FEATURE AFRIKA BAMBAATAA
Prophet of the Apocalypse
From New York‘s ganglands to the global dance floor, Afrika Bambaataa has earned himself the reputation as godfather of modern dance music. Before touching down in Scotland, he shares his philosophy with Alastair Mabbott.
ne of the true godfathers of the modern dance. Afrika Bambaataa could honestly claim to have changed the face of music. With the 1082 single ‘l’lanet Rock‘. he introduced the cool. liuropean sound of Kraftwerk to hip hop and created ripples which are still being felt.
Over the last few years. however. he has seemed to be keeping a low profile. Tales flew that he had been producing ‘ltalian hip house‘. and this was indeed the case. Over the past eleven years. he says. he‘s spent so much time in that country that he might as well be living there. But that‘s not all he's been up to. He has no less than three albums set for imminent release. First off the blocks is his own ll’arlocks And Witches, (‘mnputer (hips, Microclzips And You. to be followed by a record on the ltalian DFC label. featuring Bambaataa. called Jazzin' and Lost Generations by his old muckers SoulSonie Force.
From the beginning. he was known for his
22 The List 9-22 Feb 1996
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Atrlka Bambaataa: godfather of hip hop eclecticism. In his early Dling days. he would play practically anything — George ('linton and Sly Stone. The Who and Led Zeppelin. Fela Kuti and Miriam .‘vlakcba — his colourblind tastes earning the title ‘Master Of Records'. Since then. three of his best-known records have been collaborations with artists from very different spheres: James Brown. Yellowman and John Lydon.
His social significance is no less impressive. From running with New York street gang The Black Spades in the early 70s. by ‘being a humble brother and getting heavily into knowledge and knowing how to speak to people‘. Bambaataa earned the respect and authority that enabled him to form the loose organisation Zulu Nation.
Zulu Nation is. says Bambaataa. ‘an international hip hop awareness movement. people who love hip hop music as well as
seekers of knowledge and understanding of
everything that‘s anything and anything that’s everything.‘
The beginning of the decline of the gangs. around 1973—4. coincided with the rise of the hip hop crew. Partly influenced by the film Zulu. and still inspired by the social revolutions he had seen in the late 6()s. the Bronx-based Bambaataa set about encouraging gang members to use their energies towards more positive ends. Zulu Nation (originally The Organisation) started off as a break-dance crew. opening up to embrace rappers and graffiti artists. Now there are chapters all over Africa and Europe as well as the USA.
Bambaataa admits his philosophy is close to that of Louis Farrakhan. the controversial Afro- American leader of the Nation of Islam. Bambaataa ﬂew from Canada to attend Farrakhan‘s Million Man March on Washington last year.
‘I love Minister Farrakhan — he's like my father. and I believe he's the only really true person that‘s trying to wake up the whole planet and let them really see theyselves. A lot of people always try to call him all these different names. but they never call him a liar. He lets black and white see theyselves.
Afrika Bambaataa is concerned about the impending millennium. ‘l have books on all types of things: books on Nostradamus. books on the Most Honourable Elijah Muhammad to things on the New World Order to The Bible and The Koran.’ And it seems as though one of his principal aims is. if not to tie all this knowledge up with a neat little bow. to present it in a way that will encourage others to research it further.
‘People got to define what is Satan. Is it some spook guy with pantyhose and a Iongtaﬂ?’
The sleeve of the new Time Zone album is a patchwork of commentary on the age. Pride of place goes to a passage from Nostradamus predicting doom. disaster and a war on true believers. ‘A lot of people are starting to see this now. and they are trying to get rid ofGod. That‘s why they keep talking all this New Age religion and trying to turn everybody on to psyches.‘ he spits.
One of his prime concerns is the computer revolution. addressed at length in the title track of ll’arlocks And Witches. Bambaataa sees a future in which the inexorable barcoding of the human race will have reduced our lives to little more than digital information.
'.»\ lot of these people I consider warlocks and witches.’ he has said. ‘because they don't believe in God. they believe more in Satanism.‘ So does he believe that the scientists and politicians who are creating our future are. knowingly or otherwise. in league with the l)e\il?
‘Oh. some is.‘ he says. 'But people got to define what is Satan. Is it some spook guy with pantyhose and a long tail'.’ And you got to define what is angels. People don’t even want you to question the Book.‘
And that’s where Bambaataa backs down from accepting the mantle of leader or prophet. By encouraging people to question the priests. the mullahs. the rabbis and the politicians. he‘s leaving open the option of being challenged and disbelieved himself. Bambaataa repeats the doctrine of the man he calls ‘Uncle’ George Clinton: ‘Think. it ain‘t illegal yet.‘
Afrika Bambaataa plays The Velvet Rooms, Glasgow on Sunday I] February and The Venue, Edinburgh on Monday 12 February.