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40 years of 'Funky Nassau'

THEA RUTHERFORD
Guardian National Correspondent
thea@nasguard.com

Published: Apr 30, 2011

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From blockbuster movies to Youtube videos,"Funky Nassau"has rocked on for 40 years.

Since its release in 1971 by Bahamian band, Beginning of the End, the electrifying tune has done anything but recede quietly into the tide.

Erykah Badu, Joe Morton, Dan Akroyd and the Blues Brothers Band immortalized the song in the film"Blues Brothers 2000"; Santana strummed it for a new generation during his 2008"Live Your Light"tour; and dozens of others have translated the song into a variety of musical styles.

"So many people have re-done it that my name for it now is the beast that wouldn't die,"smiled Raphael Munnings, the former Beginning of the End lead singer who co-wrote the lyrics to the song with his first cousin, the late Junkanoo music icon Tyrone"Dr. Offf"Fitzgerald."It just keeps coming back in so many forms."

And while dozens of artists have covered"Funky Nassau", there is still no version like the original. Its jazz, funk and latin infused Bahamian rhythms resonate as much today as they did with the first crowds to hear the imminent hit on dance floors in Nassau.

"We'd play the song live for people who never even heard the record and they really would like it,"Munnings remembered.

The 40th anniversary celebrations are expected to continue with a concert scheduled to take place before the end of the year. Munnings and the Beginning of the End Band will headline a show featuring international recording artists of the"Funky Nassau"1970s and 80s era. The group has partnered with radio DJ Jay Michaels and the Ministry of Tourism to produce the event.

"We decided it would be good to celebrate the whole thing by producing the kind of concert that wouldn't just feature me,"said Munnings.

The singer admitted that the original band never imagined the longevity the song has enjoyed. The love child of six months of lock-down rehearsals,"Funky Nassau"first came to the band in 1970.

"We thought…it would be a big hit in the States and maybe Europe, and call it that,"said Munnings.

By 1971 the song had not only proved itself a hit at home, with the band selling out their first 5,000 records, it had earned the group a distribution deal with Henry Stone's Alston Records, which was affiliated with Atlantic Records, in South Florida.

The group recorded the song at Critera Recording Studio in Miami the previous year on a$2,000 loan from their uncle, Percy Munnings. Members Fred Henfield(bass guitar), Leroy Munnings(lead guitar), Frank Munnings(drums)and Raphael Munnings(vocals and keyboards)had received the blessings of their father, the legendary Freddie Munnings Sr., whose Cat and Fiddle nightclub defined a musical era in The Bahamas.

Munnings credits radio hosts of the time Jeff Scavella and Charles Carter with popularizing the song at home.

"Even people in the States said that's how they learned about Nassau,"added Munnings, who pointed to the song's tourism pull.

"Funky Nassau"climbed both the Billboard R&B and Pop charts throughout the early part of 1971. It peaked at Number 15 on the Pop chart in July after catapulting from spot Number 94, joining hits of the day such as Carole King's"It's Too Late"and James Taylor's"You've Got A Friend".

The record eventually became the first from The Bahamas to sell a million copies.

While the band never got the chance to capitalize on the song's fame by touring North America or Europe, where it later caught on, the legacy of"Funky Nassau"lives on.

"Pretty much everywhere that I go in Nassau or The Bahamas as a whole, besides the fact that people know the song, they could just see the similarity right off,"said Munnings'son, Raphael Munnings II, of being recognized through his father's fame. The 29-year-old artist and producer, who is following in the family's musical legacy, goes by the stage name"Fellon".

"Starting from my grandfather going to my father, for me the love of music was always there,"he said.

Meanwhile commemoration continues for a song whose list of re-makes grows with its history.

"I call them my string of pearls,"said Munnings.

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