Harlem native Luqman Tariq Hadid Brown, longtime leader of the punk-funk band FunkFace, died on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, due to health complications after receiving a heart transplant on his 52nd birthday just four weeks earlier.  

A beloved fixture in the New York City music scene from the 1980s onward, Luqman fronted and supported several dynamic musical projects. Before graduating from high school, he founded his first and longest musical collaboration, FunkFace, which he continued to lead for more than 30 years. The FADER magazine called FunkFace “the hardest hitting band in the world,” and the group was featured in the documentary “Afro-Punk” as leaders in the Black rock scene.   

He performed at a range of venues and spaces, including the Apollo Theater, CBGB, Rikers Island, Highline Ballroom, Lincoln Center and many more, presenting his own projects or collaborating with Greg Tate and Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber, and the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra. He wrote and recorded dozens of songs for his record label BuddhaBug Records, often collaborating with producing partners Philip Preuss and Brian Gosher. Luqman also led a 10-piece soul band, Mackie Riverside & The Streetpushers, which performed classic soul and R&B hits from the Stax Records and Atlantic Records vaults. 

Luqman’s third major musical identity was MC Whistler, a persona he developed alongside Idris Elba when they were chatters with the Wikkid Crew during New York City’s only weekly East London-style dance party. It was through that lens that Luqman nurtured his final musical project, Dope Sagittarius, which gave voice to a new level of musical sophistication. Evolving over 15 years, Dope Sagittarius included elements of electronica, hip hop, rock, jazz, and contemporary R&B. The sonic exploration yielded undeniable dance tracks and classic love songs alongside highly conceptualized cultural commentary, with a companion comic book and flash drive to boot. 

Luqman Brown 2023 mural (Art and photo by William C. Richardson, Jr.)

In his late 30s, Luqman added the title of sound designer to his extensive list of professional credits, and he taught a course on the topic at Princeton University in January 2022. His widely admired work as a designer was considered uniquely grounded, deeply dramaturgical and musically always on point. In his baker’s dozen years in the theater industry, he won two AUDELCO Awards and designed all over the country: at the Old Globe in San Diego, Guthrie in Minneapolis, Humana Fest in Louisville, and numerous venues across New York City, including the Signature Theatre. His sound design credits include work on productions by playwrights Radha Blank, Katori Hall, Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Liza Jessie Peterson and others. As an actor, Luqman appeared in works developed or written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, and Aisha Cousins and Tate. He also composed music for the Radha Blank film “The 40-Year-Old Version.” 

Luqman continued to further his music education in late 2022, taking online courses at the Berklee School of Music even as he awaited his new heart in Mount Sinai Hospital. He brought a unique voice to his work, grounded in the Black experience, the world of music and the incredible diversity of the lives he lived. 

Luqman’s parents, Lauren Johnson, a special education teacher, and Carlyle Brown, a playwright, contributed greatly to his values, creative interests, and unfettered sense of self, including a love of the sea, which Luqman developed as a young teen working alongside his father on boats. Not only an accomplished musician, Luqman was also a sailor, an outdoorsman, a surfer, a producer, and a business owner. 

Always hungry for knowledge and to learn what lay beyond the horizon, Luqman found the perfect life partner in LaRonda Davis. Together they traveled far and wide, seeking and finding adventures across America and overseas. Professionally they worked together under the auspices of Primordial Punk and contributed to the efforts of the Black Rock Coalition, of which LaRonda is the president and Luqman was a longtime member.  

Luqman’s ever-present smile, confidence, and passion for trying new things in the musical realm and outside of it inspired everyone who met him. Whether it was learning to play a new instrument, or finding a new fishing spot, he knew how to say yes and figure things out as he went. He took on every challenge that came his way, unafraid and unapologetic.

Luqman Brown’s loved ones ask that donations in his name be made to Harlem School of the Arts and Outdoor Afro. A public tribute in his name will be held this spring. 

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