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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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By the seventies I was a delegate to the sixth Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1974;

had led a delegation to the People Republic of China in 1977;

and was a member of a Pan-African Nationalist organization, Ahidiana . . .



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Parliament Funkadelic—P-Funk

Music Commentary by Kalamu ya Salaam


Do you wanna dance?

By the early seventies, the golden era of black self-determination in the USA, every black person who had half a brain was involved, in one way or another, at actualizing black empowerment. Even those who were opposed in principle to “black power” were engaged in trying to mold America into a more egalitarian society and thus even when integration was the goal, the actualization of that goal demanded that blacks be raised from a position of inferiority to equality.

On the cultural side, such activism created a climate in which artists not only were socially and politically involved in daily life but the general outlook became one of reaching for the stars. We literally thought everything was possible, if not today, surely by tomorrow!

Today we know the sixties/seventies as a golden era of black music: Motown, Atlantic, Blue Note, Prestige, Stax, Philly International, Curtom, and bunches of smaller independent record labels produced an unmatched catalogue that remains a standard for today’s popular music. One interesting wrinkle is the ascendancy of Parliament/Funkadelic, bka P-Funk. 

Prime P-Funk was literally a spin-off from 1. James Brown, who was a kingdom unto his own superbad self, 2. Motown, where George Clinton cut his musical teeth but quickly departed, and 3. Jimi Hendrix, who brought the screaming lead guitar to the forefront. Of course there were other elements but those three are the foundation and James Brown was both an influential musical cornerstone as well as a direct source of musicians—first it was bassist Bootsy Collins, and then Maceo and Fred Wesley (who morphed into P-Funk’s “horny horns”). James Brown was the progenitor of modern funk and P-Funk was the perfection thereof.

You can call me Chinese because I was born in interesting times. My birthdate is 24 March 1947. I was active in the civil rights movement while in high school: sitting-in (and getting arrested), picketing, voter registration. By the seventies I was a delegate to the sixth Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1974; had led a delegation to the People Republic of China in 1977; and was a member of a Pan-African Nationalist organization, Ahidiana, that operated an elementary school, and was active in community organizing especially around police brutality. When I was in my early twenties, black music was at its highest overall level. From 1970 to 1983, I was the editor of The Black Collegian magazine and writing on the regular about the music, which included writing and publishing over 100 interviews featuring a wide range of black artists.

Indeed, I was present when the mothership first landed. The premiere of that iconoclastic musical event was at the Municipal Auditorium located, appropriately enough, in New Orleans’ Congo Square. I was sitting in the first balcony with an excellent view of the whole stage. When they called down the mothership the first thing that happened was a small model mothership attached to a wire that “flew” from the back ceiling down to the stage. As it passed overhead, I remember being underwhelmed—label promo man Tom Vickers had promised me it would be a not to be missed event. That small cardboard or tin foil or whatever-it-was-made-of contraption hardly qualified.

The music was jamming but the special effects weren’t so special. The model disappeared behind the stage curtain. The band was whipping harder as if to make up for the failure of the model mothership to wow the audience. Then the dry ice smoke started, and lights starting blinking, and HOLY SHIT GODDAMN . . . a big ass spaceship started descending over the stage. I mean a BIG ASS SPACESHIP. This wasn’t no play toy model nothing. This was THE MOTHERSHIP.
At that point I wasn’t the only one jumping up, screaming, and shaking my ass to the music. The whole auditorium was throbbing. We could hardly believe our eyes. Then they pushed this sixteen-or-so foot ladder up to the mothership. Mind you the band has locked into a fifth gear and the whole place was going ape-shit nuts. Which is when the door on the spaceship slid open and a sun-glasses-wearing George Clinton dressed in white fur from head to toe stepped onto the ladder and just stood there for what was probably no more than a couple of minutes.

You know the Christian rapture belief that at the appropriate time God is going to send a chariot of some sort to collect the hundred-and-some thousand believers, well this wasn’t Jesus but it was certainly a preview of what it was going to feel like. By now we were all delirious with joy. Certainly we had just been saved from the blahs. From that point on, anything was possible.

You ever saw a black man dressed in fluffy white descend from on high? I don’t know how he did it in those platform boots but my man’s swag was literally a strut. And when he touched down on the stage the party was on in full effect. I don’t remember what happened next. It was sensory overload. I had just seen a spaceship land and this wasn’t no unidentified flying object. This was the mothership connection. 

