Listen to this track by Bahamian soul-funkateers and pan-cultural stew-stirrers The Beginning Of The End. It’s their big international hit named after their hometown, “Funky Nassau” as taken from the 1971 album of the same name, Funky Nassau. The record came out on Alston Records, which was a subsidiary of a major label responsible for some of the greatest R&B ever laid down on wax – Atlantic.
The band is made up of the three Munnings brothers; Raphael “Ray” on organ and lead vocals, Roy on guitar, and Frank on drums. The line-up was filled out by Livingston Colebrook on second guitar, and Fred Henfield on bass, and with even more Munnings relatives on horns.
The result was a unit tight enough to reproduce the vital alchemy it takes to pull a tune like this off; a seamless groove with enough muscle to stand up to being taken apart, with each player getting a solo spot. And then, the whole thing comes back together again, as if to prove how durable that groove really is, as if for sheer, joyous, summery bravado.
But, how did Nassau get so funky anyway?
This track made waves as a tune that incorporated local textures and rhythms of the Bahamas including Latin-influenced flavouring from nearby Cuba along with a James Brown/Sly Stone interconnectedness that make it pretty undeniable as soul music, too. It pulls musical threads together that span continents, with the same kind of feel that can be found in the music of America, and Africa too. Just listen to those horns alone that shimmer with the buoyancy that can be found in music all over the African continent, as well as in the then-nascent funk being made at the time. The mystery of the blues and the roots of soul strikes again! This tune is a mark of the cultural times, too, with more urbane fashion styles and attitudes that began to hold sway over island culture at the time, reflected here in this song.
That’s the great thing about music coming out the Caribbean; it incorporates a mix of cultures from all over the world, much like nearly every other aspect of life there, and stirs it into a tasty stew with a distinct flavour of its own. In the Bahamas, soca, reggae, and the more localized Junkanoo music, “rake and scrape”, and goombay were all thoroughly and enthusiastically practiced. But, when it came to the Munning brothers, they were proactive at stretching their own cultural spectrum to include soul music to the degree that it stands next to the best examples of the genre, even if it has a decidedly Bahamian origin.
The Beginning Of The End had the advantage of being on the scene when foreign acts came to call to the local clubs in Nassau, serving as a house band to many of them. That means they had to be tight. But, they had to be stylistically supple, too, mastering a number of different musical forms out of necessity. And that’s how they found the funk; they were bona fide practitioners by the time the band laid down their first record by the early 70s.
“Funky Nassau – Part 1” was recorded in Miami, and became a regional hit in the Bahamas. But, pretty soon, copies of the single found their way back to Florida, probably through tourists who’d brought back copies of the single from the tituar city. It also found its way into the hands of local DJs. The rest is Billboard history, with a top twenty showing on the Hot 100 chart, and top ten on the R&B charts in 1971. It would chart again in the top forty three years later, and much later it would feature in the movie Blues Brothers 2000, performed by Elwood himself along with soul singer Erykah Badu, and a cast of actors including John Goodman, and Joe Morton.
The Beginning Of The End were well named of course, with this being their sole hit. But, they made their mark that proved to have a greater reach even beyond their initial recording of a song that’s become something of a funk-soul, and even disco standard.
You can learn more about the band and the making of this track here.