Zulu Nation Throwdown
An interview with Afrika Bambaataa
Originally part of an infamous street gang, Afrika and several of its ex-members reformed and channelled their efforts into breakdancing and DJing. Naming the collective "Zulu Nation" after Bam was inspired by the courageous warriors from the film Zulu he took the name "Afrika Bambaataa" and set out to promote Hip Hop music and culture. His big break came with "Planet Rock", which fused the electro-futurism of Kraftwerk with Arthur Baker and John Robie's beat programming to create one of the first wholly synthesised hip-hop records, as well as a massive dancefloor hit that was to propel Hip Hop into a wider audience. Bam's eclectic musical interests have resulted in many collaborations which include John Lydon, James Brown and Leftfield and influenced a wealth of electro artists who became the precursors to Detroit techno and Miami bass of the 80s and 90s. With the 20th anniversary of the label Tommy Boy, the classic tracks Bambaataa laid down in the early 80s were brought together for Looking for the Perfect Beat Amazon.co.uk Music Editor Caroline Butler speaks to the godfather of Hip Hop, Afrika Bambaataa, about Planet Rock, Tommy Boy, the UK music scene and the "fifth element that is Hip Hop".
Amazon: Of everything you've done in your life so far what are you the most proud of and why? Afrika Bambaataa: Basically bringin' people together and dealing with the fifth element of Hip Hop, what we call knowledge culture and overstanding and just having many people from different countries with the love of music to meet with each other, talk with each other.
Amazon: Is there anybody you haven't worked with yet that you would like to? Afrika Bambaataa: There are loads of people! I listen to all different types of music from a lot of electronica, electro-funk groups that are coming out of the USA and here in England. A lot of these Indian, Punjabi Hindi mix groups. African singers and players, calypso singers and players. Rock, heavy metal groups. I'm always looking for stuff to play with.
Amazon: Did you have any idea when you started out in the business that rap as a genre would end up so big? Afrika Bambaataa: I didn't think it would be all worldwide yet, but I was definitely trying to please my black Latino market as well as my punk rock white market. But I didn't know it was gonna stretch out and have the yellow man, the brown man and everyone start loving it as human beings. We need to get astrophysical beings to love it universally!
Amazon: Do you like UK Hip Hop? Afrika Bambaataa: Oh yeah, I love UK Hip Hop. I'm just mad that the UK record companies ain't supported it like they should have supported it cos I know the struggles a lot of the men had and the females having them go against each other, having it downplayed. Our brothers had to go and invent drum and bass / jungle to even get out there with another style. Its just sad how some of these companies have treated UK Hip Hop, and some of the radio stations.
Amazon: So are you a big fan of drum and bass? Afrika Bambaataa: Oh most definitely. Anything that's funky. Especially the ones you can play at 45 and then slow back down to jump hop. I love all the stuff that's on "Urban Takeover" and Aphrodite and all that stuff and Goldie. Anything that's got that 2 step. I'm more of a 2 step fan, "jump up" all that.
Amazon: Do you think mainstream rap at the moment is as politically active as it could be? Afrika Bambaataa: They need to start using the power of Hip Hop to start organising, to form a Hip Hop united front as we been speaking in the Zulu Nation for years, putting the money were our mouth is and policing ourselves. Having our own Hip Hop farmers, doctors, lawyers, natural herbalists. Maybe our own mayor or president that we could put into office.
Amazon: "Planet Rock" has been remixed so many times, do you have a favourite reworking of it? Afrika Bambaataa: There was an album put out of all my bootlegs called Planet Rock: the dance album and there are so many. Since 1982 "Planet Rock" has been remixed and remixed legally and illegally and there's just so many it been one of the most sampled in history--freestyle, Miami bass and its crazy how much its been over done. I like the Indian "Planet Rock" and the 2 step one we did--"Planet Rock 2000". I just wish people would know about mixing all my other records. I've got thousands of other records--go out there have some fun! Come on, let me hear some of that--legal and illegal!
Amazon: Which one do you think would be a great one? Afrika Bambaataa: I need to hear "Looking For the Perfect Beat". I love the way Rage Against the Machine did "Renegades of Funk" and the video was excellent. I can see why they didn't play the video with so much politics, but that's a true Hip Hop type video what Rage Against the Machine did. There's a lot of my funk records that people could remix and get wild on--"Funk You" and "What Time Is It?" all them type of records. I wanna hear some remixes of "World Destruction" with me and John Lydon.
Amazon: Which new artists really excite you at the minute? Afrika Bambaataa: I'm crazy about Missy, Busta, Mya... Stuff over here, there's tons of stuff make me crazy. I wish the group The Prodigy would get going, I'm crazy about them. Electro-funk everything packed with the breakbeats under them. I love Soca and Funk and Electronica.
Amazon: Do you think rap now gets the respect it deserves from the industry? Afrika Bambaataa: I still think there are a lot of people that want to keep it downplayed. There are a lot of people that claim to be Hip Hop but are truly not. Cos all they do is play these rap records but not all the flavours of the Hip Hop music none of the old DJs scratchologist type records. There are so many other flavours to be played, well play it all! If you say you are a Hip Hop station you should play all the music. UK is the one for pirate radio. Even the ones that you don't hear here you've got enough record stores too, thank god for that. You can get so many different remixes on vinyl. It's so cool that you can walk into a store here and get Aretha Franklin "Respect" on a 12" or a remix of Bobby Byrd. They're good in that they keep the vinyl alive over here in the UK.
Amazon: What does Tommy Boy mean to you and why do you think it continues to be so successful? Afrika Bambaataa: Well, Tommy Boy, it kept the Hip Hop and took the chances in giving it different flavours as well as giving you dance music and putting out Everlast's record. That's a chance with him deciding to do a Hip Hop thing or a folk track or a rock track. I give them respect for that.
Credits: amazon.co.uk’s Caroline Butler (music editor).