It is important to understand the collective unconscious evidenced by the majority of blacks in the diaspora. We all dream of flying. This was a soundtrack for our deepest desires.

So this week’s Mixtape is an hour-and-a-half attempt to replicate the sublime creative chaos of P-Funk at its zenith, which was a collective of probably twenty-some musicians, singers, dancers cavorting on the stage. Throw away your damn watch. P-Funk was known to go until morning light, literally. A P-Funk performance was a potent mix of heavy funk, Hendrix inspired rock, and gospel inflected vocals (including a chorus) garnished by a running cosmic rap from Dr. Funkenstein.

This musical mélange was created live, in real time, right before your very eyes, straight on into your earhole. A P-Funk concert was damn near a religious experience.
In the eighties and the nineties there were attempts to recapture the P-Funk experience but the times had changed. Yes, the notes and the beats could be replicated but the collective consciousness was not there so the music didn’t feel the same because in fact the heads in the audience were not in the same place.

Many, many commentators on the music miss the importance of the audience and the consciousness of that audience. Transcendental music requires people who ready to rise up and while there will always be small pockets of people ready to take a trip, prime time P-Funk happened when whole communities were ready ride.

The general community consciousness is the missing ingredient but the cycle will return. That is the way life has always been. Ebbs and flows. Ups and downs.

Listen to the last track on the Mixtape and you will hear the instructions. Swing down sweet chariot. Stop and let me ride…

To be continued. Surely . . .

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what came first? Sun Ra’s Mothership or Parliment's? I was surprised when I rented "Space Is the Place" from Netflix and saw the spaceship motif in that movie.—Marian

sun ra was before p-funk BUT in an interview with george clinton, clinton told me that he was not aware of sun ra and that jimi hendrix was his inspiration. if you listen to axis bold as love there is a direct reference to space travel and that some of us came from other places to earth. what is interesting however is that i speculate that although clinton was unaware of sun ra, jimi hendrix probably was quite aware of sun ra. initially, i felt like you seem to feel: p-funk seems like a natural outgrowth of sun ra, especially with the outer space motifs and the costumes, the dancing, the large aggregations on stage, playing for hours, etc. but i have since come to believe that all of that and more of that are simply individual manifestations of a larger, shared african-diaspora heritage. sun ra used to sing: suppose we came not from africa but to africa! i’m saying p-funk, jimi hendrix, sun ra—all of that is just memories from/of home, a different way of life than what currently dominates planet earth… we now return you to . . .— Kalamu

Source: Breath of Life

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P-Funk Live Mixtape Playlist

Live: P Funk Earth Tour

01 “Dr Funkenstein”
02 “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker Medley”
03 “Dr. Funkenstein’s Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication Medley”
04 “Comin’ Round The Mountain”

Live 1976-93 (out of print)

05 “Cosmic Slop”
06 “It Ain’t Illegal Yet”
07 “Funkentelechy”

08 “Into You”
09 “Aquaboogie”
10 “Children Of Production”
11 “Mothership Connection”

Source: Breath of Life

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P-Funk WeFunk

By Kalamu ya Salaam


One of the numerous secret ingredients of P-Funk was an intentional subversive edge: conceptually, sonically, and semantically.

They often cursed just for the funk of it, knowing that gleeful invectives separated P-Funk from those who were looking for cross-over success.

The sound was grimy, unclean, full of counter-voicings: spontaneous outbursts pushed into the foreground of the mix; smooth voices colliding with rough-hewn hollers and drug-induced giggles, although they were serious they didn’t take themselves too seriously.

Their matrix was the creativity that emerged from chaos. Happenstance kissing intentionality was their credo. One could contemplate a lyric for hours only to realize they were just funking around. This was music inspired by a trickster muse.

Instead of seeking the purity of an unadulterated sound, they reveled in the neo-African aesthetic, i.e. embrace life in the full funkiness of creation, a fullness that included up, down, all around, and all in between, meaning everything-at-the-same-time rather than one-at-a-time-thing-ism. 
Which all you could see in the montage of the spectacles that were their concerts. (Which one is George Clinton?) Make no mistake, they intended to be stimulus overload. After experiencing them, you left with a shitload of ideas you never knew you had. Who knows what’s inside the unopened doors of your mind? P-Funk was exploratory sonic surgery.

