In preparation of Afrika Bambaataa’s visit to the UK for the HIPHOP history tour we asked gig previewer Jimmy May to write down 3 of Afrika Bambaataa’s biggest achievements.

Words by Jimmy May

Writing about Afrika Bambaataa would be easier (and shorter!) if it was writing about things he HADN’T achieved. The man literally changed the whole atmosphere and energy of New York – alongside other big name players such as DJ KoolHerc, Jazzy Jay, Disco King Mario, Grandmaster Flash and others using Hip-Hop music to combat gang violence and bring unity to troubled communities. And New York being so influential on modern culture, it’s fair to say – he used music to change the world. A genius, a pioneer and a genreless music lover.

1. The creation of Universal Zulu Nation

Afrika Bambaataa - Zulu Nation

Afrika Bambaataa was a member of the black spades during his teenage years. After the death of one of his close friends and a trip to Africa where he, already fascinated by the film “Zulu” found a huge amount of positive spirit within the African communities, he returned to the Bronx inspired and eventually transformed the black spades, a notoriously violent and dangerous gang – into the Zulu Nation – which started small as a group of like minded and socially aware MC’s and a handful of b-boys and eventually spanned into legions of people unified by their enjoyment of the block parties they would attend – which also unified gangs throughout New York as they began to join his Universal Zulu Nation movement over being in a gang – which pushed a positive community atmosphere and reduced crime through the power of music.

2. The first ever international Hip-Hop tour

bambaataa live

Afrika Bambaataa was always keen to push hip-hop further afield, to keep the movement going. He succeeded in taking his hip-hop parties around the world, from the West Indies to Africa, to Europe (including UK cities such as Birmingham and Manchester on the “Europe One” tour). This brough hip-hop to our continent ain the flesh and introduced many to the music.

3. He fused Hip-Hop and electronic music for the first time

In the early 1980’s – Fab Five Freddy a well known graffiti artist that was already well known among the high flying celebrities in New York. He was asked to curate a show at the Mud Club in Manhattan – where he invited Afrika Bambaataa, breakers and other members of the hip-hop community to attend. At the exhibition – a promoter called Ruza Blue was blown away by Bambaataa’s set and booked him alongside Fab Five Freddy to host the first downtown Hip-Hop night at a bar called Negrill. At Negrill, Bambaataa’s sets, eclectic as always – caught the attention of a music journalist called Tom Silverman, who owned a record label called Tommy Boy Records. He suggested Bambaataa put together a record that reflected some of his sets at Negrill. He obliged, cutting together Kraftwerk tracks and half a dozen other electronic break samples with the vision of creating the first black electronic group. It exposed a new audience to hip-hop music through the popular charts and also created a development of new music within hip-hop. A move away from the traditional funk and soul breaks used up to then.

See Afrika Bambaataa in the flesh on Hip Hip History Tour

Fri 21st 02, Leeds (alongside Mos Def and Abstract Orchestra)
Sat 22nd Leeds Qna @ Leeds Museum
Thu 27th 02, Bristol
Fri 28th 02, Liverpool
Fri 28th Roadhouse, Manchester
Sat 29th 02 Oxford
Sun 20th ABC Glasgow