The night started slowly as people trickled into the large multi-floored warehouse. But as the Bambaataa hour approached, the room began to fill. One of the promoters of the night, Nanna D of Zulu Nation U.K, looking regal in a wax print dashiki, gave a graceful African presence, but as he moved through the crowd, he soon disappeared amongst the baseball caps and hoodies worn by the young white mass.
The space which regularly squeezes in over 1000, for this night was entertaining around 600 people. Not as busy as normal but a healthy midweek attendance, none the less
DJ Hektek tried to gee up the crowd with numerous shouts of Zulu but the warriors were at the bar and not really responding. MC Confuscious dropped some lyrics about ‘white guys chilling whilst black men are dying’… (sic). The majority white crowd were silent. The phrase ‘lead’ and ‘balloon’ came to mind. Then El Crisis, David J did a quick piece after hushing the disconnected, crowd. The audience gave them a warm reception but the continuous murmurings must have been a little distracting for these talented south London spoken word exponents.
Caxton Press with the legendary DJ Snuff brought some much needed energy to the proceedings and the place started to warm up. A number of years ago I was lucky enough to see the originator of beatbox, Doug E Fresh so witnessing Beatbox Collective, was anti-climatic but the crowd seemed to like them.
As I looked around the large converted, warehouse space, I carried out a head count of African faces. Less than 30, discounting myself, a few friends and those on stage. There was a time when a South London venue, in the middle of Rye Lane would have been a no go area for many from the Caucasian community; Peckham is often called little Africa, but the speedy tide of gentrification has been lapping at the shores of SE15 for some time and this night was more like Littlehampton. The lack of African faces was a little disheartening. I daresay to the players on stage, it may have been nothing new. I wondered – Are we a community spoilt by choice when it comes to Black music and entertainment?
As the chief commander of African centred Hip Hop took to the stage and stood behind the decks, the crowd stood to attention as breakdancers etched out spaces on the dance floor. DJ Hek-Tek called out ..Z… U… L… U..AFRIKAN….ZULU! I naively felt Afrikan Bambaatta would echo this call and response for the Zulus in the crowd to call back. Maybe he could see through his dark shades that there were too few Zulus to truly awaken the ancestors from their slumber.
But the deck master, skilfully, mixed the old classics, James Brown, Maceo Parker, Grandmaster Flash, Guru, with contemporary artists, Cee Lo and Amy Winehouse and stayed silent as others held the mic over his ‘perfect beats’.
Then we heard the long-awaited sounds of electro funk ‘Party people..Yo yo get funky, the Zulu Nation…Yo get funky!’…As the vinyl dropped, the roof raised and we were in a space of nostalgic greatness! Images of the Soul Sonic Force projected on the large backdrop, old skool breakdancers filmed at a time when Hip Hop had barely formed a beat and was the cultural preserve of the poor working class.
To my frustration, the lights were suddenly dimmed and Afrika Bambaata became a large silhouette at the back of the large stage and still no words from the Amen Ra of hip-hop. The Afrikan headcount halved as the more mature Afrikan person headed to the door as midnight moved to early morning.
I quickly spoke to one of them, asking why they were leaving as Afrikan Bambaataa was still on stage. Faith a thirty-something African female with locks, replied it was not the night she was expecting, saying that she “was just, not, feeling it”. As we noticed two young girls, long hair hidden by Kangol hats and dressed in stereotypical Hip Hop wear dance wildly out of synch in front of Bambaataa. I felt a little flat as Faith, smiled, shook her head, said goodnight and left with her friend. So I decided I needed to get an unscheduled word with the God Father of Hip Hop.
By the time I arrived at the green room, he was inundated with fans trying to get photos and a handshake. For the good of TBB I pushed through, wearing my dashiki from my local Peckham Afrikan tailor and beads from Jinka, Ethiopia, I felt I must be in with a chance.
Brother Thabo Jaiyesimi was there clicking away. As always, he was perfectly placed to capture another historical moment. I used him as my inspiration and continued to push through. I was not going to fail, squeezing through the bodies, I finally got my place next to the talisman of Hip-Hop, his great presence taking up space on the red 2-seater sofa.
The Ghanaian Akuaba (fertility doll) hung majestically around his neck, a map of Afrika on his chest. Too many questions, too little time. His name taken from a warrior from Africa. He has mentored youth, set-up African health programmes. This was no faker and I admit, I was slightly awestruck, tired and unprepared…
Greetings, Brother, elder, Afrikan Bambaataa, thanks for coming to London, thanks for coming to Peckham. It’s truly an honor.
Na man, it’s all cool. Truly honoured to be here, any chance I get to come to London…
How long are you in the UK and have you had a good time?
Yea love London, always good times…
…People tapping on his right shoulder, me trying to talk to his left ear, his eyes forward, face with little expression.
Brotha elder, Where are all the Zulus warriors of music?
They are here, there are all over the world. Zulus don’t die…
A couple guys were pushing the aforementioned stage dancers for a photo opportunity and the tour manager, looking nervous, was calling him as the car was waiting.
Where in Africa have you visited?
South Africa, Senegal, Morroco…
What are your thoughts on present day Hip-hop?
There’s some good stuff but you should check out www.whcr.org for the real deal…
I could feel his attention was on a post-gig, pre-bed vibe and I did not want to indulge in a Q n A with a man who has answered so many questions in his 30 odd years in music and was not focused on my poorly executed ones.
As the young girls were pushed forward for their photo opportunity, I felt my time with God Father was at an end and reluctantly, I gave up the seat to the excited females.
Blessed thanks and 1 love Amen Ra
(Smiling) Thanks brother.
I felt there was so much I wanted to ask, it was like hanging out with a best friend but your mother is calling you in for dinner and you know your Pops will soon be out looking for you whilst holding a piece of tree limb in his big hands! I left feeling I had not had the fullness of a night that offered so much at a time when current music offers so little. The Godfather of hip-hop, slipped out the back door whilst I was still deciding whether or not to try and get to the Afrikan centred crux of my questions.
- Do you blame the black public for not buying and researching more positive music? 2. Is the current trend of Hip-hop music a design to break down the African activist? 3. Why don’t more rappers talk more about Afrika within their lyrics?
The moment is gone but his smile and Zulu aura still resonate.
I spoke briefly to CLF/Bussey, founder Mickey Smith prior to the performance of legendary Hip Hop Godfather Afrika Bambaataa, on his ability to entice artists to south London.
The Peckham resident is humble, originally from Huddersfield, he took London band Galliano to Japan and has worked with numerous musicians such as Gil Scot Heron, Roy Ayres, Brand New Heavies and Marque Gilmore.
“It’s a great venue, promoters, and musicians like it. The sound system is amazing and the location opposite a DLR station makes it easily accessible… and it’s in Peckham.”