Photo: Courtesy of Funk Parade
Photo: Courtesy of Funk Parade

The Future is Funk

Imagine a time and a place where people young and old (and everyone in between) of different races, religions, professions, economic backgrounds and aspirations and yes, even political beliefs, join to celebrate music, life and each other. Where is this Utopia? Is it in the pages of a science fiction novel or a streaming hit on Netflix? Nope. It’s Saturday, May 6, right here in Washington, DC. Funk Parade is back. The fair, parade and music festival welcomes all to experience the flavors of the city on historic U Street and surrounding venues.

U Street is “one of the most important streets for music in the country,” says Funk Parade Cofounder Chris Naoum. He was interested in “creating an environment where musicians love to play and collaborate,” and where longtime residents, the influx of young professionals and their families, and Ethiopian and LGBTQ communities – all who share these streets – can “get together to recognize the struggle and history and creativity in the neighborhood.”

This is where go-go was born in the mid-60s to late-70s. Made popular by the Young Senators, Black Heat, and singer-guitarist Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, go-go continues to evolve, blending funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop. But that’s just one form of funk you’ll hear from more than 100 bands and musical acts playing at stages set up throughout the neighborhood. More than 200 stakeholders – local business owners, organizations and city members – participated in creating this event. This year’s theme is Future Funk, and will feature art “activations” with a futuristic twist.

“The mothership has landed in DC,” Naoum says, referring to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened earlier this year. “The future is uncertain,” he continued, and this will be a day when “communities come together to envision a future that we all want to live in together.”

Creatives from the District’s art, tech and virtual reality communities will share their projects and invite the public to try interactive VR/AR games, 360 video content, virtual reality art projects and some of the newest music technology innovations. After dark, large 3-D projections will transport historic storefronts into the 22nd century and beyond. Activities include the Virtual Reality Lounge, spaceship building and space costume construction.

The parade itself is a free-for-all of marching bands, dance troupes, DC city leaders, single musicians, noisemakers and folks dressed up in outrageous costumes. Robots will mingle with the mayor while seasoned performers jam with the newest talent. Stephane Detchou, frontman of the nine-piece band Aztec Sun, helped shepherd the parade last year. His band has participated in the last four Funk Parades.

“It really brings out people who are genuinely and honestly fans of music and creativity,” he says.

Referring to the transient nature of the District – so many people come here as young professionals and leave after a few years – Detchou says, “Participating in things like the Funk Parade, being part of the creative community, makes people want to stay.”

Aztec Sun has been playing locally and touring since 2012. Starting off as a four-piece band with a sound influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, their size and sound evolved over the years, picking up the go-go and funk native to DC. They have several performances coming up in May in the DMV and New York, and their music can be heard on Spotify and iTunes.

One of the most exciting new voices to the festival is D’Jon. Born and raised in Northeast DC, the poet-turned-songwriter replied to an open call for acts. Young and driven, she found out about the call at the last minute.

“I had the confidence to go ahead and submit,” she says. “The atmosphere is something different for me. I’ll get the crowd rockin’.”

Influenced by Tupac Shakur, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, the artist has an additional performance coming up later in May. Don’t miss her. Her fresh take builds on the history of music in this city. She IS the future of funk.

The fair begins at noon and last until 7 p.m. Parade starts at 3 p.m. and the music festival runs from 7-10 p.m. There’s so much happening in this one day, and with the weather predicting rain, the best way to stay informed up-to-the-minute is to download the Funk Parade app here.

For more information about Aztec Sun and their performance schedule, visit aztecsunband.com.

For music and videos by D’Jon, visit Supremedjon.com.

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Vanessa Mallory Kotz

Vanessa Mallory Kotz has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. She covers visual arts, fashion, food and anything that advocates for better treatment of humans and animals. Her work has appeared in Popular Photography, American Photo, The Writer's Guide, Hirshhorn Magazine, First Person Plural, Goucher Quarterly, AmericanStyle, Niche, Reflections: Ultra Short Personal Narratives and art catalogs for museums across the country.