylvester

The illuminating blog Dangerous Minds noted that today is the birthday of the electric-disco-star Sylvester.   I appreciate that they frame Sylvester’s radical elements within his Disco successes:

. . . .if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.

via Dangerous Minds | Excellent documentary on the life of Sylvester.

Happy Birthday Sylvester and all who party with ya!

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Filed under funk & soul, Gay, memorial, music, punk, race, representation

Bad Brains: this band is obviously better than any other band

Totally grooving on the un-embeddable Bad Brains documentary: A Band in D.C.  Click the link.  Watch the video.  Learn and get inspired. 

Thanks to Gwarizm for the link. 

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Filed under do-it-yourself, documentary, funk & soul, music, punk, race, representation

Mandrill live in 1971

I guess I see why they describe these guys as multi-instrumentalists.

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Harlem responds to the ‘Harlem’ Shake


I had been thinking about posting about the Harlem shake meme videos — I was going to talk about the Waka Flocka Flame effect of enjoying music that makes you dance and have fun — considering the bodily invitation of Baauer’s nice tune.  I was thinking about mapping how many ways we are constrained in movement and how nice that these videos offered a chance to have fun and simply go dumb (Rest In Power Mac Dre).

But of course, the reason why people feel so seemingly liberated is that there is a script to follow — the dances are mapped quite carefully.  Check a couple of the internet meme videos and you’ll see the similarity in the costumes, poses, the points in the song where people are ‘allowed to dance,’ the invitation to unique foolishness is certainly there — but it is a copy of a copy of a copy. . . .

And in that copying is the insult for people who live in Harlem. The mockery and lack of respect for an actual dance form is central for many of the folks interviewed.  I bet most of the people who are in Harlem shake videos would respond by saying: ‘I didn’t know about the history and the ties to the location.”

Which is precisely the difficulty with internet meme videos — the absolute disconnection from context at precisely the time that we are inundated with thousands of replications of the image, each one loving re-embraced by the local players who perhaps (put new text around a much loved image) or (prepare to do the Harlem shake with their buddies arguing over ‘who get’s to wear the mask?’).  In most cases, the internet teaches us that what was once singularly owned or identified can be swept into the internet-o-sphere and assimilated, free of context or culture to become a clever short-term joke.

Thanks to Okayplayer who had the best coverage on this subject including a how-to on a slightly more authentic Harlem Shake.

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Filed under art, communication, cultural appropriation, funk & soul, hip hop, learning, media, music, representation