On the A with Souleo: Did hip hop kill the funk

There are few things more powerful than strong, fierce, and bold women of color that challenge the status quo. This past weekend, independent artist and entrepreneur, Nucomme, paid homage to one such iconic figure in “Betty’s Story: A Tribute to Betty Davis.” The event, which was held at the Apollo Music Café, attempted to conjure the essence of funk innovator Davis through song, dance, and archival footage.

In a time when her male contemporaries, such as her ex-husband Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone, were receiving praise for their groundbreaking music and images, Davis fought to be accepted as a woman singing, writing, and producing her own material. Much of that music featured sexual lyrics, social commentary, and a defiant stance against conformity. It was that spirit of rebellion, which attracted Nucomme to the legend. “We both create our own path and always maintain integrity of what we want to do,” she says. “Betty was about the purity of her music and she struggled with that [by] being a Black woman. She struggled for publishing rights and they banned her from radio, but she continued to write music for people.”

While over thirty years have passed since Davis abandoned the industry, Nucomme notes that not much has changed politically for women in music. For Nucomme, part of the fault lies with the popularity of hip-hop. “Not to bash hip-hop, but it’s such a male dominated thing with very few females. All of the balladeers got lost in this new trend,” she says. Plus, she notes that budget cuts to artistic programs in public schools are equally to blame. “The schools started cutting back, so the actual art of instrumentation and showmanship got lost. But I’ve taken on the mindset of an independent artist. You have to build your own stage.”

From one stage to another is the Woodie King, Jr. New Federal Theatre presentation of “Court-Martial at Fort Devens.” The play, held at the Castillo Theatre, is set during World War II and tells the true story of the strike of African-American WAC’s (Women’s Army Corps) stationed in Massachusetts during World War II. The play documents their legal battle for equality after they are denied access to be trained as nurses and subsequently disobey orders due to racial politics. In an age where some complain of a lack of leadership in communities of color, this overlooked chapter in U.S. history is a strong reminder that social justice is not just one person’s responsibility. “We have this idea that it’s a single leader who makes differences in history but it’s really two or three leaders who share the same goals,” playwright Jeffrey Sweet notes. “It’s the old argument of working within or outside the system. The point of the play is they are both right.”

From Davis, to Nucomme, to the women who challenged the segregated U.S. military, it is apparent that sometimes all you need is a few brave women that aren’t afraid to funk up the system.

SouleoSouleo Enterprises, LLC is the umbrella company that creates and produces entertaining, empowering and informative media and philanthropic projects by founder, Souleo.

This article is courtesy of our partner The Harlem Arts Alliance