soul power, green power

December 25, 2006 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Activism, Black Folks, environment, Sustainability | 10 Comments

“let’s get together and get some land. raise our food just like the man.” – james brown, “funky president”

for me the above lyrics advises against overconsumption, to become less dependent on corporate production, and to re-establish a functional realtionship with the earth –an understanding james brown developed by watching his father harvest terpentine from local pine trees near barnwell, south carolina for a living.

the prolific elder, musician and human rights pioneer, james j. brown, jr., passed away this christmas morning. i was a bit caught off guard, particularly, since i recently viewed an interview with him on youtube. the interview was not representative of him at his best, so i was left to ponder: besides artistic genius, what did he leave us all with? what can we learn from his example? empowering messages. empowering messages, indeed. and while many of his most memorable songs were created to instill cultural pride and ignite self-determination amongst black folks, the concepts are timeless and universal.

just like a godfather, james brown left us words to inspire our courage. though, in the struggle for spiritual and emotional freedom he fought internal struggles that heavily impacted those around him, he provided us with salient words of wisdom that provoked critical thought and action. “i started a chain of gold platter restaurants…i financed my own line of food stamps.”

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“aint we got a right to the tree of life”, was the adage displayed on the hat he donned in the 1973 “the payback” album cover. and while he was not refering to the wholefoods distribution company with its same name, he was in support local farming and community businesses. in julia cole’s review of the album, she states, “black americans’ remove from ownership of the land was countered on the inner gatefold by sleeve art which depicted an idealised black farmer.” the album notes complements this statement: “It all began with forty acres and as mule… a simple desire for one whose personal branch on the tree of life struggled to protect itself from the dangerous branches of lust and greed.”

what can we do? “get invovled”! was yet another one of those robust riff/quotes he would craft into his hits. we will do well in honoring his memory by planting a few crops in addition to doing the funky chicken (for us vegans -the mashed potato). surely, if the earth feels good, we will too. let us honor his memory by following his sustainable lead. here some ideas: start a food coop, support local agriculture and farmer’s markets, purchase/protect land, learn permaculture and biodynamic farming techniques (you never know).

his legacy extends well beyond music. for more information on j.b.’s community ventures, check out soul survivor. reflect on some of his quotes:

“I would like to pass on the want to do something. The need is there. Good lyrics are good things, but I would like to pass on that drive, that invigorous undying determination.”

“‘Funky’ is about the injustices, the things that go wrong, the hungry kids going to school trying to learn. ‘Funky’ is about what it takes to make people move…”

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update: just a few days before his passing, he was still giving. here is some news footage of james brown’s annual toy drive just a few days ago.

update 2: “make brother brown proud” by getting involved and going green!

update 3: did you know j.b.’s song “funky president” was about gerald ford? (see the post on gerald ford – the passing of a funky president). the ’75 hit, which is also featured in the top selling video game grand theft auto: san andreas, was made shortly after ford invited him to the white house. apparently, j.b. wasn’t all feeling g.f. too tough. in his memoir, the godfather of soul, james brown had this to say:


I released another message song around this time, too: “Funky President (People It’s Bad).” It was about President Ford, who had taken over from Mr. Nixon in August. Every time he made a speech, it gave people the blues. He was a nice man, but he talked a lot and didn’t say anything. He was there as a caretaker after Watergate, and I think he did that. He was a good man, but I never looked at him as a president.

if that is the case, who could “talking loud, ain’t saying nothing about”? for more info on this check out jesse walker’s post and follow up comments.



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  1. Soul Power, Green Power

    This post gives a unique perspective on the “little known” community ventures of James Brown. The recently passed musical genius, was also a human rights activist who left the world with examples of cooperative economics which could serve as inspira…

  2. […] also, see blactivegan’s post on j.b.’s cooperative economic projects. […]

  3. […] Yes, Skepitical Brotha, We thank God for his life and example. Yes, Jack and Jill Politics, Habari Gani. Say it loud!; blactivegan Yes, your on point James Brown was about soul power, black power and green power. And yes, Plez, as you stated, “James Brown was clearly The Man! He was clearly the precursor to EVERYTHING we consider R&B, Soul, Funk, and even Disco. Without James Brown, there is no Michael Jackson, no Prince, no Parliament-Funkadelic, no Usher, no Justin Timberlake, no talent-less sampling hip hop artists, and no artificially produced lip-synching Milli Vanilli-type groups, no funky bands, no disco balls… and no Beautiful BLACK People! *smile* ” […]

  4. […] did you know james brown’s song “funky president” was about gerald ford? (the song was can be heard on the video game grand theft auto:san andreas). he made the song shortly after ford invited him to the white house. gerald ford was known for his take on environmental issues (take a look at ford’s 76 speech on world environment day). his strides into environmental protection included the toxic substances control act, as well as environmental safeguards to protect animals. while some critics believe these policies and overall stance on envirnomental issues was merely an “expansion of economic rhetoric” to distract the public from the rise in inflation, it was ford who nationalized the “observance of earth day on the march equinox.” here is gerald ford’s own green words: “the earth will continue to regenerate its life sources only as long as we and all the peoples of the world do our part to conserve its natural resources. It is a responsibility which every human being shares. through voluntary action, each of us can join in building a productive land in harmony with nature.” […]

  5. […] fathers, mothers, actresses, leaders and countless unsung heroes – made transition (remember the godfather). however, i did want to acknowledge the impact freddie hubbard had on me. i fell in love with […]

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