God Made Me Funky is a long-standing Canadian institution. Musicians can ebb and flow into and out of the band but, no matter what the current lineup is, the values of multiculturalism and diversity in music remain. The band has been on the scene, touring extensively and blending genres, for 15 years. Now, they are ready to share some summertime throwback funk on their just released fifth CD, Vive Le NuFunk.
Veteran member MC Phatt Al and brand new lead singer Dana Jean Phoenix sit across from me in a busy downtown Toronto coffee shop. Phatt Al is proudly wearing a ball cap with the new album's name imprinted on it. It's clear the two are excited to talk about the new release. Phatt Al starts by explaining the band's origins in the late '90s.
"God Made Me Funky started out as an instrumental fusion band, back when that was the [kind of] band to be," he says. "Then, slowly, the band integrated singers and an MC, which was me. So here we are in 2012, I think we’ve maintained the integrity of that initial idea of a band being formed of the different aspects of Canadian culture, the mosaic that we have here, and musical styles and retaining that funkiness through it.
"There’s only one founding member of the band left, our drummer, Alan Witz. The crazy thing about God Made Me Funky is that the players don’t necessarily make up what the entity is. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts. I think we’ve had pretty much every musician in Toronto [be] part of the band at some point. It has actually been a really great thing because everyone has brought these different influences, which has allowed the band to breathe and change."
Cue their new lead singer, Phoenix, who was singing backup for Jully Black before she joined up with GMMF.
"I’ve sung with a lot of different bands, and GMMF is the most fun I’ve ever had onstage," she says. "It’s such a high-energy show. It’s basically like the best cardio workout mixed with the best music and singing and an amazing crowd that feeds you with energy." Phatt Al laughs and adds, "We should start selling low-carb snacks."
Listen to "Spotlight" by God Made Me Funky
Phoenix came on board during the creation process of Vive Le NuFunk, where she observed the band's collaborative process of bringing in ideas for songs, then working those ideas in front of an audience until they form into something that is ready for the studio. Phatt Al provides an example: "There wasn’t as much female rapping on the initial demo stuff, but Dana can rap. When she’d rap, the audience would freak out."
"The audience has always come to expect Phatt Al to do all the rapping," Phoenix explains, "so when I come as the new female singer, busting out these raps, it really takes them by surprise in a good, exciting way."
Once the material was ready to record, in came their producers who, as Phatt Al decribes, need to be calm, cool and collected as they sometimes have to play referee to the wants and needs of the band, so "we don’t have to fight each other, we can fight the producer. Sorry Slakah!"
Phatt Al is name-dropping Slakah the Beatchild, the Juno Award-winning producer/musician who is known for his work with Drake and Divine Brown, as well as his solo work under the name the Slakadeliqs. Andy Thompson also lends his production expertise to the new record.
As Phoenix puts it, "the idea of just a really fun, disco, roller-skating album jumped out at us, especially when people were bringing material to rehearsals, we started noticing an overall theme. We wanted to create an album that people could totally party to."
"Basically it's a futuristic, '80s, roller-skating jam," says Phatt Al, expanding on the nufunk vibe they created. "Just put it on, put your roller skates on and have fun all day."
Listen to "Vive Le NuFunk" by God Made Me Funky
With the release of Vive Le NuFunk, God Made Me Funky can get back to what it's known for – touring and playing electric, high-energy shows. On average, they play 150 to 200 gigs a year, spreading the gospel of GMMF.
"NuFunk is the culmination of culture and music and we like to say, it’s a combination of klezmer, rock, funk, pop, hip-hop, jazz, you name it, any music you can throw at it," says Phatt Al. "Because really funk is that – funk is a gumbo. We are the next generation of people making that style of music. We’ll just continue with this nufunk thing until someone tells us to shut up."
God Made Me Funky will be playing the Beaches Jazz Festival in Toronto on Friday, July 27, and Saturday, July 28. To listen to tracks from God Made Me Funky, check them out on their CBC Music artist page.
God Made Me Funky
God Made Me Funky in Session: From the CBC Radio 3 Vaults
Q & A: Jully Black
The Slakadeliqs (a.k.a. Slakah the Beatchild) shares his shuffle playlist
Up Close: Divine Brown
Canadian funk band Crack of Dawn head to Harbourfront
on Jul 25, 2012