With the release of their 2015 album, Funky, Fly n’ Free (New Empire Records), God Made Me Funky expand substantially on their signature blend of funk, soul and Hip hop while taking a direction, musically and lyrically, driven by a question the band has been mulling over collectively for years.
“What is Funk? Ask 40 different people and you’ll get 40 different answers,” says GMMF MC, PHATT al. “But, for us, Funk is freedom.”
That definition was reinforced when GMMF opened for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at the Montreal Jazz Festival. “Watching them play, their mastery, the freedom of expression they were sharing… It was like being transported to a different dimension.”
On Funky, Fly n’ Free, GMMF express themselves just as freely and encourage listeners to do the same: “To go into their own dimension, into the Funk zone,” PHATT al says. “To be who you are. Free yourself of hate. Free yourself of the haters. Have an opinion. Think. Make your own decisions.”
“We just want to inspire people to use their right to choice in a positive way,” adds vocalist Dana Jean Phoenix.
Having said that, GMMF prefer people come together, tear up the dance floor and express their freedom joyfully rather than ponder it somberly. And on Funky, Fly n’ Free – just like every GMMF record from their self-titled debut to 2012’s set of ‘futuristic throwback roller skating jams,’ Vive le NuFunk – there’s no shortage of party songs; tracks like ‘Everybody Get Up’ and ‘Beating Machine’ that prove the band’s focus is getting NuFunktonions of all ages up and moving,
While the party continues on Funky, Fly n’ Free, GMMF don’t mince words when it comes to celebrating both the things we all have in common and the diversity of opinions and beliefs that set us apart. “As a band we represent a beautiful mosaic of people from different genders, races and backgrounds,” PHATT al says. “You can be an activist and be serious about getting things done, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track; a take-no-prisoners dance tune fueled by badass beats, chunky synth grooves and singer Dana Jean Phoenix’s soulful vocals that sets the tone for the entire album.
It’s the first song GMMF wrote for the record, one inspired by a 2013-2014 New Year’s gig at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square where they found themselves counting down to making a change with 20,000 other people. “Basically, we got talking about what New Year’s means and how it’s about choice and wanting to evolve and we just knew what we wanted to say on Funky, Fly n’ Free,” Phoenix says. “That was the energy that got us back into the studio.”
During the writing and recording process GMMF made a change themselves, relying on a mix of returning producers like Beat Mergers and Maxwell ‘Kennedy’ Roach as well as the talents of producers Phoenix has worked with as a solo artist, including LA Dreams and S.T.R.S.G.N.
Like GMMF’s past records, Funky, Fly n’ Free is inspired by a huge range of influences, from 80s icons D Train, Sheila E and Donna Summer to outspoken artists like Public Enemy, Queen Latifah and KRS-One. And while GMMF’s sound remains a seamless fusion of sweet soul, Hip hop and R&B, Funky, Fly n’ Free mines a slightly different, but equally rich, vein of Funk.
That’s obvious on full on jams like GMMF’s love song to life, ‘So Complicated,’ tracks like ‘Digital Life,’ with it’s disco horns, 70’s era guitar and bass grooves, and ‘Persuasive Magic’ – an 90’s hip house/pop throwback that channels vintage soul, R&B and a modern minimalist vibe in equal measure.
“We’re a retro/electro party band, but we’re impacted heavily by modern music and artists like Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson who have that retro aesthetic,” PHATT al says, “But we also looked at tunes like James Brown’s ‘Please.’ When he said ‘Please,’ we knew what he was asking for. He didn’t have to say ‘come back. I’m sorry. I said things I didn’t mean.’ He just says, please, and you feel it.”
GMMF’s lineup has changed over the years, but is currently fronted by PHATT al and Dana Jean Phoenix. Since GMMF started in 1996, their high-energy performances and unflagging positivity have attracted a wide range of fans and garnered numerous awards. Among them a Toronto Independent Music Award for Best R&B band, a 2008 Juno nomination for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year for We Can All Be Free and a Biz Bash Toronto’s Reader’s Choice award for Entertainer of the Year in 2012. Over time, they’ve shared stages with Afrika Bambaataa, Bedouin Soundclash, INXS, Guru of Gangstarr and many more, and proved over and again that they can get any crowd up and shaking on the dance floor whether they’re playing a club, festival or event of any description. GMMF has cemented a reputation as one of the most blazingly tight bands in Canada.
Scheduled for release on March 10th 2015, "Funky, Fly n’ Free finds GMMF coming full circle,” PHATT al says, going back to their independent roots by releasing the record on his own imprint, New Empire Records. “Doing everything independently we can move at our speed and the speed of our audience,” he says, and, by extension, express themselves more freely than ever, which, ultimately, is what Funky, Fly n’ Free is all about.
“We’re not making a grand political statement, but we do take a stand,” PHATT al says. “The more things change, the more they stay the same. We try to eliminate racism, but it still rears its ugly head. We hear that we don’t need feminism anymore, but it’s needed more than ever. The more tolerant of religion we say we are, the more people seem to fight about religion. Our statement really is – You’ve got a choice, an opinion, a voice.”
That potential impact of that choice is something they detail candidly on ‘Back 2 Da Future’ – a charged dance track that’s as sure to pack the dance floor as it is to get listeners wondering why we’re still not ‘free of hate, isms and lies.’ One that says, without pulling any punches, that all forms of bigotry and intolerance are related and all will, in some better future, be utterly antiquated; a future God Made Me Funky believe can only come about by people coming together in mutual pursuit of a reality that is truly Funky, Fly n’ Free.