By Nathan Ambrose
â€œFunk is a many splendored thing. Funk is a nasty vibe, and a sweet sexy feeling; Funk is funkiness, a natural release of the essence within . . . a release that cannot be denied.â€ -Rickey Vincent, Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One, 1996.
Although the roots of funk are steeped in African-American culture, ask any
of the genreâ€™s founding fathers: James Brown, Sly Stone, George Clinton and others, and they will tell you that funk has no particular colour. The Bay Area band Monophonics are certainly proof this is true. Over the last few years, the band has slowly cultivated a reputa- tion for being one of the funkiest and hardest working live funk-and-soul bands in America. The only question was: could they conquer Canada, and moreover, the world?
Monophonics made their Canadian debut in Victoria as part ofÂ Victoria International Jazzfest in June 2012. The bandâ€™s contagious energy infected most of the audience over the course of two 60-minute sets and an encore. The band played a mix of origi- nals, mostly from its recent, stellar album In Your Brain, sprinkled with in- terpretations of some classic soul and funk including Syl Johnsonâ€™s â€œDonâ€™t Give it Awayâ€ and Warâ€™s â€œSlippinâ€™ Into Darkness,â€ and even incorporated Al Greenâ€™s â€œLove and Happinessâ€ into
the groupâ€™s own tune, â€œSay You Love Me.â€ When it was announced that the band would return to Victoria in early December, one could not fathom how they could possibly top their first show here, but understood that it could and probably would be done.
The band has been touring non-stop since the summer, show-
casing its psychedelic soul-and-funk sound and continuing the legacy of great Bay Area musical icons of the late â€˜60s and early â€˜70s, such as Sly and the Family Stone and Tower of Powerâ€”but performed by dozens of
lesser known acts such as Darondo, Eugene Blacknell and Sugar Pie DeSanto. Keeping this vibrant musi- cal legacy alive is very important to the band, according to Kelly Finnigan, Monophonicsâ€™ dynamic keyboardist and singer.
â€œThe Bay Area, in terms of that scene, is very supportive. Itâ€™s aÂ community. Everybodyâ€™s rooting for everybody. Itâ€™s not as competitive as markets such as L.A. and New York, and thereâ€™s a lot of great soul, funk, jazz and that type of music,â€ says Finnigan. â€œItâ€™s been going on a long time between Sly and the Family Stone, Cold Blood, Joe Henderson, Tower of Power and the Headhunters, so thereâ€™s most definitely a lineage thatâ€™s part of the city. Itâ€™s a soulful city and everybody embraces the soul- and-funk scene, afrobeat, jazz.â€
Throughout their perfor- mance, Finniganâ€”holding nothing backâ€”sang with incredible energy,
determination and passion throughout
the bandâ€™s sets. He played his vintage Hammond and Hohner organs with the fury of a man possessed, sweat pouring from his brow right from the first song. His voice has the timbre of
a veteran bluesman and many of the tunes had a gritty, raw, bluesy edge to them. How the manâ€™s voice and energy level could hold up after a lengthy tour remains a mystery. In fact, it is not un- common for Finnigan to need an oxy- gen tank following a show. Finnigan says confidently, â€œThe bandâ€™s always been known for having a dynamite live show but weâ€™ve picked up [the] energy and tried to, if you could say, outwork other bands in the sense that weâ€™re having so much fun.â€
Until 2010, Monophonics were known primarily as an instrumen- tal band that occasionally collaborated
with vocalists. Finnigan joined the band in 2010, filling in for the former keyboardist who moved on to another project. His presence made an imme- diate impact and the band took on a new life thereafter, focusing first on its live show and then on recording songs with vocals for its newest LP, released on world-renowned California label Ubiquity in May of 2012. The band members describe their new sound as a natural progression for them and one that now defines their sound.
Finnigan adamantly states, â€œI love instrumental music. A lot of peo- ple love instrumental musicâ€” things like jazz, jazz-funk, boogalooâ€”but thereâ€™s something about vocals and songwriting that just talks to a larger audience.â€
Monophonics have earnedÂ their reputation for being one of the hardest working and funkiest touring bands in the United States over the past few years and the reasons why were evident during their live show. Over the past six months, Mono- phonics funk has now spread into Canada, Europe and beyond since the release of In Your Brain. There is no de- nying that this is a group that is on top of its game. Their funk is loud, sweaty, dirty, and greasy: a natural release of the essence within. Itâ€™s something that cannot be denied.
Nathan Ambrose hosts The Music of My Mind Thursdays from 5:00 â€“ 6:30 p.m.. You can find him at musicofmy- mind.wordpress.com or on Twitter @ musicofmymind.