With a reputation so huge even loud-mouthed Kanye West wouldn’t be able to drown it out, Afrika Bambaataa’s presence is bound to have hip-hop devotees on a pilgrimage to the Madinat Rooftop this week. The renowned DJ is one of the pioneers of the breakbeat movement, but don’t get it twisted – there’s no danger of Afrika churning out a night of relentless rap. Having touched down in Dubai to spin ‘funky music’ (in his own words), he’ll be mixing it up, and he’ll be expecting you to join in the fun.
Afrika, welcome to Dubai! What are you looking forward to during this trip?
I’m hoping to see the different communities and vibrations of the people, and check the place out. And for people to come and have a good time as we play the music.
You’re known as one of the founders of hip hop. What’s your view on modern hip-hop culture?
There are people who follow the rappers and people who follow the whole hip-hop cultural movement, and then you have the media, which doesn’t cover the whole of hip-hop culture and is too focused on the rappers. There are radio stations that only play a certain type of rap music, and don’t play all the different categories, but we, the Universal Zulu Nation [Afrika’s global hip-hop awareness group], play the new with the old. Country and western, soul, rap, R&B, rock, jazz, metal, house, techno, salsa, reggae – whatever music is out there. This way, people can respect styles from the past as well as what we have now.
Who are you listening to now?
I like MC Wally, Missy, Busta Rhymes… I like a lot of the breakbeat, funk and French hip hop and R&B. There’s so much good music out there.
You recorded a track with James Brown in 1984. What was it like to work with him?
It was great – it was an honour and I learnt a lot from that man.
Any funny stories?
We were doing the video for ‘Unity’ and James was getting down, flipping on the floor, and I knew I wasn’t going to get that or do it. I know if I do the splits, I might not get up!
You’ve been an activist, talking about the importance of peace and education. Why is it so important to you?
It comes with the fifth element of hip hop [hip hop is said to comprise four elements: DJing, MCing, breaking and graffiti art], which we call ‘knowledge, culture and overstanding’, because it’s so important for people to have knowledge, wherever they are, to deal with anything on this planet.
Do you consider yourself a musician or an activist first?
I’m both, and then some. I’m somebody that likes to see people get along, work together and do things that throw love back into the atmosphere, because too much negativity and destruction is starting to happen on our planet.
You recently collaborated with house DJ Roger Sanchez. What was it like to work with him?
It was a lot of fun – we had a good time. We did a remake of one of my old hip-hop songs, ‘Get Up and Dance,’ which was good – we’re waiting for that to be put out.
What can we expect at your event in Dubai?
When I come out, I’m waiting for people to get out and party. I’m playing music, not playing a concert where people just stare at me. We’re going to be playing the funky music, so get down, get live and get funky!
Afrika Bambaataa plays the Madinat Rooftop Main Room, July 20.
A quick tour of Afrika
Not familiar with his work? Check out these gems from the Bambaataa back catalogue.
‘Planet Rock’ (1982)
Though only a minor hit in the US, UK and Canada, this track changed the foundations of hip hop forever. As the first song in its genre to record using a drum machine for that electro feel, it paved the way for techno, house and trance.
YouTube search terms: ‘Afrika Bambaataa Planet Rock’
‘Unity’ feat. James Brown (1984)
Elements of Brown’s funk music from the late ’60s and ’70s (plus his signature yelps), combined with the old-school hip-hop drum machine and electro sound of the ’80s, made this one of Afrika’s more interesting releases.
YouTube search terms: ‘Unity feat. James Brown’
‘Just Get Up and Dance’ (1990)
Released first in Europe, this song soon became a dance hit in the early ’90s, reaching number four on the US Dance Top 100. Numerous DJs have remixed the track to introduce it to the modern dance scene, but the Bambaataa vibe lives on.
YouTube search terms: ‘Afrika Bambaataa Just Get Up and Dance’