News Column

Examining the disappearance of soul music

July 9, 2013


July 09--If you've been wondering why the tribute to Charlie Wilson during the recent BET Awards was such a hit the answer might lie somewhere in Jason Orr's documentary "FunkJazz Kafe: Diary of a Decade (The Story of a Movement)."

While Wilson's song "You Dropped the Bomb on Me" can still get people out of their seats and on the dance floor, the likes of Wilson and his Gap Band and other soul artists are being heard with less frequency on radio stations.


Orr explores the answer to that question in the documentary scheduled to open here Friday at the Southwest Arts Center.

The filmmaker and creator of the popular FunkJazz Kafe Arts and Music Festival, scheduled to open in Atlanta Saturday, said the idea for the film was born in 1996, when it dawned on him that soul music in all its forms was disappearing from the commercial market.

"I wanted to show how that happened and start a discussion about how to sustain the culture of music," he said. "It used to be you could hear Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire and Prince, Rick James and the Isley Brothers on the radio but we don't have that variety any more and are being told soul music is not relevant and not a profit maker.

"Soul music is the sound track to our lives but it's disappearing."

Tickets for the the festival and the documentary, scheduled to play here on Friday before returning to New York City for an encore screening at Lincoln Center July 31, can be purchased online at

Orr, who describes FunkJazz Kafe Arts & Music Festival as a mixture of live music, visual art, technology, fashion, and health and wellness, said he wanted the film to "be an advocate of social change and uphold the preservation of soul music and culture."

Narrated by Public Enemy's Chuck D., the documentary features interviews and performances from veterans and newcomers, including Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, George Clinton, Dick Gregory, Andre 3000 and Jamie Foxx, all weighing in on the future of soul and popular music. Orr will be at the screening to introduce the film and answer audience questions.

Early this week, Orr took these and other questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the documentary.

Q. To what do you attribute the disappearance of soul music?

A. Commerce. Why don't you hear people like Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder, people who are still iconic, on the radio? Because corporations dictate what they want to hear and profit from.

Q. An encore at the Lincoln Center is a pretty big deal. Why do you think the film is so popular?

A. Because no one else offers this kind of variety. Everything gets fed to you through TV and radio and you hear the same songs in the club that you hear on the radio. There used to be a plethora of soul music to dance to but we've been reduced to four walls and a DJ.

Q. What do you hope people will gain from seeing the film?

A. A sense of where we are today musically and culturally.


"FunkJazz Kafe: Diary of A Decade" 7 p.m. July 12. $15. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Rd., Atlanta. 404-613-3220.

FunkJazz Kafe Arts & Music Festival, 8 p.m. July 13. $23-$43. The Tabernacle, 152 Lucky St. Atlanta.


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