The downside of a freaky approach to business was that the centre not only could not hold, shit didn’t just fall apart, the whole thing imploded. Ironically, P-Funk ate itself. George not only lost control, he lost ownership possession of the music. Clinton did not mind his wants and paid the cost when he found out that a bunch of suits wanted more than his mind. As advanced capitalism always does, their ultimate tactic was the co-opting of everything including the fruits of anti-capitalist production.

The lesson is simple: it’s ok to funk around but don’t neglect to take care of business. Admittedly, minding the bottom line is an admonition that is difficult to follow when you’re having fun, but if we don’t, we’ll find ourselves fleeced by the money-lovers who never sleep.

At one point Clinton looked like he had the upper hand on the industry with multiple-contracts and worldwide tour opportunities. Everybody wanted to taste the funk. And, indeed, although P-Funk produced enough funk to keep the world dancing for decades, we still have to deal with the devil in the details of legalities and deals done with unscrupulous demons who can’t dance but whose technical footwork will kick your ass. (If you don’t understand what I’m alluding to, go Google George Clinton and publishing, but be prepared to witness some discouragingly ugly shit including George’s shortcomings, addictions, and gross missteps.)

Fortunately, the gift of funk offers far more than anyone can take from it. This Mixtape is three hours of funk; three hours but still only a dip in the P-Funk ocean of sounds. This Mixtape is not a full retrospective, or even a complete catalogue of hits. Instead this is a selection of studio recordings designed to temporarily satisfy our life-long cravings to get down on the one (yes, I know, some of us don’t even know we have funky urges; doesn’t matter, our bodies feel things that our minds have yet to perceive).

Funk first of all appeals to the feelings. You ain’t got to fully understand rhythm in order to dance. If your heart is beating, you are inclined to respond to funky rhythms. So enjoy this potent dose of P-Funk medicinal musings. 
A word to the wise and those who want to know more, here’s what’s missing: 1. A healthy selection of pre-Chocolate City jams when it was mostly Funkadelic at their freakiest. 2. Almost all the songs directly associated with the mothership connection—we covered a lot of them last week with the live selections. 3. Everything after “Atomic Dog” including remixes, solo George Clinton, and post-nineties P-Funk. (I guess you can tell there is probably another P-Funk Mixtape to come.)

BTW, a word about nomenclature: P-Funk, which originally referred to a combination of Parliament and Funkadelic, is short-hand for the conglomeration of artists and styles that brought the funk. Parliament refers the the R&B, vocal side of the funk and Funkadelic is an emphasis on the rock, instrumental side, except there is a lot of seepage and cross-fertilization so that you can’t aesthetically separate these two elements because they are both integral and entwined to the concept of getting down on the one. In a similar manner, like life, this music is both silly and serious at the same time—so funk it! Go ahead and enjoy yourself but don’t injure yourself. Peace. Love. & Have a funky good time.

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P-Funk WeFunk Mixtape Playlist

Mothership Connection
01 “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”
Finest Funkadelic
02 “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody Got A Thing”
Standing on the Verge of Getting It On
03 “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On”
Finest Funkadelic
04 “Red Hot Mama”

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Cosmic Slop
05 “Cosmic Slop”

Hardcore Jollies
06 “You Scared the Lovin’ Outta Me”
07 “Comin’ Round the Mountain”
08 “Soul Mate”
09 “Adolescent Funk”

Maggot Brain
10 “Maggot Brain”

One Nation Under A Groove
11 “Cholly (Funk Get Ready To Roll!)”
12 “Into You”
13 “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doodoo Chasers)”

Finest Funkadelic
14 “Let’s Take It to the Stage”

Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic
15 “Take Your Dead Ass Home! (Say Something Nasty)”

The Electric Spanking of War Babies
16 “Funk Gets Stronger (Killer Millimeter Long)”

One Nation Under A Groove
17 “One Nation Under A Groove”

Chocolate City
18 “Chocolate City”

The Electric Spanking of War Babies
19 “She Loves You”

Funked Up: The Very Best of the Parliament
20 “Fantasy Is Reality”
21 “Agony Of Defeet”

Motor Booty Affair
22 “Mr. Wiggles”
23 “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)”

Uncle Jam Wants You
24 “Uncle Jam”
25 “Holly Wants To Go To California”
26 “(Not Just) Knee Deep”

Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome
27 “Placebo Syndrome”
28 “Funkentelechy”
29 “Flash Light”

posted 7 October 2010

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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Guarding the Flame of Life

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 29 March 2012




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