Afrika Bambaataa: Dark Matter at the Speed of Light
Afrika Bambaataa, godfather of hip hop, has a new album out on Tommy Boy, which got started with his help at the dawn of the 80s. Apparently the label was pushing him to put together a new album to coincide with the electro revival several years back. Bambaataa, if you recall: put together the first hit ever made with a Roland 808 drum machine; pioneered turntablist culture; was mashing up records over 25 years ago decades before we were saying 'mash up;' was a part of Soulsonic Force; turned a bunch of urban funksters on to Kraftwerk; wrote "Planet Rock"; had an international hit "Time Zone" with punker John Lydon of Sex Pistols fame on the mic and so on.
I'm reminded of an interview I once did with DJ Goa Gil, who helped pioneer techno trance music and is a practicing hindu sadhu living in India, and about Bambaataa's same age. He has a concept about 'ancient tribal future' that infuses his music; you have to know the ancient past to know the distant future. Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light, Afrika Bambaataa's latest full length, connects the future to the past.
Every once in awhile I'll have a conversation with someone about 'hybrid' music, music that crosses genres; it's fun to be on the lookout for new music that connects our various tapestries of musical language and culture together. Bambaataa- the prototypical sonic alchemist- is doing that at the highest level. Right away the album goes there with "Got that Vibe": polyethnic samples and rhythms- psychedelic sitars- a future funk world beat- rocks the house while featured guest vocalist King Kamonzi gets religious, recites ancient human history, calls to the earth, the universe, and sends shoutouts to all the continents by name with a message of peace and righteousness. "MY BODY GOT THAT VIBE" yells the MC. The track rocks HARD. It would be in place at a world music night, a reggae gig, a hip hop show, a big night club, an underground rave. Anywhere party peoples want to bust a move around the world, this song will shake your booty, heal your soul, uplift your spirit and expand your consciousness.
The album is loaded with collaborations and shoutouts, and the juxtapositions give the collection a deep strength. New wave original Gary Numan- of all people- throws down a vocal on a cover of his vintage track "Metal," and if you listen close, MC Chatterbox reprises a bit of lyrical flavor from Blondie's "Heart of Glass" near the end, easily interpreted as a nod back to Blondie's 1981 mega-hit "The Rapture" which helped introduce the then-emerging New York hip hop sound into mainstream consciousness. James Brown, Sly Stone, P-Funk, all get big shoutouts in lyric form, as do nations like Brazil and Nigeria.
Electro. Funk. Techno. Hip Hop. Rap. Rave. Salsa. World Beat. Trance. Big Beat. Breakbeat. Afro Beat. Acid House. Rock. New Wave. It's all in this disc. "Put your hands up in the air!"
One thing that's very apparent is that Bambaataa has, since the late 70s, been presiding over dance party after dance party after dance party. It's obvious that every track on this disc would rock the biggest sound system, no question. Most hip hop today seems to lack the inertia and velocity of other genres of beat-based dance music; Bambaataa has no time for that, he's here to literally, in old school vernacular: "Tear this house down." And, where other genres of electronic music seek to cul-de-sac themselves away in pools of genre-strict beats, tempos and basslines (drum and bass is not techno is not house, etc.), Bambaataa is about inviting everyone to the party, mixing it up bigtime.
Bambaataa has become the utopian elder statesmen. Unite the world through dance. Wage peace. Connect culture together. Get your groove on. Planet rock, we have a future and it's fun and funky.