INTERVIEW: Jason Orr, Director of the FunkJazz Kafe: Diary of A Decade documentary

by Keya Maeesha

Created to set itself apart from local shows, FunkJazz Kafe has moved beyond the stage to become a worldwide movement that brings about awareness of the progression of the black culture through the arts. With music, dance, fashion, and more as its core, FunkJazz Kafe has already become one of the world’s largest festivals geared towards the community revival. It’s founder, Jason Orr, not only saw the need for a community space to celebrate progressive soul, but provided experiences and opportunities for artists such as Erykah Badu, Omar, Common, and Too Short to share their creative freedoms with the world. The lack of integrity in music also drives the thoughts behind why Orr felt it was necessary to acknowledge our culture’s rich, artistic history and document for others to share.

The Couch Sessions had an opportunity to pick Orr’s brain about FunkJazz Kafe and the progression of black music, the importance of the film, and the message he wants to convey. Check it out.

In your promo video, you have a statement that says “You will always the know the condition of a people by what is expressed in their music”. Do you feel that about music as a whole, or just black music? Why?

That applies for all music and all people because how people and their cultures create sounds and respond to sound!

Do you really believe that soul music has lost its flavor or do you believe it has changed? Why?

Yes… there was once a time that artists could win Grammys for “Best Soul Album”, “Best Soul Artist”, etc. We can see this as evidence to eliminate the category commercially. As we can see, it worked.

Has Atlanta emerged as the new mecca for Black Music?

Yes, since the 90’s. This is well documented in our movie, “FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement)” from the days of James Brown, Cameo, SOS Band to TLC, Arrested Development, Goodie Mob and OutKast.

There are many people who have problem with genre titles, especially as it relates to soul music. The term “neo-soul” in particular. What is your take on genre titles as it relates to the music of our people and how can we move beyond that to just celebrate music in general?

Traditionally categories have been helpful to understand what we are buying commercially. But as we’ve seen, that categorization has prohibited the the advancement of expression-based soul music. Becoming more astute with the search and discovery of music will broaden a persons palate for more music to be celebrated.

Why now for this film? What is the message that you are trying to leave behind?

This film opens the dialogue addressing how we got to this “soulless” place with Black music as well as offer suggestions from music industry veterans and community activists like Dick Gregory, Cornel West, Roy Ayers, George Clinton, Public Enemy, Erykah Badu and Cee Lo Green to name a few. I don’t think people think about how we come from having a plethora of bands and why bands barely exist in commercial Black music today so the film is timely in the sense of being an agent of social change and offering solutions to evolving and innovating Black music.


If you are in the Washington DC area, you can catch a screening of “FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement)” on May 30th at The Howard Theatre