Afrika Bambaataa: Bambaataa Of The Bronx

The Grandmaster of hip hop lectures Mark Cooper on the meaning of the Funk

BORN AND raised in New York’s Bronx, DJ Afrika Bambaataa is known as the ‘Master Of The Records’.

The music man, whose name means ‘affectionate leader’, he is a mighty force in the Bronx.

“I don’t feel like a godfather but more like an overseer of the scene,” explains Bambaataa. “I don’t see myself as a superstar, but as a People’s Champ like Ali.”

Like the great boxer, Bambaataa is a Black Muslim with a solid understanding of black history and a love of his people.

“It took me a long time to get out of the Bronx and start working other areas. But I always come back and do community things. Whenever I’m not touring, I DJ at The Roxy and every year I organise the Anniversary Party for The Zulu Nation…”

Bambaataa formed The Zulu Nation back in 1975 as a peaceable project to replace years of gang warfare in the Bronx. Bambaataa had hung out with the Black Spades gang, but never as a fighter.

“Bam was more like a supervisor,” explains a buddy. “There were so many different gangs and he knew at least five members of everyone. Anytime there was a conflict, he would try and straighten it out.

“He was into communications.” The Zulu Nation grew and grew while Bambaataa the DJ began to pick up on the rapping scene that replaced the old gangs.

“A DJ is an educator,” explains Afrika. “I’m a heavy pusher of rapping music…”

As the Bronx exploded with hip hop, rapping, graffiti artists and bodypoppers, Bambaataa kept the funk together.

With Arthur Baker, he produced Soul Sonic’s ‘Planet Rock’ and now has a hand in numerous groups with names like Shango, Time Zone and Trouble Funk. Like James Brown or George Clinton of the Funkadelic stable, Bambaataa is a father-figure.

Still living in the Bronx, Bambaataa is its first defender.

“A lot of press is inaccurate about the South Bronx – they make it sound like one big bomb site. There’s a lot of the Bronx which has housing projects, community centres and gardens.

“People only go for the bad section. When they visit me, I try to show them the truth. I’m proud of the whole Bronx.”

Bambaataa may be a leader, but he’s still a renegade.

© Mark CooperNo. 1, 31 March 1984

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