This punk-funk-jazz unit born in 1978 in New York City merged avant-garde with rocking, funky grooves. Over this period the band made 15 recordings on various independent labels and traveled throughout the world sharing the stage with countless numbers of popular artists including James Brown, David Byrne and Talking Heads, The Clash, Hans & Candy Dulfer, Isaac Hayes, Prince, Larry Graham, Michelle N’dChello, Maceo Parker and countless others.
Defunkt is the first band to make a real fusion of popular and extreme music styles, also pioneers in early stages of rap music in the early 80’s. The band uncharacteristically has from the beginning performed at Jazz Festivals as well as Rock & Soul venues throughout the world, gaining cult like respect from musicians and underground music aficionados worldwide.
Defunkt never gained huge commercial success due to unwillingness to compromise creativity and musical uniqueness and integrity for popular acclaim. The message of Defunkt has always been intended to be a “light” for the people in darkness, not a sedative for world sickness. The lyrics have always remained provocative and thought inspiring. Even in the ‘dark ages’ of Defunkt while struggling with drug addiction, lyrics focused on political awareness and issues of human suffering, perhaps making this musical blend unattractive to major record labels.
As the musical journey progressed and Buddhism entered the consciousness of Defunkt, the focus on community issues, family & humanity struggles, have become more of a priority than ever. The focus and uniqueness of this powerful, groovy Defunkt style of music has continued to grow and evolve in spite of the lack of wide commercial success. This was a blessing in disguise, because we were able to stay grounded and connected to the realities of the humanity of all people. This fact allowed us to mature to an amazing musical and spiritual level.
Defunkt is intent on composing and performing with great integrity, while keeping an open communication with reality and all humanity. We draw energy and inspiration from the experiences of all people, especially the children, who are responsible for the care of our future. We want to encourage learning and creativity as well as spiritual development which will nourish our nature of compassion which is vital in the understanding we must obtain to live together in the world, free from war, hate and destruction.
The music of Defunkt is a medicine for the suffering humanity, a pathway for the funky emancipation of your soul, and a mirror to expose your emons of insecurity. Open your eyes and ears and this burning fire of sound will help you get moving on the way to a fulfilling and positive life. Make Humanity a Priority.
Now, entering 2013 Defunkt celebrates its 33 year birthday with 4 different flavors.
A Defunkt Story
Historical Perspective about Defunkt
In 1979, Joe Bowie and a few friends from new York's "La Mama" Theatre formed a jazz-funk outfit called Defunkt. With lyrics by Janos Gat, a Hungarian playwright newly arrived from Budapest (with the girl from 'Stranger Than Paradise' on his arm) and slick r&b horn charts by brother Byron Bowie, Joe and his trombone cut a swath through the downtown New York 'no-wave' scene of the early '80s, encompassing punks, art-jazz nuts, funk-fans, oursiders, noise freaks and leftover beatniks.
Jazz fusion, prior to Defunkt's debut, was arguably the most recent significant evolution of jazz, was virtually drained of its energy and creativity and was devolving into show of musical wanking instead of true creativity. Defunkt threw down a gauntlet that had yet to be thrown - a step beyond what Miles was doing with jazz-funk in the 70's and 80's. Ornette Coleman and James Blood Ulmer were simultneously exploring similar frontiers, but Defunkt delivered a blueprint for jazz-funk evolution, tearing up the speedmetal at the same time they supplied the big, hard groove.
Defunkt should have inspired a new era of jazz-funk, addressing not only urban blight and personal demons, but also the stylistic collisions of music occurring in the city it was inspired by and created in. Bold, furious, street-smart, brassy, clinically sharp and brutally honest, Defunkt turned jazz and funk inside out - and it might've been a considerably more interesting world if others had picked up on it.
Unfortunately, a new wave of pop musicians were about to bland funk out into a tepid and easily digestible non-revolution for the continental charts. These were faux-funksters who put on wide-shouldered suits and got marketing dollars and big budget videos from the major labels. Defunkt found some success in Europe. Particularly memorable was an early gig in London at the Embassy Club where many of the pretenders came to learn at the feet of the masters and left slack-jawed and shell-shocked by what they had seen. The NME called them "to funk as the Sex Pistols were to rock", which rarely should be true, except that every kid starting a rock band knows the Pistols, but only a handful of musicians can name-check Defunkt.
