This week in Oakulture, we’ve got seminal NoLa funk, true school hip-hop, visiting Zimbabwean folk musicians, and a Pan African soccer tournament. As usual, diversity reigns supreme and reaps plentiful dividends for the Oakulturati to soak up the flavor like a sponge.

Funky Meters: the world's best jam-band?

Funky Meters: the world’s best jam-band?

The performance of the week had to be the Funky Meters, who rolled into town Friday night for a New Parish gig. The Funky Meters are an offshoot of the legendary N’Awlins funk band, The Meters. In case you’ve been under a rock or only listen to Miley Cyrus or something, The Meters are among the most seminal black music artists of the ‘70s, having been sampled hundreds of times by hip-hop artists for their pocket grooves and sweaty drum breaks. Some of the artists who have sampled the Meters, according to Wikipedia, include Heavy D, LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, Musiq, Big Daddy Kane, Run DMC, N.W.A, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, EPMD, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, The Beastie Boys, and Naughty by Nature. The original group — which began as the house band for famed producer Allen Toussaint and played on hits by Dr. John and Labelle before issuing their own records — broke up in 1977, after which founding member Art Neville went on to form another group you may have heard of: The Neville Brothers.

The Funky Meters formed in 1994, with drummer Russell Batiste replacing Zigaboo Modeliste (who moved to Oakland, where he still lives today), and guitarist Brian Stoltz taking over for Leo Nocentelli, alongside two original Meters: keyboardist Neville and bassist George Porter, Jr. For almost two decades, they’ve been about as close as you can get to that authentic, swamp water-cured, bawdy house-approved, musical jambalaya which is the New Orleans funk sound.

Drummer Russell Batiste

Drummer Russell Batiste

Friday’s show was their first ever at the New Parish, a venue which named itself after NoLa’s districts, and strives to be an Oakland version of a Big Easy nightclub. Suffice to say that the club realized its ambitions, and then some, that night. Although ticket prices were steep at $35—which may have had something to do with the crowd, which I estimated as at least 70% Deadheads and/or yuppies over 40—they were a bargain, considering the previous night, the band played the Hollywood Bowl for $100 a pop.

The Deadhead presence was explained when it became apparent that the Funky Meters are perhaps the world’s greatest jam band. Grooves weren’t just stretched, they were milked. There may not have been a song which clocked in at under ten minutes, as the Funky Meters’ near-telepathic rapport led to a lot of what Oakulture likes to call ‘loose booty’ grooves. You know, when you realize your left butt cheek may have freed itself from the confines of your undergarments, but you’re having too much fun dancing to care.

Art Neville on the keys

Art Neville on the keys

The rhythm section of Batiste and Porter solidly anchored the grooves, leaving Stoltz and Neville free to  play extended solos and introduce snippets of other songs. In addition to Meters classics like “Fiyo on the Bayou,” “Just Kissed My Baby” and “Hey Pocky Way,” the set list coughed up tidbits of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Turn on Your Lovelight” – a Deadhead fave – and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” better known as “everybody must get stoned.”

Being in that room was like stepping into a trans-continental portal to the Gulf coast. It was like Oakland as we knew it ceased to exist, and we were all on the bayou, having a Mardi Gras moment in a nightclub not far from Congo Square, with beads and all. It was truly epic.

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Martha of Jacob & Martha

Martha of Jacob & Martha

While the Funky Meters show was a highlight, to be sure, it wasn’t the only one that evening. The night started with a spiritually-affirming dose of traditional African music, courtesy of Kotoja/West African Highlife band founder Baba Ken Okulolo (joined by Kelly Takunda Orphan) and Jacob & Martha, a Zimbabwean duo on a West Coast tour. The show took place at Berkeley’s Subterranean Arthouse, a venue Oakulture had never been to before. It was a small room, or as they say in the business, an intimate venue – one which reminded poet/performance artist Aya de Leon, who was in attendance, of the Oakland Box, vibe-wise.

After Baba Ken and Orphan warmed up the crowd—which looked to consist of mainly UCB students and Zimbabwean expatriates — Jacob & Martha offered up some sweet mbira melodies to the heavens. The duo were both dressed in traditional garb, so there was this feeling of getting unadulterated music from the motherland, in a form that had been basically unchanged for millennia. Toward the end of the hour-long performance, everyone left their chairs and joined in a dance circle, led by Zim dance queen Julia Chigamba. Not a bad way to start an evening.

Jacob of Jacob & Martha

Jacob of Jacob & Martha

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Oakulture promised you some classic hip-hop and, on that note, we’ve got two shows to report on. The first, which also took place Friday Night, at the Legionnaire Saloon, was the latest installment of a newish monthly night called Blunt Club – Oakland.

