Afrika Bambaataa in Vancouver (Live) [Review]
Vancouver, B.C. – Afrika Bambaataa is a straight up legend of almost biblical proportions. Descending down the dark stairs of Shine in Gastown to see the legend, two questions lingered. First, would the people present be aware of the staggering influence that Bam has had on the musical world since he turned the notorious Black Spades gang into the Universal Zulu Nation? And second, what was this grandest of selektahs going to play?
As the story goes, when he was a youngster growing up in the gang-ridden projects of the Bronx in the early seventies, Bambaataa – possessing some sort of rare diplomatic immunity amongst rival gangs – would lead parades of people to wherever the party was, picking up more and more followers with every passing block. Forget about Isaac Hayes, THAT is some straight up black Moses shit. This piece of myth is essentially a metaphor for what Bam does, he moves the people. Like Uncle George before him, Afrika strives to unify one nation under a groove, to constantly reach for peace, love and unity, by having fun.
Bambaataa took his station with understated confidence. No loud boasts of his numerous accomplishments, just straight into what made his colossal name: beats. From under the brim of his “eye-of-Amen-Ra” baseball cap Bam constantly surveyed the crowd, like a King looking over and observing his court, searching for the perfect beat to move the people. He dipped into classic break beats and Wild Style era raps, throbbing electronic numbers, essential funk and soul gems (including an amazing version of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in which he dropped a back shattering, bass heavy break beat every time the chorus hit) and even played some of his own monster hits like “Planet Rock”.
All the while Bambaataa demonstrated uncanny knowledge of his (digital) crates, mouthing the words to most of what he played, while also showing that, as a supreme selector, his taste is timeless. His mixing was tight and classically executed, often dropping into the next track after some simple rub scratches. He was not shy about pulling out back-to-back mixes either, extending the breaks of a number of songs to give the Shine audience a glimpse into what it was like to attend one of Bam’s classic Bronx parties. Speaking of the crowd, it was as varied as the jams that Bambaataa spun, a refreshing mixture of heads pushing forty, young b-boys and girls that looked like they were itching for some free space to cut loose, regular club stars and even a few serious metal dudes (who were beside Bam’s booth the whole night…respect!!)
After about an hour and a half the grand-mixer turned the tables over to DJ Hek Tek, while Bam stepped back into the role of simply selecting the tracks. Hek Tek stepped in to his role with flare and skill, coming out with a tremendous back-to-back turntablist session that never left the dancers searching for the beat. It was great to see Bam humbly turning over the keys to the car to the younger generation, and equally pleasing to see the next generation devotedly following Bam’s template, and the people were with them every step of the way. Hip Hop don’t stop. Zulu Nation one love.
Written by Natch Crumbly for HipHopCanada
Photograph by Mike Gittens for HipHopCanada