The week Madonna arrived in London was the same week that the winter we thought had forgotten us called in. In circumstances like this, most Americans I meet have “just flown from LA” and spent their time either shopping or shivering in expensive furs, while they whinge about how “grey” London is.
The girl, born in Detroit and now living in New York, didn’t seem too bothered.
She’s a disciple of the scratch’n’rap’n’break dance sessions help up and down the city, gathering with the faithful every Friday night at the Roxy as part of Afrika Bambaataa’s much publicized “Zulu Nation”. However, more than being a mere camp follower, Madonna could be throwing this culture a much needed lifeline.
Her current release, a forthcoming work, prove that since pestering the DJ at Danceteria to listen her demo tape about a year ago, she has refined the rudiments of the style without ever losing sight of her mentor’s vision. Teflon-coated electronic backing, strong on the repetitive computerized drumbeats, scratched and dubbed, yet through her impassioned vocals it becomes accessible to even the most mild mannered disco fan.
Madonna has recognized the need for commercial viability a concession that has to be made before Bambaataa’s nation can move from its street corner origins into acceptable pop culture. The ease with which she makes this step has much to do with her being a native Detroit, a city that is artistically stimulating but also short-sightedly insular.
“I lived in Detroit for 17 years of my life, and grew up in an almost totally black neighborhood. It was the middle of the Motown era, and the jazz scene was very strong – both my older brothers were jazz musician. That’s most definitely had a strong influence on the sort of music I do now.”
“Music was that area’s only expression of self-assurance or escape. The music of the time was everything to almost everybody – listening and dancing to music, or aspiring to be this or that, was all people were interested in. All my family were studying music, and my girlfriends and I had all these pretend girl groups we used to be in after school – stuff like The Supremes… really silly.”
The dance training Madonna had done before leaving Detroit led to jobs in New York, where she was noticed by the people in charge of international disco star Patrick Hernandez (he of brief “Born To Be Alive” fame), and taken to France as part of his troupe. “When I got there, nobody would let me do anything – every time I complained they’d give me some money and forgot about me for a little longer!”