In the Jungle with Afrika Baby Bam

Afrika Baby Bam, of the Jungle Brothers - the New York hip-hop duo who first emerged in the late 80s as part of the jazz-kissed Afrocentric “Native Tongues” movement, became a dancefloor fixture on both sides of the Atlantic during the 90s and are finally heading here for their first New Zealand show.

A phone call finds the talkative, affable Afrika — Nathaniel Hall — at home in Florida, playing backgammon with his 3-year old daughter.

So, recent Jungle Brothers activity?

Lots of touring, lots of cool collaboration and supporting the VIP record for over a year now. We’ve toured with everybody from the Beastie Boys to the Backstreet Boys and we’ve done some guest appearances. We’ve been playing raves, we’ve been playing festivals ...

Aren’t you too old and way too cool to be opening for the Backstreet Boys?

That was given some thought on my part, and the opportunity came up and I said, “Let’s do this, let’s bring hip-hop to the audience.” They were looking for an opening act that would give them some credibility … we were well up for it. It started off as a DJ gig the first two nights and it turned into a show.

The tropical shirts you’re wearing on the cover of VIP — all part of the Florida lifestyle?

My choice to move down here was primarily to better the quality of life for my family. I couldn’t raise a family in New York. I chose not to. And, secondly, I wanted to be in a place that still identified with what my group is about and what I’m about. I’m going to leave the concrete jungle and go to the tropical jungle. I’m not going to move out Mid-West.

How much of what the Jungle Brothers do comes from a rejection of the hip-hop mainstream?

A lot of it on the VIP album. A lot of it came from an all round mature love for hip-hop — unconditional love. Like we’re not going in the studio to put down anybody. We’re in the studio to celebrate our heritage. Celebrate, have fun, enjoy the music — that is what real hip-hop is about. That’s what piqued people’s interest originally. That is what made people outside of the culture comfortable with stepping in.

Why have the Jungle Brothers been embraced in the British dance music arena?

Because our stuff is always upbeat and positive and different. [The 1988 debut album] Straight Out the Jungle offered something special, something different that somebody else who didn’t know hip-hop would pick up on and say, “I’m into this hip hop thing now. I want to know what this is about.”

That is why we’ve been accepted on the UK dancefloor. There have been producers out there who have said, “Boy just give me that record and let me remix it” or “Man, that song I House You, what a club classic. Who did that? The Jungle Brothers?” This changes the whole dance landscape for a rap group to make a hit dance record, a music genre that is predominantly DJ-oriented. That says a lot. That’s what gave way to groups like Basement Jaxx — DJs who started saying, “Let’s put a voice to this music.”

So are you any good live?

That’s the best of the JBeez when you see it live. It’s so much better live.

* The Jungle Brothers play the St James Theatre, Friday October 20, supported by King Kapisi, DJ Raw, P Money.

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