Funk Jazz Renaissance

We are movin' on, baby. Decked out in our finest threads. No zoot suits; head wraps and kufis are the now. Cornrows replace pimp hats. Silver and onyx replace Dolemite diamonds and gold. Stones representing cultural heritage dangle on small silver links of ancient tribal significance. Tarheel jerseys and Oxfords are designs for the new millennium. As Prince would say, "All the poets and the part-time singers always hang inside/Live music from a band plays a song called 'Soul Psychodelicide.'" This ain't the Cotton Club, or the Six Gallery in San Francisco, but there is something like a cultural emancipation going down at Sax on the Beach, just off Biscayne Boulevard. Alain LeRoy Locke would nod in approval, proud witness to the glow of beautiful black faces mixed with white, Latin, Asian. No one is here to shake a rump or throw dem bones. Feed my mind, man. The revolution will not be televised on TRL or even Rap City. So you can leave the thuggery outside.

Is that singer Lady Day? No, it's Maryel Epps and her band. Now it's Hashbrown. Now it's Aboriginal.

Is that poet Lorraine Hansberry? No, she's Terri Meredith. She's Rebecca Vaughns. She's Poettis.

The Brass King, a.k.a. the Rare Groove Selector, sews quilts of neosoul from a thread sent down from some distant musical heaven where Miles still smiles. Modern-day jazz. Acid jazz and "new soul." Rhythm and blues that would make momma wanna dance and grin.

It's happy hour and folk slowly pour into this hidden sanctuary of painted brick and jazz-great prints. A tropical Brooklyn brownstone whose walls echo with the voices and riffs of soul pioneers. They come to unwind from a day of deadlines, road rage, and CNN sound bites filled with rumors of war. Generation X, Y, Z, lost, found, it doesn't matter. These are conscious people in an unconscious world.

Evicted from Hardaway's Firehouse Four when that establishment was taken over by new management four months ago, Thursday night's Funk Jazz Lounge found a new home at Sax on the Beach. Promoted heavily in conjunction with an equally popular Sunday-afternoon radio program by the same name on Hot 105 (WHQT FM), the night was consistently packed since its inauguration in August 2001. Not the result of any lack of income; it seems the Hardaway closing was just another case of nightclub owners selling Miami's cultural scene short.

The eviction left those who feed on flows and prose hungry. Hot 105 radio personality Demas, the event's creator, spread the word that the funk jazz would rise again on his weekly radio program. The growing anticipation drew a crowd of hip cats and foxes eager for another bath in the word.

Next on the mike is the Poetry Momma, Rashida, the diminutive mouthpiece with words larger than life. Like Prince, Cher, and Madonna, one name is enough for her.

"The views of the poets expressed are not necessarily the views of the Funk Jazz Lounge and its sponsors," disclaims Rashida, before introducing the night's wordsmiths.

"Who's your host?" she asks.

Like a congregation testifying in unison everyone replies, "Rashida."

What follows is a long lament, a song of longing for love, sex, politics, self-respect, and mind elevation. It's consciousness. A genuine love for words.

The Daychild, a.k.a. Marcus Blake, recites from a vernacular that is more William S. Burroughs than Langston Hughes. But remember, we movin' on, baby. Movin' on and melding.

That's where you can find me sitting Indian-style/

Nine hundred and ninety nine thousand miles high/Perched above the night sky

Transcending on to the North Star/To reconnect with the frequency of Andy Warhol

So we can howl at the moon like two desert coyotes/Tripping on peyote

Reared in an empty era of Reaganomics, the children of the so-called Black Bourgeoisie have been left without a legacy of social struggle. It can be said that when Black America lost its leaders it lost its "fight." No one has risen to take the reins and lead the collective community to higher ground. The freedom songs sung by revolutionaries are no more. There are no last poets after the Last Poets, no Public Enemies after all our enemies have gone public and sold their threatening cool to sneaker companies or to Tommy Hilfiger. Bereft of revolutionaries and conscious figureheads, the community looks to the likes of Snoop Dogg and Tupac as role models. Bereft of revolutionaries and conscious figureheads, all that is left is individual expression.

Yet the "me" and "my" of Reagan's Eighties and the black bling-bling Nineties is nowhere to be found in the Funk Jazz Lounge. Though the fight for social justice seems to have been forgotten by contemporary hip-hop and R&B artists, the less socially complacent refuse to spout versions of "let me love you up and down" or "my Benz is bigger than yours."

In this black bohemia, poet Deborah Torres expresses a desire to have her "butterfly fly." She recites an intensely sexual poem derived from an understanding of her need for mental liberation and self-knowledge. She is not looking for someone to lick it, but for a spiritual cleansing.

Like a Sunday after-church brunch, the congregation feeds the body with Sax's chicken wings, burgers, and squash while sating their mental palates with home-cooked ideas. Recipes for renaissance. Women "Ooh girl" and "No, she didn't" each time a poet hits a just-right note about a relationship gone bad. They prattle while relating to the pain. Ah, but their male counterparts jokingly jeer and hiss. Two sides to a tale. It's all in fun.

Indeed not all that sounds is righteous. Digs at a racist and materialist society give way to sly retort and the showing of love. The Funk Jazz Lounge is a time to escape injustices too great to tally and find refuge in a community's alliterated, syncopated embrace. Open your arms and ears wide, baby.

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Lee Williams