Afrika Bambaataa is among the few names which are responsible for making ‘Hip-Hop’ one of the most popular genres of music today. Though Bambaataa has entertained party goers at various social gatherings, he doesn’t believe that this style of music is just confined to such events. Bambaataa feels that Hip-Hop music has the power to spread communal harmony. In the 1970s he inspired many youngsters to choose music over violence through this genre. Many people have also credited him for ‘Using hip-hop to save many lives’. Bambaataa is also one of the reasons why many contemporary DJs are in the music business today. In a career spanning almost four decades, Bambaataa has more than a dozen albums to his credit. He has also collaborated with various artists such as singers, songwriters, and leading band members to create timeless music. Without merely sticking to parties, Bambaataa has also used his music to express his opinions on social and political issues.
Childhood & Early Life
Afrika Bambaataa was born on April 17, 1957 in the Bronx area of New York. He was born as Kevin Donovan, which he changed later. Bambaataa was raised by his mother and uncle, both of whom were activists of the ‘Black Liberation Movement’. At a very young age, he was exposed to music through his mother’s record collection.
During his childhood days, Bambaataa’s surroundings were dominated by local gangs which were involved in community service activities such as health programs, and keeping drug dealers at bay. Bambaataa too was influenced by the gang culture, and joined the group named ‘Young Spades’.
Bambaataa soon became one of the most prominent members of the gang ‘Young Spades’, and became the head of one of its divisions. Under his leadership, ‘The Young Spades’ also invaded other territories, and absorbed many new members, making it the biggest gang in the city.
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Bambaata was influenced by the hip-hop music of Disc jockeys such as Kool Herc and Kool Dj Dee. Starting in 1977, Bambaataa organised many parties where hip-hop music ruled the roost. He felt that this sensational form of music is also a good way to prevent young boys from getting involved in crimes. He even formed a musical troupe named ‘Universal Zulu Nation’ during this period which comprised of many artists who wanted to bring a social change through music.
Bambaataa’s passion towards music soon grabbed the attention of the then popular rap artist Fab Five Freddy. The latter invited Bambaataa to play music at the various clubs in Manhattan which were favourite hangouts of the whites. In 1981, Bambaata played music to a large gathering of white party lovers on several occasions. His style of music was liked by many, and soon he was in demand at various social gatherings.
In 1980s Bambaataa came to be known as one of the best musicians of the Bronx area in New York, and came to be known as the ‘Master of Records’. He formed two rap crews during this period – ‘Jazzy 5’ and ‘Soulsonic Force’.
Bambaataa and a group of artists comprising of singers and dancers, went on an overseas musical tour in 1982. The intention was to spread hip-hop music across many people and places. His efforts resulted in many youngsters embracing this genre of music.
The same year saw the release of the single ‘Planet Rock’ which was credited to Afrika Bambaataa and the ‘Soulsonic Force’. The song went on to become a chartbuster, and Bambaataa was showered with praise by music lovers across the globe. Two years later this team went on to release albums named ‘Looking for the Perfect Grenade’ and ‘Renegades of Funk’.
Other than his musical assignments, Bambaataa was also seen in the 1984 movie named ‘Beat Street’ where he shared screen space with various other famous musicians, most of whom were hip hop artists.
He collaborated with many popular names of the music industry such as songwriter Little Steven Van Zandt, singer Joey Ramone, the famous band ‘U2’ and few others to create an anti-apartheid album titled ‘Sun City’. This album, which released in 1985 was received with critical acclaim.
Bambaataa signed a contract with the music label ‘Capitol Records’ in 1988. The label backed him on an album named ‘Afrika Bambaataa and Family’, where artists such as Boy George, Nona Hendryx and others had lent their voices for the various tracks. This team had even worked on numbers such as ‘Funk You’ and ‘Beware (The Funk is everywhere)’.
Bambaataa didn’t just confine his talent to party places but also stood up for social and political causes. In the year 1990, with the help of the label ‘Gee Street records’, Bambaataa celebrated the release of political leader Nelson Mandela’s release from Prison. He organized a concert at ‘Wembley Stadium’ in London, in honour of the world famous politician.
Bambaataa’s popular works ‘Planet Rock’ and ‘Renegades of Funk’ were revisited in the mid-1990s. While ‘Planet Rock’ was remixed, which created a new trend back then called ‘Electro House’, American band ‘Rage of The Machine’ paid tribute to ‘Renegades of Funk’ through their album ‘Renegades’.
In the 2000s Bambaataa collaborated with singers like Letfield, Jamelia, and a band named ‘WestBam’. The result of these collaborations was songs such as “Afrika Shox’ and ‘Do Me Right’.
Bambaataa was an active participant of ‘Stop The Violence Movement’, and released the 1989 single ‘Self Destruction’ as a way of raising his opinion. The song went on to secure the number one spot in the ‘Hot Rap Singles Chart’. The ‘National Urban League’ used the song to promote anti-violence through its community programs, which resulted in raising a profit of a whopping $400,000.
Awards & Achievements
Afrika Bambaataa had featured in the list of ‘Most Important Americans of The 20th Century’ by the ‘Life’ magazine in one of its issues published in 1990.
He was chosen to be one of the judges of the 6th ceremony of ‘Independent Music Awards’, an annual music event organized to help young, independent musicians.
Bambaataa was one of the nine musicians nominated for the ‘2008 Rock n Roll Awards’.
In 2012, ‘Cornell University’ appointed Bambaataa as its visiting scholar for a period of three years.
Bambaataa was deeply moved by the movie ‘Zulu’ which he had watched during his younger days. The movie inspired him to travel to Africa, where he encountered a tribal chief by name ‘Bhambhatha’. The singer drew inspiration from both, the nation, as well as this tribal chief, which made him change his name to Afrika Bambaataa.