When asked about her band’s growing success, Queer as Funk lead singer Connie Buna makes a serious face.
“It is a bit shocking,” she says, holding back a grin. “We may or may not have sold out the Commodore Ballroom today.” Her bandmates giggle, and then cheer.
“We did, indeed,” bandleader and resident trumpeter Alison Gorman confirms during an interview with the Georgia Straight at a downtown café.
Queer as Funk is a cultural fusion of funk, soul, and Motown classics—from Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “Soul Man” to Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk”—performed by a high-energy, predominantly LGBT band. And it has turned out to be a winning combination. After launching onto the Vancouver scene in 2013, the group, billed as the “sharpest-dressed suit-and-tie band in town”, quickly acquired numerous gigs and accomplishments.
Buna acknowledges their choice of music as essential to their success.
“[It’s] classic, outstanding, phenomenal music that’s interesting musically, but that’s also super catchy and that has a deep and abiding meaning culturally for many communities that have historically faced various types of struggles for rights,” Buna says. “A lot of the music that we sing comes out of that tradition, and that resonates today more than ever, I would say.”
While the band has grown beyond the LGBT community, they still sometimes have doubts about their name. In the end, the crew—Buna, Gorman, Jocelyn Macdougall on vocals, Luis “Babyface” Melgar on keys and vocals, Pebbles Willekes on bass and vocals, Marc van Rosi on guitar and vocals, Dan Shook on tenor sax, and Sally Zori on the drums—have always vetoed change.
“Would people not want to work with us because there’s queer in the name?” Buna wonders. “I think a lot of us actually just dug our heels in even further.”
“If they don’t want to work with us because of our name,” Macdougall, the group’s doo-wop gal, adds from across the table, “then we don’t want to work with them.”
Almost every show Queer as Funk has performed has assisted local movements and charities.
“I think it goes without saying that as a small band, we’re not raking in the dough,” Buna says. “What we make, we share. We give back, and that’s really, really important.”
Their sold-out show at the Commodore benefits the Broadway Youth Resource Centre and the Black Lives Matter Vancouver movement. Organizations such as Raincity Housing, Rainbow Refugees, and Friends Help Friends have also received their help in the past.
“We are playing the Commodore because we have an amazing fan base in town that has pushed us to grow in that way,” Macdougall says, when asked to address the LGBT community. “Thank you for making literally our dreams come true.”
“Stand with us,” Buna adds. “We need to stand together in solidarity as a group, and hear the voices of our brothers and sisters. If they speak something, about injustice, and they make requests, let’s hear them.”
Queer as Funk plays the Commodore Ballroom on Friday (July 29).