Saturday, June 25, 2011

Martha. Mother. Martyr. Unlikely homophones until you meet the BFE

Put some smooth 90's hip-hop and reggae-esque vocals over original jazz-funk beats and you get the Brooklyn Funk Essentials every time. Just as sure as leaving a crack-head to "keep an eye" on your wallet will leave you broke. 

BFE is a music collective which enjoyed heavy recognition throughout the 90s with songs like "A Headnaddas Journey to the Planet Adidi-Skizm", "Big Apple Boogaloo", "Dance Free Night", and their very first single, a rendition of the highly-acclaimed tune by legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, "The Creator Has a Master Plan" (see embedded video).


Their second album - In The Buzz Bag - with its single "Istanbul Twilight", recorded with Turkish group Laco Tayfa, earned the group a Grammy nomination and elevated them to cult-like status in Turkey. Other songs such as "I Got Cash" and "Date With Baby" are humorous and pure fun to listen to. Vocals for the groups' songs are generally provided by Swedish reggae star Papa Dee, and female vocalists Hanifah Walidah, and Stephanie McKay. In addition, tracks often feature the gruff, throaty dub poetry of Everton Sylvester which is quite a delight on the auditory palate. This brings us to the main course of this post.

     Brooklyn Funk Essentials - Martha

"Martha" is the second to last track from the album 'Make Them Like It'. Every time I listen to this song I am captivated by the ease and completeness with which he paints the picture of the picture at which he is gazing. The description is so thorough that it doesn't just allow you to conjure up an image, instead it forces the image upon you - even down to the details of the blouse she is wearing.  The entire tone of the song is one of sad reminiscence; a son going through an old photo album or maybe stopping to stare at a framed photo of his mother when she was at her prime. Nothing, however, prepares the listener for the shocking  fact revealed by the final six words. 

The more subtle, and more interesting feature of the song is the way that Stephanie McKay's pronunciation of the track title "Martha", which we assume is the mother's name, during the 1:45 repetitive outro makes us hear three different things at different times: 'Martha', then 'Mother', and then 'Martyr'. An ingenious yet subtle nudge at the over-arching subject; the execution of which increases my respect for this track.

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