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Afrika Bambaataa goes Mojofiti

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Peace, love, unity and…Mojofiti?

Bronx legend and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, who played early “break beats” at the Bronx River Houses and coined the Universal Zulu Nation motto – “peace, love, unity and having fun” – has thrown his considerable weight behind Mojofiti, an Internet portal that fosters communication between people who speak different languages.

Mojofiti, based in Denver, helps people from the United States to Indonesia hurdle language barriers, founder Dennis Wakabayashi said. Mojofiti users send messages, chat and blog online; all content is automatically translated into 26 additional languages, Wakabayashi explained.

Mojofiti launched as a social network in October but Wakabayashi, himself a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation who spoke at the Bronx Museum in 2009, hopes to enable Mojofiti for mobile phones and tablets. He thinks it could help language-challenged aid workers in third-world countries, for example.

Raised in the Bronx River Houses in Soundview, Afrika Bambaataa was inspired by a trip to Africa and Bronx contemporaries such as Kool DJ Herc. In the 1970s, he began to host hip-hop parties and persuade gang members to choose music and dance rather than the streets.

Afrika Bambaattaa reformed his “Black Spades” gang as the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of DJs, rappers, break-dancers and graffiti artists. Venues included Stevenson High School and the Bronx River Houses community center. Afrika Bambaataa’s hit “Planet Rock” went gold and laid the foundations for electro-funk hip-hop.

The world-traveler, who still spends time in the Bronx, compared Mojofiti to hip-hop: both help people from different backgrounds share ideas and get along. Afrika Bambaataa has collaborated with artists from different continents and musical genres.

“I found out from Dennis that what [Mojofiti] does is break down barriers between members of the human family,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always been about.”

Afrika Bambaataa is fluent only in English. Named to Mojofiti’s board of directors, he plans to use Mojofiti to swap research with friends in Asia, he said.

“We are focused on ensuring that the leadership of our company is comprised of global thinkers,” Wakabayashi said. “Afrika’s incredible career…makes him an ideal fit.”

Bronx hip-hop historian DJ Cool Clyde, who hopes to found a Bronx hip-hop museum, soon, knew Afrika Bambaataa as a kid.

“We shared a lot even before hip-hop,” Clyde said. “Hip-hop was grassroots and we need to pay homage to the founding fathers.”

Clyde called Mojofiti a “great idea.”

“Not all of us can communicate face to face,” he said. “But we can reach millions through the Internet. I’m glad that hip-hop is involved.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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