By Martel Sharpe
With its 25th anniversary on the horizon, Atlanta’s FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival is celebrating a quarter-of-a-century of artistic Black culture on Saturday, August 10 at The Tabernacle.
Just as vibrate as its creator and curator, Jason Orr, FunkJazz Kafé has survived throughout the years with 49 events under its belt, making its 25th anniversary the 50th.
“Essentially, FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival is about cultural prevention, cultural sustainability, cultural education, and cultural innovation,” Orr said. “We focus on various artistic disciplines as opposed to music performances. We are not a concert.”
“We just happen to have a cache of exceptional talent.”
Though FunkJazz Kafé is more than just a typical music festival, the event procured a host of iconic artists over the years including Goodie Mob, Outkast, Janelle Monae, Arrested Development, Soul II Soul, Jill Scott, Cee Lo Green, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Public Enemy, and more.
“We want to preserve the legacy of Black excellence in every artform whether its culinary arts or fashion pattern designing. We want to sustain those cultures and not let people take it from us as they have in the past, and we want to innovate upon it. Innovate upon these cultural legacies and educate the generations behind us about it,” Orr said.
The 48-year-old Atlanta native started FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival back in 1994 with its inaugural event taking place at Atlanta’s historic Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue.
“It was awesome,” Orr said. “We had multiple vendors. We had great performances from Arrested Development, who in 94’ was like Anderson Paak. Then there was also Bone Cusher and leaders of the New School.”
According to Orr, what he has turned into a 25-year legacy started with a typical day for him, while working for the City of Atlanta at the time and managing a band.
“I got into the Royal Peacock because the guy gave it to me for free,” Orr said. “I was a tax collector for the City of Atlanta and the guy came in to pay his taxes, and he said, ‘I own this club you should come check it out.’”
“I wanted to create something that highlights other artists and musician. I knew a lot of fashion designers, I knew a lot of visual artists. People who did sculptures, people who did water-based paintings, people who did acrylic paintings, people who did pottery and handcrafted jewelry.”
As FunkJazz Kafé continued to grow, the mission stayed the same even though the venues changed.
Orr says that, in the past, the festival set up shop in some of Atlanta’s most notable locations including The Science & Technology Museum of Atlanta (SciTrek) which closed in 2004, Atlanta Stage Works which is now Krog Street Market, Nexus Contemporary Art Gallery which is now Atlanta Contemporary Art Gallery, the Nike Pavilion and World Club which was on Marietta Street.
“I would make venues,” Orr said, “It didn’t even have to be a venue, long as they had bathrooms and were approved for food and beverage, and fire permits, we were good.”
However, returning to The Tabernacle for its 25th anniversary is special for FunkJazz Kafé since it was the first event that ever took place within that space.
“We opened The Tabernacle in 1996 as it was the House of Blues,” Orr said. “FunkJazz Kafé did a partnership with Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records. And we did the first event in what is now called The Tabernacle.”
Since then, FunkJazz Kafe has expanded, further tackle its mission to preserve Black culture and innovation through its award-winning film, “FunkJazz Kafe’s” Diary of A Decade” and producing the FJK Documentary Film Festival & Music Conference.
Beyond celebrating the arts, Orr also mandated that the festival would have a civic service initiative, creating a positive impact in the community.
“At the first one, we started our civic service initiative,” Orr said. “We were taking food donations for the homeless for a reduced price. It was $12 to get and we would take $5 off if you brought a canned good.”
“We kept that tradition and all the way up to today we’ve donated almost a million plates of food, (approximately) 900,030.”
However, Orr says that he plans to top himself this year with the 25th anniversary featuring various suites to festival-goers to enjoy.
These suites will feature various art forms including poetry, health and wellness, fashion, and different genres of music.
He’s very excited about the “House Party” suite which will simulate a 1980s house party and will change its music every 15 minutes to all people to enjoy hip-hop, reggae, afrobeat, house music, and more.
Additionally, the festival will have a vegan food court and up to 40 vendors participating in its marketplace.
And though it’s FunkJazz Kafé’s tradition to keep its roster of musical guests a secret until the day of, Orr says that he has a lot of great performers lined up and ready to go.
“We’re going to introduce new people that some people don’t know and we’re going to celebrate with some of our musical icons,” Orr said.
This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.