The dedicated month to recognize Black History brought forth a small gathering of culturally inclined and community oriented minds to enjoy one of the greatest musical genres invented in America, funk music. An underrated space in an underrated neighborhood, King Commons II in Harambee, played host to the e’Lectrick Warbabyz‘ Friday night performance. A squad of musicians stationed on bass, rhythm, guitar, drums, conga drums, and lead guitar lent support to a vocalist and vocal backup, who together tore a whole in the cheap musical fabric that dominates contemporary rhythm and blues.
Evoking the theatrics and character-making of the founding era of funk music, in full agbada, the lead vocal urged the crowd to “Do what you do” behind infectious guitar riffs and bass scales. Kick drums smashed sound waves “on-the-one” emphasizing the warning made in their chorus that the e’Lectrick Warbabyz will “Take you to the Darkside”. Customarily, the band members broke into solos, highlighted by a hundred hand slaps on a set of six congas and a searing guitar solo.
Adjacent to the better known Riverwest and Brewer’s Hill neighborhoods, the Harambee neighborhood has a long history as home base to Black arts and community building in Milwaukee. Known as Bronzeville in the 1950’s, 3rd street was a thoroughfare to thriving Black business. During the 1960’s Bronzeville lost viability from redlining, “block-busting” and the construction of I-43, culminating with crime and blight in the 1980’s and 90’s. In spite of the adversity, some of Milwaukee’s richest cultural outlets such as America’s Black Holocaust Museum and the Milwaukee Inner City Art Council remained as pillars of the neighborhood through the down period.
Harambee’s backbone today is still Martin Luther King Drive (3rd Street). Hard-knocks could not completely extinguish the embers of soul that warm the Black arts community here. A testament to those who refused to abandon MLK Drive north of North Avenue, the e’Lectrick Warbabyz performance commemorated the neighborhood’s legacy and gave a preview of what Harambee has to offer in the present day.
Although a throwback to a bygone era, funk represents the bridge from Motown to the South Bronx and therefore the genre will always have relevance to music. Worthy of bookings and boogie-ing crowds, the e’Lectrick Warbabyz incarnation of that “Fiii-ire” could fill a terrible void in the Milwaukee live music scene.