09 January 2005

Afrika, Calvinism and Hobbes


I've mentioned Afrika Bambaataa in passing through so many previous posts I figured it was time to give the old guy some screen time all on his lonesome...

His music runs like a thick seam through 'dance' music: bringing together the machine fetishism of Kraftwerk and the pop-eyed sneer of Lydon with the 'street' sounds of the Bronx.

Bambaatta seems to have a Calvinist approach to music - it is music that seems to reject the 'mysteries' of cultural difference, forsaking the genre based name-calling (wonder what he makes of the current Dubstep, Grime, Techstep, Bashment etc fixation with title?) and it's associated rule-based formulations re: BPM, timestretching and so. Instead, he sees everything as grist to the mill; material to be merged and assimilated, Borg-like, into the Bambaatta Space-Time Machine.


Where Calvinism presupposes that the goodness and power of God have a free, unlimited range of activity, Bambaataa seems to think the same way about multi-culturism in music - that genres are made to be broken and twisted out of shape because that is what was always intended. Equally, the Calvinist idea that God is implicit in everything (and equally present in work as in prayer) seems to be echoed in his approach to music, with the result that, like mush of Jah Wobble's output, his music is an instantly recognisable stew, seemingly independent of his collaborators, transcending individual voice(s) to open up daisy chains of racial utopianism.


Thomas Hobbes comes in here too - I sense that Bambaataa views the world in a similar way to Hobbes "war of all against all" and is simply attempting a cicumnavigation of this bleack world view by way of dissolved racial/cultural boundaries. Just look to the sci-fi trappings, the Bootsy Collins futureshock specs... he's trying to write himself out of this misery, attempting a heave at social division, heading towards a grand Sun Ra S.M.I.L.E.

Hobbes, of course, put a firm focus on the role of the State in developing a 'saving' Social Contract and challenging individual determinism, and I'm hardly claiming for Bambaata the social-state supplication inherent in Hobbes writings but still, this differentiation seems to me more a difference of opinion with regard to the nature of the State rather than a difference of opinion as to the sanctity of the social contract.

Listen to how Bambaataa co-opts Gary Numan and Blondie in this track:

Metal (link opens the Better Propaganda page - download from there)

Everything is dissolving in a similar, though perhaps less explicity Nubian, way to the late period Miles Davis albums where he appropriated the motifs of Rock, Funk and Soul into his Jazz meanderings and started naming albums after Ancient Racial Utopias...

This brings me to the problem I have with Bambaataa's stuff: the fact that the immersion of cultural artefacts is so complete that the music seems beyond change. I'm hardly an authority (someone out there will be) but everything I hear from Bambaataa seems somehow transfixed by his initial experiments at the dawn of House. The musical stew, established so totally in Planet Rock and the Timezone collaborations, now seems complete: everything he's added subsequently seems to follow the same ley lines towards the same power source. Nothing I've heard since has significantly dragged his sound onwards and thus his later stuff sounds pleasantly nostalgic, a time-capsuled memento of a time when musical genres began to wretch on their own memes and schemas and starting searching for the synergistic unions that, facilitated with Ecstacy, eventually opened up into the new World vistas of Acid House.

That doesn't mean it isn't a fun place to go every now and then, just that you always know where you're gonna end up. Maybe Bambaataa's still got something up his sleeve and he's just waiting for the numerology to kick in...

And yeah, of course, this all started out with a stupid pun. How could it not?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sheer genius - started with a daft idea - followed it doggedly through to completion....

Mr Loki - I salute you sir.....

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