Afrika Bambaataa review – heartfelt tour through hip-hop history

Academy, Liverpool
The party never stops in a barrier-demolishing set from the hand that guided hip-hop

“This ain’t a show. This is a party, goddammit,” yells MC King Kamonzi as Afrika Bambaataa spins the wheels of steel, his vintage scratching skills and guru-like vibe turning Chic’s Good Times into a mass call-and-response. As fists pump the air and a smile appears on every face, a sweaty Liverpool rock venue is transformed into a euphoric New York block party, circa 1983.

After organising hip-hop gatherings in his native South Bronx before the genre even had a name, Bambaataa’s tracks with Soulsonic Force – notably 1982’s seminal Planet Rock – mixed rap and electronic music to define the electro genre. Now 57, he uses his Universal Zulu Nation movement to spread hip-hop awareness: he spent the week making appearances, broadcasts and putting on a hip-hop workshop at Leeds City Museum.

Here, alongside Grandmaster Flash on the History of Hip-Hop tour, Bambaataa the DJ delivers a marathon, barrier-demolishing performance, showing that hip-hop can be made out of any music – from Brazilian soca to Nirvana. His decks are now augmented by tunes stored on a laptop and it’s hard to decide whether Kamonzi’s rap of Fight the Power over, er, Snap’s The Power is an inspired moment of musical incongruity or crowdpleasing cheese. Still, the MC’s heartfelt, rapid‑fire raps against gang violence and racial and religious divisions hark back to hip-hop’s early, positivity-dripping golden age.

With only snatches of Planet Rock, it’s hard not to yearn for a proper performance that features more of Bambaataa’s own classics. Still, the party never stops, and when a burst of 1984 hit Unity provides a manifesto – “Peace, unity, love and having fun” – people line up to shake the hand that guided hip-hop.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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