My roommate walks in just as I am on the phone casually asking, "So, do you believe in life on other planets?" Any concerns he has are assuaged when he figures out who's on the other end of the line.
His birth name is Kevin Donovan, but he's better known to audiences as Afrika Bambaataa. Born in 1957 in the Bronx, the legendary New York DJ and producer—in town on Friday, November 30 at The Marquee Club—waxes poetic on number of topics—hip-hop culture, the hollow earth theory and life beyond the Milky Way galaxy, all in one breath.
Inspired by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the Black Panther Party and even Sly and the Family Stone, Bambaataa sought a way to change a 1980s New York landscape riddled with gangs and violence (before his transformation, Bambaataa was a leader and a member of the Bronx Rivers projects gang, The Savage Seven).
While watching Shaka Zulu—a 1986 TV miniseries based on the life of the 1800s Zulu king—Bambaataa saw a way to infuse the Zulu fight for freedom into hip-hop, but with a twist.
Thus was born the Universal Zulu Nation: a hip-hop awareness group that believes in knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, peace, unity, love, respect, work, fun, overcoming the negative to the positive, economics, mathematics, science, life, truth, facts, faith and the oneness of god. The group's influence spans the world over and counts artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and Talib Kweli among its adherents. On September 27, he was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Bambaataa is modest when it comes to explaining how he was able to spread the teachings of the nation worldwide. He says by phone from New York, "I knew how to speak, I knew how to talk to people, so it was basically getting out there and speaking to the youth...about changing their ways from the gang life and coming on over... to this style of music we call hip-hop."
It isn't just the youth of the world that Bambaataa is interested in bringing over to hip-hop—he wants to see it cross barriers and become truly interplanetary: "As we become galactic human beings, I am hoping that we see hip-hop to the other planets in our universe."
If you're a doubter when it comes to extraterrestrial life, Bambaataa asks you to think about all the supernatural forces that "people aren't checking into." He cites the billions of species of life on Earth as proof that there's so much that we don't know, even about our own home.
Life in this and other star systems is simply something we can't discount: "The way we look up at the stars and wonder about travelling out there is the same way someone out there looks up at us and wonders if they could travel here."
Bambaataa's dreams may lie amongst the stars, but at this moment he's focusing on life on this planet or, more specifically, the life of this planet. His beliefs have humbled him. "We have to respect this planet as a living entity—it's our mother," he says. "We're products of the whole planet and if we disrespect the planet, which is the Mother Earth...the wrath of a woman...the goddess sends tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes. It doesn't care what so-called race or nationality you call yourselves; you keep disrespecting the planet, you're going to see who is the supreme force and what type of power that is."
When our conversation moves away from doomsday scenarios and comes back to music, that's when he keeps it simple: "Afrika Bambaataa is coming to DJ for you, so you got to come out, feel the vibe of the music and we hope you can come and shake something and let your problems and cares leave for that moment and just have a good time."
Afrika Bambaataa w/U-Soul Clique, The Extremities, Ghettosocks, Friday, November 30 at the Marquee, 2037 Gottingen, 10pm, $12adv/$15 door, ticketpro.ca.