INTERVIEW: Afrika Bambaataa (Part 2)
by Gregorio Vincent
Here’s part two of our interview with the Legendary Afrika Bambaataa, if you missed part one, you can read it here.
CS: You did an interview a few years back with a publication called Word TV. Here’s one of the things you said in the interview:
“Socially conscious music never really left nowhere…these so called program directors who are programming the minds of the masses of the people who are taking payola under the table that are putting one style of music out there. So why are they programming certain people to be a dumbed down in America, or to dumb down the world?”
Now you raised a good point about people taking the Prince approach and doing it on their own and developing their own following and utilizing the internet. We see a lot of people skirting the major label system by building their own following online; on Twitter; on Facebook; by booking their own shows by sending out their own email blasts. Technology has made it easier for us to stay in touch with people, for example. In your opinion, is that an equalizer to corporate consolidation? Is the ability for people to build their own fan bases at a point to where it can equalize the impact of mass media? Or is it still a losing fight on that end?
Afrika Bambaataa: Well technology is good and everybody better jump on it and use it while they can because you can be sure these demons are plotting and planning to get back control of the internet. They already got things going on about trying to charge people for emails. A lot of these so called of these major companies are now trying to get control of the internet. A lot of digital companies are sprouting out now – things like Tunecore.com and other ones that’s trying to control where you put your records out at. You just pay them here and they get it on all of the digital labels or stores that’s out there so people can download. There are many other ways that people can get everything free any way.
But I give all credit to Prince, for when they stole his name by contract and told him that, “We got you. What are you gonna do now?” And Prince said, “You really think you got me? Well you got my name. You took my shows. So I am going to become The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.” He made it simple. They said, “Aint nobody gonna follow you.” And then everybody followed him. Then he gave them an ugly Rock album so he could get out of his contract and everybody said, “Oh he’s washed up now.” Then he came back with the Funk with “Black Sweat” and all that, outsold everybody that was doing concerts and travelled the whole world. Then he showed everybody how to use the [internet] and that’s what smacked them back in the face. They had to come back and deal with him. He didn’t sign no more contracts. He just gave them a handshake and what it is is what it is. That’s when Ice T, Chuck D and everybody else started running to the internet to start making things happen.
These demons, they go back into they’re rooms and they start plotting and planning. Now you’ve got them where the labels all fall. MCA, when they were folding, they got rid artists like Kool & The Gang, Mariah Carey – all these people that made super hits. How can you just get rid of folks like that that gave them so many massive hits? But they did it. Now all them got together and started plotting how they gonna start controlling the internet and getting into the digital market which they are starting to do now. So its good to use it as much as you can get while its still free, but you can be sure that they’re plotting and planning to get control of that whole internet. In some countries, you cant even see YouTube. And they don’t like nothing where they telling too much knowledge on YouTube. They’d rather you be on Facebook or MySpace or just talking dumb crap just hating on each other. All those people that have been warning people what’s been going on and what’s going to happen and putting it on Youtube, they’re trying to get control to where they can and block that out.
CS: How has technology effected the way you make music? Going from record to Serrato, for example. The onset of computers or apps that make deejaying easier, for example. Creatively, did the change in technology force you to learn something new or have a different approach to the way you put out albums?
Afrika Bambaataa: Yeah well technology definitely gives you a better approach to how you make your music – whether you want to make Electro Funk or electronically or using instruments or using vocoders or certain sounds. It definitely gives you advantage on how you want to sound, whether you want to be robotic, or put some soul using machinery, or if you want to use the regular instruments – the guitars, drums, and all that. A whole other type of sound is out there now. It’s very interesting using the technology that’s out there. Then you got the purists and they don’t want nothing to do with that. They just want to stay pure with the instruments and sounds that was yesteryear. But as we become intergalactic humans – which we definitely is gonna happen – you gonna see the technology and sound and frequencies jump to a whole another level.
CS: What do you mean by intergalactic humans?
