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High-Octane Kofy

Kofy Brown
Lean, Mean Soul Machine: Kofy Brown works out for her music.

'Hungry' album shows off Kofy Browns soul-funk ways

By Nicky Baxter

Blaxploitation-flick addicts probably remember Coffy Brown, the celluloid soul sistah played by Pam Grier. Angelically fly with her Afro halo, Brown did not suffer knuckleheads gladly; you either stepped to her correct, or you didn't go there at all.

Kenya Sims--a.k.a. Kofy Brown MC--has resurrected the name and spirit of Grier's creation. Spraying script instead of bullets, the rapper, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and her backup unit are remaking hip-hop in their own funky soul image on Hungry (Simba Music, 510/763-6670).

Since moving to the Bay Area five years ago, the Washington, DC, native has wowed inhabitants of clubland with a vast array of musical flavors. Imagine if the now-abdicated Prince really knew how to rock the mic.

In point of fact, Brown counts the diminutive symbol figure as one of her most significant influences. In a phone interview from her home in West Oakland, the area's own funk princess discussed her new album.

So how did she get so funky? Genetics? College? None of the above. "It's natural," she says blithely. "As a kid, I was in a band led by my brother, and he was a hella tight performer. He was probably my biggest influence. Plus, I used to check out James Brown and the Jackson Five."

But the performer that really turned her head was the mighty mite from Minnesota with his over-the-top stage shenanigans. Says Kofy: "[Prince's] '1999' tour with Vanity did if for me; from that point on, I knew what I wanted to do."

Observing Kofy Brown in concert is an exhilarating experience. Prowling the boards like a caged tigress one minute, busting a hip-hop move the next, she is in hyper-motion from the moment she bounces onstage.

Significantly, Brown refuses to take the star trip. She spends the vast majority of the time within physical reach of the audience, and the sweat you see on her brow is not from the floodlights.

Anyone in the proximity of the dance floor shakes serious booty for as long as the rangy performer grips the mic. Even observing her from a safe distance from the stage can be exhausting.

Even More Delicious

It takes some effort to transfer all this sweaty energy onto disc, but Hungry largely manages the feat. Written and produced by Brown, the album contains mostly new material. Unlike her 1994 debut, Live & Delicious, which was recorded with her then-backing band, Grove Hall, Hungry was cut in the studio.

For Brown, the new joint represents musical and personal growth. "The first album," she asserts, "was more hip-hop-oriented." Hungry, she maintains, is more diverse stylistically.

She adds, "I think I've learned a lot more about life and music since the first one came out."

Then, too, she's got a groovier band supporting her: guitarist Richard Harry, keyboard player Michael Meyers, bassist Jeffery Lyons and drummer Maurice Miles. Minus Lyons, this unit is essentially the late, lamented Congo Square. The quartet is as comfortable whipping up a funkazoidal storm as it is laying down carpet of Ebonicized soul.

That Hungry is tighter than its predecessor is made clear from the very first track, "Fallin.' " A musical revision of the Grove Hall-era "Can U See Me," "Fallin' " is cool, calm and collected, thanks primarily to Richard Harry's jazzbo guitar.

In addition to the track's musical appeal is Brown's incisive social observation, which deftly sidesteps the fuzzy-headed liberalism of similar outfits: "If a child is molested they get some therapy / But a race of people, we get no sympathy / Keep quiet, don't worry; keep goin' on / Until pow! We explode, then ya know it's on."

Brown is not bashful about her skills at the mic. On the hectic, rhythm-driven "Muddy Waters" (no pun; just props), the MC issues a warning to punk-ass microphonies to step off, and with her buttery but never soft delivery, you know the woman's got soul.

And, in case hardheads don't get the clue, there's "Microphone Man (Is It Real?)": "Kofy Brown's in the house, and I'm getting buck wild / Like a funky child, come on hear me now / I want to break it to a beat that hits your brain / Move you like a hurricane."

Though it is securely rooted in the rich soil of African-derived funk, the Kofy Brown Band can rock your socks off as well. "Rock On" transforms a tired cliché into a clenched fist. This is where guitarist Harry, always an inspired soloist, gets off, his playing on this track building to a star-burst climax.

This is not to suggest that Brown can't wax romantic. "Red" and "Burning Love" (she plays all the instruments on both) supply ample proof that she is capable of lulling you into a languorous romantic stupor or rocking you like a prizefighter.

Before we hang up, Kofy Brown sums up the band's musical attitude: "When we perform, we don't get up there and improvise like we're playing jazz. We're a funk band, and I want things to be slammin."

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