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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Afrika Bambataa

2 January 06 interview: Jesse Keene

"If a B-Boy does not know exactly what he's doing when he's breaking not only does he look bad but he can end up breaking his back"

Any introduction that I could give for this Legend would seem inadequate in. Known for his work within the culture for well over two decades Afrika Bambaataa is a true architect of Hiphop. As a musician he has worked with everyone under the sun from Bootsy Collins through to the Soul Sonic Force and as a DJ he has literally broken ground along side other pioneers such as Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. I was lucky enough to catch up with him after a raucous show at Nottingham's own Rock City. We were a bit pressed for time but he was still able to skool us on the true sound of Hiphop…

As the godfather of Hiphop and a musical icon to so many, who would you say has influenced your music?
Musically I have been influenced by James Brown in a big way, also artists like Sly and the Family Stone, George (Parliament Funkadelic) Clinton, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, KraftWerk and The Yellow Magic Orchestra, not forgetting Gary Numan for that whole Techno-pop thing. Then you got a whole lot of other groups ranging from African bands through to Calypso Grooves. On a knowledge tip it has to be the most honourable Elijah Muhammad of the nation of Islam Malcolm X and the honourable minister Louis Farrakhan. As well as that I got the chance to hear and see many great thinkers as I was growing up. People that I would see on TV who wanted peace, Nelson Mandela through to Winston Churchill. And I also took teachings from the Koran and the Bible, all those aspects have played a part in the way I think and do things. Whether it be in the music I make or day to day living.

So With that said could you tell us a bit about what the Zulu Nation stands for, in regard to your self and the people it encompasses?
Well the Universal Zulu Nation is a international Hiphop awareness movement. It started originally in the black communities but when I say black I am talking about brothers who are also of Puertorican or Dominican descent you know? All the people in the surrounding area at that time. Then as we progressed on we started to reach out to all nationalities of the world. We used teachings from all religions and paths of thought and have added that to the 5 elements of hip-hop, the B-Boys and B-Girls the Djs the Mcs and the Graffiti writers and the 5th element which holds it all together, the knowledge. This is essential to any person involved in the scene, you can’t just go out and rap or scratch on decks or spray on walls, you got to learn your skills. If a B-Boy does not know exactly what he’s doing when he’s breaking not only does he look bad but he can end up breaking his back so the knowledge is the most important element and that’s what we promote. It’s like a family when people go from place to place they know that there will be other likeminded individuals in the towns or cities who can give them a place to chill and make them feel welcome and that’s what its about, uniting people.

Which is what you’re in the process of doing now with this tour, how has it been, being on the road and what can people expect from your live shows?
Well basically I always tell people that I am coming to DJ for you, because a lot of the time they think that I am coming to perform or do a concert so I have to say it’s not a concert. I’m here to play records for you and you better get up and shake your heads to what I’m bringing. I’m not gonna be breaking out any moves cuz that was years ago and I ain’t try to keep up with the turn tablelists of today, I’m just here to play some good records and make the crowd vibe. I wont only play Hip-Hop either, I play everything so you can hear Funk next to Electro or Miami Bass mixed in to Rock. I throw in whatever I feel like into the mix, I just use the vibe of the crowd to gauge what to play. I just want the people to let go of their problems and troubles when they come to see me do my thing you know?

 

How do you think that things have changed as far as straight Djing goes, I saw you last night and you also had a computer alongside the decks, how does that all compare to when you first started spinning tunes in the park?
(He laughs and continues) Its crazy now, before I was not into the computers and all that and I am definitely up for keeping vinyl alive, but I was forced to do it because you get these aeroplane flights where they want $500 for you to carry your bag on the plane then when you fly off to some where else they will hit you up for like $200 and so on. It’s like a game to them. I have argued people down at the airport a couple of times but it’s just too expensive to travel with your records. Plus when I came here I lost a big crate of my breakbeat records which still have not been found. So that’s the main reason for me getting the computer onboard. Also you can download thousands of tracks which is good for if you play a venue that is more inclined to one style of music than another. There was this time I was in Ireland and everybody is partying to like house and Techno, stuff like that, and I needed to get people to leave the place as it was the last set so I threw on this old Mungo Jerry 45 and the place got packed again. I ended up playing all these records from the 50’s & 60’s, it was crazy. So it helps to have the computer there with all those tracks stored just in case you need to rock the party to a different type of vibe.

As an architect of hiphop culture how did he feel about what Hiphop stands for today?
To be honest I am not really liking what’s happening at the moment. You have people that follow rap records and on the other side you got people who follow the Hiphop culture so it’s almost like a split thing that you got happening, it’s a form of apartheid. Some folks when you mention hip-hop they will instantly think of a rap record. I have people when I am playing hip-hop, break-beats and all that out at a club come up to me and ask if I can play hip-hop record and my answer to that is if you don’t get out my face with that foolishness S*$T I am gonna freak at you. If you want me to play a rap record I’ll play you a rap record but rap on a whole is just one part of hiphop itself and they get confused.
See I wont have any one come at me with foolishness, Grand master Flash, Kool Herc and myself started this and we used to play everything back in the day. But what people are being fed today is the corporate side of the culture. Just dump the money in and then re-coupe at the end its just a certain style of rap music. When I go to a radio station I challenge them on what they consider to be Hip-Hop and it always ends up with me pointing out that they don’t play the breaks. They don’t play Kraftwerk but they are still in the spirit of hip-hop and have touched the culture itself by giving us the means to use it in our own music. Corporate America knows that they are only playing one style or side of Hip-Hop which I believe is a mind control to keep people into the playas, pimps, hoes and thugs mentality. See, 2Pac was a thug but he would also tell you about his mom, there was a balance in what he was saying. Same goes for artists like Common and Public Enemy, X-Clan etc… the radio station don’t want to acknowledge that there is more depth to the music and the lifestyle than what they pump out to the masses on heavy rotation.

Looking forward to the future are there any projects or collaborations that you are working on?
“I have A new album out called Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light, and we also have a break beat party album out called Everyday People which is a re-working of Sly and the Family Stones record of the same name, also a remake of Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By recorded live in Texas. You know I am still gonna keep making my records whether they turn out to be big hits or not and the main thing that I want to do is keep pushing the music, working with different artists and different styles and keep the spirit of the Hip-Hop culture alive.”

And to bring the interview to a close is there anything more that you would like to add, words of wisdom or shout-outs?
Well basically… Erm, just telling human beings of all nationalities to respect mother earth. She is a living entity. If you do not adhere to that she will spit your arse out and she is not playing in this millennium. We as a race of beings are like a cancer to her, so she sends Tsunami, earthquake, tornadoes, and the big floods. She feels that humans have disrespected her, and now she is going to get vengeful unless we change our views and give back to her in terms of spirituality. I am not saying you have to go and visit your nearest mosque or church, just give back to the universe and yourself as the body is the first temple so respect it.

With that said I had to leave the interview there due to time and other contributing factors. If you feel now that you need to hear more from Africa Bambaataa then search out his Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of light which again throws emphasis on the Knowledge element. You have been skooled…

 

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