Afrika Bambaataa is still breaking ground

We chatted with the music legend (playing a free show as part of Under Pressure this weekend) about his plans to open a hip hop museum .


Afrika Bambaataa

If all goes according to plan, in 2017 the Bronx will be home to a brand new Universal Hip Hop Museum. Electro-funk pioneer Afrika Bambaataa is a key famous figure behind the project, and he’s pounding the pavement in search of support for the proposed cathedral of hip hop culture.

“We’ve had a lot of people getting on board, including people from certain labels,” he said by phone from his home city. Earlier this March, he and fellow hip hop royalty such as Grandmaster Caz and Melle Mel were honoured at New York City Hall for starting the musical revolution, and AB gave a speech that he said “came from the heart.”

So while the love is there, the museum is still a ways away from completion.

“It’s only when we get the museum that we’ll know what artifacts will be put in there,” he cautioned.

Currently, they’re in pursuit of a location.

“We’re trying to get this spot that’s over 60,000 square feet,” he said. “It’s a building in the Bronx called Kelly’s Furniture from back in the day. We were checking it out, it looks excellent. We were offered the Kingsbridge Armory (also in the Bronx) but this is something that’s way bigger than that would ever be, so we’re going for Kelly’s now.”

He says he’s also looking to get a Universal Zulu Nation cultural centre off the ground as well. “A United Nations of the street,” he suggested.

When Afrika Bambaataa famously reformed a rough New York street gang into the positive and cultural Universal Zulu Nation, there was no way to predict it would become a worldwide organization where anyone could apply to join online, but then again, who knows what sort of time-bending alien knowledge the noted UFO aficionado has been privy to over the years.

To bring this back to Earth somewhat, Bam was equally prescient in his use of the 808 drum machine on 1982’s “Planet Rock.” It has, of course, become an essential tool of the hip hop trade.

“At the time we just wanted to break in a new style called electro funk,” he explained. “Maybe (the 808 became so widely used) because it has that spunk, that boom, that bass. Whether you’re doing fast rhythms, or slowed down funky ones, it’s just got that sound. It’s futuristic, it can be twisted around whichever way you feel, with your add-ons or your takeaways.”

Naturally, street art will figure prominently in the Universal Hip Hop Museum, so Afrika Bambaataa’s appearance at this year’s Under Pressure is a natural fit. He says he’s got some hip house material on the way in recorded form, but as for what he’s bringing to Montreal, he said: “I’ll play whatever makes people party. It’s up to you to come, do your graphic art or dance, and enjoy.” ■


Afrika Bambaataa closes Under Pressure with a free show at Foufounes Electriques (87 Ste-Catherine E.) on Sunday, Aug. 10, 9 p.m.