The 12" single of "Strangling Me With Your Love" b/w "The Razor's Edge" was generally viewed as Defunkt's finest moment. Featuring all three Bowie Brothers (including the great Lester on trumpet), the soulful backing vocals of Clarise Taylor and the deep-South funk drumming of Richie Harrison, these two tracks have long been deleted and much sough-after. Guitar Giant Vernon Reid signed on for album two, Thermonuclear Sweat, which is presented here for the first time on CD in its full glory. Unfairly maligned, Sweat has an additional edge, but is arguably not as hot as Defunkt. Even so, it contains certifiable classics like "Avoid The Funk" and "For the Love of Money".
Of course, New York was always down, but New York wan't America, and the heartland was virtually impenetrable in those days. Maybe it was the venom in the lyrics that prevented a bigger breakthrough. After the fact NME waid they were "as vitrilically vengence-fueled as any latterday rappers' dissing marathon", but the rap landscape of Defunkt's day was populated largely by happy party tunes until Flash dropped "The Message" in 1982 - after Defunkt had created their second album. clearly the world just wasn't ready.
Hip-Hop took over in the early 80's just as Prince declared "it's time for jazz to die". The youngsters either missed or dismissed the taut jazz-funk of Bowie & Co in their rush to embrace the "everyone can do it revolution" of hip-hop. This left Defunkt in a tough spot and they split. Although they eventually reformed, these early recordings are still regarded as career highlights.
A press perspective with The New York Times
February 5, 1982, Friday, Late City Final Edition
Section C; Page 29, Column 1; Weekend Desk
Copyright New York Times, 1981
Joe Bowie and his Defunkt !
Joseph Bowie has been around and back again, playing his trombone behind blues musicians in his native St. Louis, blowing avant-garde jazz in Europe, working as musical director for a popular Chicago soul singer, then plunging into the distinct but sometimes overlapping punk and funk scenes in downtown Manhattan. His band, Defunkt, reflects the diversity of its leader's background and the varied stops he has made along the way. It's as funky as James Brown, and as creatively fractured and extreme as the music of Mr. Bowie's former employer, James Chance, the leader of the Contortions.
Strutting in front of a wickedly tight rhythm section that's playing a mixture of Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and mid-70's Miles Davis, Mr. Bowie blows whooping solos on his trombone and sings sharp, cutting lyrics about drug addiction and car accidents and nuclear war. Most of the lyrics were written by his friend Janos Gat, a member of the dissident Hungarian theatrical troupe that runs the Squat Theater. Defunkt recently returned from its third trip to Britain, where the six-piece band has exerted considerable influence on the emerging British funk scene. Tomorrow night it will perform at the Peppermi nt Lounge, 128 West 45th Street (719-3140), and on Sunday night it wi ll be at the West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42d Street (695-6909). At rehearsal, Joe Bowie took time out to talk about his and Defunkt's odyssey. He made it sound like the most natural thing in the world .
Family of Musicians
The first thing one has to realize about Joseph Bowie is that he is the youngest of three musician brothers, the oldest of whom is Lester Bowie, the celebrated jazz trumpet player and founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The middle brother, Byron, is a saxophonist who sometimes performs with Defunkt. Growing up in that competitive environment, and being the youngest, Joseph Bowie had to take his music seriously.
''I started playing with blues and soul bands when I was around 15,'' he recalled , ''working in and around St. Louis in those afterhours joints. '' Pretty soon he was working with the big wheels on the circuit, nationally recognized blues men like Albert King and Little Milton. But jazz was in his blood, and in the late 1960's he was a founding member of a St. Louis musicians' collective called the Black Artists' Group . Among the men who worked with that organization were a number of players who would later become leading lights on New York's new jazz scene - among them the saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill, and the drummer Charles (Bobo) Shaw.
The nucleus of the Black Artists' Group went to Paris in the early 70's, but in 1973 Bobo Shaw and Joe Bowie decided to settle in New York City, where they founded a group called the Human Arts Ensemble that played a mixture of free jazz, funk and blues. The La Mama Theater let the group use a small performance space on East Third Street, in the heart of the Lower East Side, and despite the unpromising location, they turned it into one of the hot spots of the emerging loft jazz movement, offering early New York performances by such St. Louis stalwarts as Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. These concerts attracted a number of musicians and fans, including a young white saxophonist from the Midwest, James Seigfried, who sometimes stayed to jam with Mr. Bowie and Mr. Shaw.
