Greeting to the Flea Market Funk family. We’re currently recovering from a major storm here in New Jersey, a storm that knocked out power and prevented me from writing and working on a few mixes I wanted to get out this weekend. I’m here, a little delayed, but happy to bring you a great record out of our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC. I got this record last year on the cheap while Larry Grogan and I were doing some DJ dates in DC and Richmond, VA. Shout out to DJ Birdman for pointing me in the right direction on this monster of a record. Here’s Oneness of Juju and “Poo Too/ Liberation Dues” on Black Fire Records from 1975.
Birthed out of the group Juju and Jazz saxophone genius Plunky Nkabinde, the Let’s go back even further though, where J. Plunky Branch would meet bassist Kent Shabala (Kent Parker) when they were students at Columbia. They would go on to form the R & B band The Soul Syndicate, before finishing school and heading West to San Francisco. Joining forces with vibraphonist Lon Moshe, Lon Moshe was formed and one self titled was produced. Fast forward and Juju would be born out of an ensemble that would provide the music for a play by Marvin X entitled “The Resurrection of the Dead”, based out of San Francisco. As the play ended, the group, known for it’s musical prowess and Afrocentric personalities, would stay together. Their diverse backgrounds from Gospel to Rhythm and Blues to Jazz to Afro Cuban to Soul and beyond would raise social, political and musical awareness with each gig they played. This would them lead them to play with such luminaries such as Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, John Handy, Santana, and more. They originally recorded two records on cult label Strata East before making the switch to Jimmy Gray’s Black Fire label. A move from San Francisco to NYC (didn’t all Jazz player move to NYC at some time?) would thrust them to be a part of the creative music/ artist scene. The year was 1973, and Juju even hooked up with Ornette Coleman, living in his Soho loft, The Artist House. The original, Avant Jazz group would add vocals, more instruments, and let’s see, heavy DRUMS ( courtesy of Richmond Funk Drummer Ronnie Toler) to this recording. The name change reflected the change in sound and the direction the band was moving. Vocalist Lady Eka-Ete, whose peculiar vocals and African chants were prevalent in the new sound. This record went over well in the Washington, DC area, as well as the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where they would be paired up with artists such as Gil Scot-Heron. 1976 brought the Lp Space Jungle Luv , and a spot on some festival circuits. A few years later, Oneness of Juju would release the single “Plastic”. Continuing to tour on occasion, their sound on this record was definitely more Funk than anything. Perhaps an homage to George Clinton? They did still include some sort of Jazz in these later recordings, a nod to the Jazz background of Plunky and his association with artists such as Pharoah Sanders. The 80’s brought about another name change (Plunky & Oneness of Juju), with Plunky being the only original and remaining member of the core Juju group. During the mid 80’s Plunky had gone to Africa to promote his music. However, while the audiences were at first excited that there was an American band with the name “Juju” in it, JuJu meant something totally different to different regions of the continent. Whether the tour was a success or not remains to be seen, however upon his return from the Mother Land, he would change the name of the group to Plunky & Oneness, while releasing a string of solo records into the 90’s as Plunky. He continues to perform today.
Starting off with a decent drum beat, “Poo Too” progresses on with Plunky’s saxophone pushing boundaries and moving from Free Jazz to some Jazz Fusion. All the while, if you listen closely, besides the great bass line and guitar work, you can hear some organic sounds throughout this side. The progression into “Liberation Dues” is damn funky, and when the vocals start in, I can close my eyes and feel myself in Pharoah Sanders’ loft or in any nightclub in DC or Richmond where Oneness were spreading their message. If Oneness of Juju were trying to keep it real, fusing Jazz, Funk, Soul, African Rhythms with Social and Political movements, they hit it right on the head. For me, this is as real as it gets at this time. If the Last Poets, Cymande, Demon Fuzz, and Gil Scot-Heron had a baby, it might sound a little like Oneness of Juju. I love that they stayed true to their African roots and added in other sounds to come up with one of the most unique groups to come out of our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC. Keep Diggin’!