The Blunt Club isn’t a place where you’ll hear trap, rachet, or anything resembling contemporary rap. It is a place where hip-hop lives, and DJs play classics while emcees try to recreate that Golden Age feeling.

Masta Ace at Blunt Club

Masta Ace at Blunt Club

Oakulture arrived just in time to catch the tail end of a set by Masta Ace, the veteran emcee once signed to the Cold Chillin’ label and a member of Marley Marl’s legendary Juice Crew. Masta Ace is a lyricist in the Brooklyn tradition, which means that his flow is wordy yet street-smart, and he’s best-known for his 1993 hit “Born to Roll,” one of the bassiest hip-hop tracks ever. Wearing a “Crooklyn,” t-shirt, Ace delivered the famous lyrics which sent the crowd into a frenzy: “braniac dum-dums, bust the scientifical, approach to the course and the force is centrifugal…” No, we have no idea what that line means, but it sounds dope, especially live.

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Casual at NKC

Casual at NKC

Earlier in the week, Oakulture ventured to New Karibbean City for the Clash of the Titans Tour, an all-West Coast affair featuring LA’s The Alkoholiks, Oakland’s Casual, and San Mateo/Fresno’s Cali Agents. Casual, one of the members of the legendary Hieroglyphics crew, tore through 20-year old songs like “That’s How It Is” and “I Didn’t Mean To.” The Cali Agents did group material like “This is How the West Was Won” as well as solo songs from their two members, Rasco (“The Unassisted”) and Planet Asia (“Definition of Ill”) – with Asia strolling from the stage to the back of the club, mic in hand, at one point. And The Alkoholiks revived high-energy party songs from an earlier era like “Daaaamn!,” and “Make Room.” Though the sparse Wednesday night crowd could have been more “turnt up,” the show was still enjoyable.

Cali agents at NKC

Cali Agents at NKC

That’s because Oakulture, who was around in the ‘90s when these songs were new, didn’t feel separated by a generational chasm, like we are whenever we hear trap music. Call it hip-hop nostalgia if you must, but something’s got to fill the gap between Trinidad James and Boney James, and the notion of classic rap is starting to sound better all the time.

***

A few weeks ago, Oakulture reported on the African Street Festival, a Pan-African event featuring dance groups from different African nations which made its debut in San Francisco. That event has a lot of potential to become an annual cultural institution, though the bugs are still being worked out.

We felt much the same way about the Umoja African Festival and SuRu Soccer Tournament held in West Oakland’s Lowell Park, which could also become an annual affair and has the potential to be world-class. The idea was a simple but solid one: hold a soccer tournament between various clubs, host a soccer workshop for youth, invite vendors to hawk merchandise and food, and top it off with live performances and DJs.

Funkquarians at Umoja Festival

Funkquarians at Umoja Festival

Though more promotion might have resulted in a larger turn-out, the crowd that did show up was a cool one, and it goes without saying that we need more family-friendly events in public parks, especially underutilized spaces like Lowell. Watching the final soccer match between Walia and the Air Lounge crew—won by Walia—was pretty chill, and it also goes without saying that Oakulture copped a plate from Taste of Africa: the marinated tilapia, jollof rice, ndole, and fried plantains were on point, and owner Malong’s special hot sauce remains the secret weapon.

Fresh Is Life at Umoja Festival

Fresh Is Life at Umoja Festival

We caught a bit of the set from Afrolicious vocalist Fresh is Life, whose engaging stage presence and charisma is worth keeping an eye on. At one point, he remarked how nice it was to play for a more diverse crowd than he’s used to in SF (we’re paraphrasing here), and he suggested he might come back, with a full band. Unfortunately, we cut out before the Jennifer Johns set, but we did manage to catch a little bit of the Funkquarians, who always seem like they’re having the best possible time. It didn’t hurt that the weather cooperated and gave us a beautiful sunny day.

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This week’s picks:
Ace Hood, Aug. 30, 8pm, Grand Live, $25, 420 14th
Cool Water with Musikman Ouma, Sept 1, 3pm, the Rock Steady, 1741 San Pablo
Pan-African Family Reunion, Sept 2, 10am-10pm, Mosswood Park, 3650 Webster
Hiero Day, Sept. 2, 11am-6pm, free with RSVP, Linden st. brewery, 95 Linden
Adrian Marcel @ Monday Soul, Sept 2,  9pm, $15-$20, the New Parish, 579 18th

funky meters, masta ace, umojaa 122

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