Urban Divide brings you the funk you so sorely need

By Karoline Czerski

In Webster’s newest edition, you look under “newfunksoul” and find the following: a hodgepodge of old funk, James Brown style, added to Jamaroquai groove and topped with an Outkast beat. Something about an “Urban Divide” catches your eye, and you wonder what they are doing in the dictionary.

Maybe they’ll be in the 2005 edition.

Urban Divide actually made up the word, and lives by it as if it were the Magna Carta of their sound. They are a seven-piece, six-person ensemble, fully conceived in October 2002 in Calgary. They were once a jazz quintet, a mere embryo of the full-bodied funk rhythm that is their signature today.

"We’ve found six people working together towards the same goal, we’ve recorded a first-time CD and we’re going to record one more," explains Amber Boucher, lead vocals. "We want to make this a full-time show."

The members are highly qualified to make music their career. Most of them already have celebrated, or will be celebrating, their last Bermuda Shorts Day at the University of Calgary as graduates of the Faculty of Music. An amalgamation of composition and jazz training, the ensemble provides a distinct sound to the Calgary music scene. Female lead vocals add to this distinctiveness in a largely male-dominated funk industry. Although Boucher started off in jazz vocal training, she has apparently made a smooth transition to funk music.

"It’s fun to cover men’s funk vocals," Boucher concedes with a smile.

While the ensemble performs a variety of cover tunes, their first cD, Direction, is a compilation of original songs, written mostly by Boucher and Jay Stanley, trombone/bass player. Trombone indeed, and saxophone too.

"Our horn section is unique," notes Boucher, adding that the only one other band in Calgary, the Mocking Shadows, provides the same distinct sound.

The Mocking Shadows–a Calgary staple–was largely a base for Urban Divide’s musical style, although the newer Urban Divide has already grown out of their role model’s mold.

"They have a different energy up on stage," notes Boucher of the Mocking Shadows, who tend to lean to a newfunk-rock definition of the term.

Save for their Mocking Shadow predecessors, Urban Divide is a lone duck on the Calgary soul scene.

"Funk–there’s nothing really like that in Calgary," reflects Boucher.

Luckily, they perform fairly consistently around town, with a notably established following. They are playing the beer gardens on BSD, but also perform regularly at Wildwood (4th Street), Rose and Crown (Calgary and Banff) and St. James Gate (Banff). Slowly stretching beyond these classic venues, it looks like the ensemble is headed for even larger popularity.

"We’re more on the scene this year," Boucher notes, hinting various local festivals could be on the list.

Despite their growth, Urban Divide still finds themselves in the same boat as the greater portion of musicians–struggling to stay afloat.

"We all teach music on the side, we freelance–kind of like musical whores," says Boucher, quickly realizing she’ll probably regret the latter part of the comment, then adding, with a laugh, "you kind of have to be."

Urban Divide plays the BSD beer gardens on Fri., Apr. 16; The Whiskey, Apr. 23; Rose and Crown (Banff), Apr. 29 to May 1; Lilac Festival, May 30 (Wildwood).

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