We gonna say it loud, We’re funky and proud, Femi Andrade and Quincy Ramone, co-leaders of Punk Funk Mob, wailed over the tightly syncopated grooves of Ramone’s low-slung, popping bass, his brother Jeff Logan‘s scratchy, Jimmy Nolen-inspired guitar chunk-a-chunks, and Michael Williams‘ solidly throbbing traps. The quartet — color-coordinated in black and white — delivered the tune with fierce abandon. It was one of six from the group’s ten-song debut CD, Revolution, that comprised its set at last month’s second annual San Francisco Winter Music Festival at CellSpace in the Mission. Femi, who goes by her first name only, jerked and bounced about the stage as she sang and rapped, often kicking her feet in the air to match the aggressiveness of the instrumentalists behind her.
“Have a drink on us,” Femi told the audience after “Funky & Proud” came to an abrupt halt. “Tell ’em to charge it to Leather Feather,” she added.
Femi, who considers herself something of a comedian, was playfully referring to the rather menacing punk band that preceded them on stage. Its members’ bodies and faces were covered entirely in white cloth, save for eye slits. Leather Feather, Punk Funk Mob, and the show’s headliner, singer-rapper Keno Mapp, all record for Mooremapp Records, a label run by Mapp and Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore. Moore, a saxophone slung over his shoulder, served as emcee for the evening and sat in on Punk Funk Mob’s closing song, “Funky 2 Me,” trading chants with Femi of oh, oh, hey, hey and it’s that funk, that funk, that uncut funk that makes me wanna ride.
Punk Funk Mob’s sound, which draws on punk rock, funk, and elements of new wave, is quite a stylistic departure for the singer, who only a few years back was making a name for herself on the Bay Area neo-soul scene with mellow original music reminiscent of Sade and India.Arie. But, the Berkeley-born vocalist admitted she has always been a punk at heart. And she never liked the term “neo-soul,” preferring instead to call it “neo-fuckin’-soul.”
Of mixed African-American and Puerto Rican heritage, Femi moved back and forth between Spanish Harlem and East Oakland as a child. She took an early liking to the salsa sounds of Willie Colon and the soul music of Teddy Pendergrass, The O’Jays, and Earth, Wind & Fire, as well as to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. “She was my dad’s favorite,” Femi said of Mitchell. “He just liked skinny white girls with guitars.”
In Oakland, where she sang with the Castleers at Castlemont High School, her dad took her to both Jehovah’s Witness meetings and Church of God in Christ services. Her mom studied Buddhism. “I feel like a hippie in the sense that I have had pretty much every religious experience,” she said.
Ramone moved around between Concord, San Diego, and Fresno as a boy, and listened to his parents’ Jackie Wilson and Soul Stirrers records. Then, as a teenager, he heard the Ramones.
“That’s the first band I wanted to be like,” he said. “They just looked cool. They looked…”
“Bad ass,” Femi said, finishing her musical partner’s thought.
“They had guitars in their hands,” he continued. “They didn’t have knives or guns, but they looked like they could have.”
“I’m the sixth Ramone,” he stated. It’s not his real last name, of course, but then it wasn’t the real name of any of the Ramones either.
Of Punk Funk Mob’s style, he said, “It’s rooted in funk. It’s rooted in George Clinton and Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield, Bootsy, Slave, and Cameo. But at the same time I listened to Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Ramones.””My tastes are kinda varied,” Femi added. “… It’s almost impossible to not be inspired by rock or pop or new wave or funk or jazz.”
Ramone traces the movement’s origins to Fresno, where he was once a member of a regionally popular band called the Dixons. He also worked there with funk legend Fugi.
Although Rick James popularized the term “punk funk” some thirty years ago, little of his influence can be heard in Punk Funk Mob’s music. “Even though he did coin it, he didn’t have too much punk in his music,” Ramone explained. But, Femi said of James, “He was a punk. He was a rude boy.”
After relocating from Fresno to Oakland six years ago, Ramone started playing guitar in Femi’s soul band. On the side, he began working on his concept for Punk Funk Mob. He tried a couple women as lead singers, but when they didn’t work out, he turned to Femi.
“I had some songs written and recorded already,” he said. “She just came in and fit right in and added her flavor.” She also proved to be an ideal songwriting collaborator.
Since the release of Revolution last April, Punk Funk Mob has played on bills with a wide stylistic variety of bands. “We’ve played with straight punk bands and with straight R&B acts, and then we can get in a hip-hop club and turn it out,” Ramone said. “Even though we’ve always been the odd band that’s playing that night, each time be play, we find somebody. We don’t fit in nowhere, but we fit everywhere.”