During the next few years, while Joe Bowie kept busy playing the trombone with the Human Arts Ensemble and a number of other jazz bands, Mr. Seigfried veered from free-form improvising to leading a crazed, intense noise-funk band called the Contortions, which did its own versions of a number of James Brown funk hits as well as songs that Mr. Seigfried had written, wih? such titles as ''Contort Yourself'' and ''Almost Black.'' The Contortions, with Mr. Seigfried performing either as James Chance or James White, became one of the most controversial and talked-about bands on the downtown ''no wave'' scene. In 1978, the British record producer Brian Eno recorded them, along with three other downtown bands , for a groundbreaking album called ''No New York.''
Fronting an All-Black Band
Soon after, Mr. Seigfried decided he wanted to add a horn section to the Contor tions and asked Joe Bowie to put it together. Then Mr. Seigfried let his original Contortions go, and Mr. Bowie began recommending rhythm players he had worked with in St. Louis or met around 1976, when he spent a year and a half in Chicago as musical director for the soul singer Tyrone Davis. Before long, Mr. Seigfriedwas fronting an all-black band, with Mr. Bowie as its leader. In the fall of 1979, the band began opening Mr. Seigfried's performances with its own sets, and coming up with its own material. That was the beginning of Defunkt.
Since then, Defunkt has developed a cult following in New York and a somewhat broader audience in Europe, especially in Britain, where the leading music weekly, New Musical Express, recently put Mr. Bowie on its cover. During Defunkt's early residency at the Squat Thater on 23d Street, Joe Bowie became friendly with Janos Gat, who furnished mordant lyrics for some of Mr. Bowie's tunes. The band made an album for Hannibal Records, followed by a single. ''We're going to keep doing singles,'' Mr. Bowie said, ''because the last one had reasonable success. Who knows ? We might get a hit.''
Defunkt employs a shifting galaxy of horn players, including noted jazz musicians like the saxophonist Frank Lowe and Joe Bowie's brother Lester. ''But there isn't as much freedom in the rhythm section as there is for the horns,'' Mr. Bowie emphasized. ''I like to keep the rhythms tight to give the people something to latch onto. If you listen, you can hear things straight off the jukebox in our music. I've always been an admirer of Ornette Coleman and I like the electric music he's making now. But it's still very intellectual to me. Defunkt is more commercial, I think.''
But Defunkt isn't just another new-funk party band, he stressed. Defunkt has a message. ''We want our songs to be very realistic,'' Mr. Bowie said. ''Defunkt's music isn't some 'hey baby' kind of thing; you can see just by looking around you, at what's happening on t he streets and in the world, that these are not the good times, everything is not all right. We're trying to be messengers, or newscasters broad casting the honest news, te lling everybody to wake up.''
• Defunkt (1980)
• Thermonuclear Sweet (1982)
• In America (1988)
• Heroes (1990)
• Crisis (1992)
• Cum Funky (1993)
• One World (1995)
Defunkt Downtown the '80th :
• Joseph Bowie – trombone, chant
• Kim Clarke – basse
• John Mulkerin – trompette
• Ronnie Drayton – guitare
• Bill Bickford – guitare
• Kenny Martin – batterie
Defunkt 's Solders over the years :
• Kelvyn Bell – guitare
• Ayodele Maakheru (Martin Aubert) – guitare
• Vernon Reid – guitare
• Richard Martin – guitare
• Melvin Gibbs – basse
• Ron Mac Jenkins – basse
• Lester Bowie – trompette
• Ted Daniels – trompette
• Byron Bowie – saxophone
• Luther Thomas - saxophone
• Charles Green - saxophone
• Alex Harding – saxophone baryton
• Ronnie Burrage – batterie
• Scooter Warner – batterie
• Tobias Ralph – batterie
• Kahil El Zabar – percussion
• Kelli Sae - chant
• Martin Fischer – clavier
• Marcus Persiani – clavier
• Kevin Bents – clavier
• Bahnamous Bowie – clavier
• Adam Klipple – clavier
• Cliff Branch – clavier
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