The house Jason Orr built 20 years ago, FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival, continues to highlight black excellence.
Orr never announces any performers, and that’s by design.
Acts like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Raphael Saadiq, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jamie Foxx, OutKast, Goodie Mob, Van Hunt, Donnie, Algebra, Anthony David, Public Enemy, Biz Markie, Eric Roberson, Doug E. Fresh, Janelle Monae, Omar, Bilal, Caron Wheeler, Dionne Farris, Arrested Development and N’Dea Davenport played the main stage.
“FJK is built on preservation, sustainability and innovation,” says Orr. “It honors what black people have contributed to this country and all cultures.” At FJK’s July 25 installment, the black music connoisseur and festival curator held up a sign before and after performances declaring, “This Is the Future.” Taylor McFerrin, Jeremy Ellis and Chante Cann became FJK’s latest additions to its superlative class of talent. The all-female Giwayen Mata delivered an energetic repertoire of rhythmic African drumming and tribal chanting.
“A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them these artists are the next big thing,” says Orr. However, FJK isn’t just a concert. The collective experiences invigorate the soul. The main stage is decked with living room furniture, massive floor rugs, burning incense, numerous paintings and a sea of live instruments. Orr moves around all night to ensure everything flows at just the right tempo. Visual artists create original pieces. The downstairs bazaar has jewelry, clothing, fire breathers, stilt walkers, people on rollerblades, mixed media works and custom fare.
Upstairs are themed suites. There’s aromatherapy intimately accented with drapery, burning scented candles and massage tables. Next door is an old-school house party blaring funk, hip hop, house, Afrobeat, reggae and soul. Directly across the hall is a spoken word lounge and jazz club.
Since FJK’s inception, Orr has donated more than a million pounds of food and clothing to homeless shelters. “Everything I do has to have a cause behind it,” says Orr.
Orr actively travels to screen his documentary, FunkJazz Kafé: Diary of a Decade (The Story of a Movement), which was completed in 2012. He’s hosting FJK’s second Documentary Film Festival + Music Conference on Nov. 22.
The next festival is Saturday Oct. 25 at 9 p.m. at The Tabernacle (152 Luckie St.). Since FunkJazz created this new genre, other music and culture festivals like One MusicFest, Counterpoint, Shaky Knees and even AfroPunk have emerged. Orr is honored that his idea provided the template for other festivals. “You’ve got to have fun doing this or it becomes work,” he says.
–christopher a. daniel