Afrika Bambaataa: Meaning that we will be doing the Star Trek things – going to other planets. They already have the guy from Virgin [Sir Richard Bronson] trying to make some plane that can hold 600 people that can take you out of New York, in to space, and get you to Japan in no more than 30 minutes. They got other people showing hotels and other things they’re trying to make up in space as well as in our water. The scientists and stuff are definitely thinking far in advance just like dome homes, dome schools and stuff that people that don’t know that’s gonna be the homes of the future. It’s already on the internet that people are building in different countries and stuff.
There’s a lot of people that’s getting into heavy things like driving your car with water or Westin corn oil or cabbage or stuff like Willie Nelson does with his car. So you got a lot of people that are studying certain things now – knowing how to get water from the air. We don’t got time to be sleeping just talking about partying and BSing with so much serious stuff coming down with the whole Earth changing and weather going crazy and some of these countries are putting up agreements not to use weather warp machines and stuff on each other. So if you in Hip Hop you better be a hold of that Fifth Element – the knowledge – which holds everything together. Because if you’re just all about the four other elements and your’re just partying and bsing while the whole planet changing before you then you gonna get caught out there.
CS: In the early 1980s – making a song and an album like “Planet Rock” at that time – did you have any idea on how pivotal that your art the music you were making at the time and grow to be so pivotal as the years passed?
Afrika Bambaataa: Yeah, I definitely had the feeling that this was going to change the sound of music; of how people would start making music from this. From the “Planet Rock” sound; the Electro Funk sound came the Miami Bass, your Techno, your Electronica, your NeoFunk; your Bali Funk. Your Hip House and all that. Everything before was slow paced and everything like that, so it was gong in a different direction with the tempo. From the Electro Funk, the Drum and Bass started coming and we even want more speedy up with the sound and stuff. We knew that something was definitely going to happen and I knew that from when I started hearing all the Techno Pop sounds from people like Kraftwerk, the Japanese group The Yellow Magic Orchestra and Gary Newman from England. I’m looking around and saying, “You know, I don’t see no Black strict Electronic type group.” I said, “You know what, we gonna flip that and get with the producers.” And that’s what became the “Planet Rock” sound and it took off and everyone started making like Electro Funk-style of Hip Hop and others started doing other different things – slowing it down, speeding it up. It just started making the sounds that crossed over the world and back to Germany and all the other places in the world that came back out with the Electro type of Hop, or Electro Funk sound or the Techno Electro or all the other different categories that they keep giving the different sound that we called Electro Funk – which was based on Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and all them with the Funk of James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, and George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic.
CS: Does it ever feel like the sound of Hip Hop has come full circle? I look around and I see a lot of artists collaborating across boundaries now. I listen to Dub Step and it reminds me of “Planet Rock” – at least the way its Electro and now infusing Trap style beats, for examples.
Afrika Bambaataa: That’s because that cycle has came back again. People want to party and dance again. The Electro Funk sound is moving again into Hip Hop. You got Lil’ Jon and all them, which came from the Electro Funk. Now he’s back on all the Electro Hip House and all these type of records. Fatman Scoop and all these people. [Diddy] and Pitbull are just killing it. People want to move the party and dance again. That’s the sound that kept people jumping crazy – Luke and 2 Live Crew and all that types and stuff. It just keeps changing and people just keep renaming and keep doing it and that’s what’s happening at the moment. That cycle is back in. Then something else might come. It might be Jazz. It might be African music added to it. It’s possible where Hip Hop music can go from the past to the present then jump to something into the future. It can take sounds from anything to make a Hip Hop song. It also gives back to all the different other categories of music. They’re giving them the break beats or the Funk to make even those types of music even more funkier. Classical music is now getting funkier because they’re using Hip Hop break beats on top of Classical strings. Country Western is starting to get more Funky because I got a lot of break beat Country Western records I play sometimes and people probably don’t know I’m playing a Country Western song.