“I started to dig deeper and listen to African music and I discovered funk, it and hip hop had in common a beat that has intellect to it, some musical verve to it. And not just music by James Brown, but Santana, Fela Kuti, and Fania All Stars,” says Will Rast. The composer and pianist is describing by phone from his D.C. home how he has now transitioned from being a sought-after freelance jazz session player (Thievery Corporation, Federico Aubele) to also founding The Funk Ark, an eight-member ensemble dedicated to THE Funk.

And just what is this marvelous Funk? Its main mechanisms, says Rast, are polyrhythmia and syncopation, and it is the African element in modern music which it naturally moves people- urging people to move their bodies while listening to it – i.e., pure dance music! And the ensemble of talented D.C. musicians he has brought together is allowing Rast to explore what he terms “funk’s endless trove of musical ideas.”

Most recently, thanks to his friendship with Grammy-winning producer Adrián Quesada (Grupo Fantasma, Brownout, Ocote) Rast and the Funk Ark have recorded a new CD, High Noon, which he describes as having “the vibe of an old West showdown, like a spaghetti western.” And there’s more than a little Latin tinge to the Funk Ark’s funk – Joel Herrera, from Yuma, Arizona, is the trumpet player, and he composed songs like El Rancho Motel for this recording.

Nevertheless, the road resurrect and preserve funk has posed many challenges. Rast comments that as an instrumentalist it’s often discouraging: “You hear an artist such as Deadmau5 say ‘All I do is just push buttons’. It’s both a blessing and a curse to not to just be me and my laptop on an airplane.” He adds, laughing, “No, it’s like me and eight guys in a conversion van! We know we’re going to drive around the country playing music we love, and we might lose our shirts. The point is we make good music and we are dedicated to doing just that.”

No doubt we’re lucky that Rast and The Funk Ark will keep us dancing and grooving as the band faithfully follows the immortal James Brown’s instructions: “Lay down the boogie and play that funky music til you die!”

The Funk Ark will be laying down the boogie at Martyrs on August 14 at 8PM.

Check Catalina’s radio show Beat Latino  (On FB and itunes too!) as well as recent NPR features to explore the past, present and future of Latin music.

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