April 20, 2011

Hip-hop leaders explore Cornell's archives

Afrika Bambaataa, Popmaster Fabel, photographer Joe Conzo, and DrShaka Zulu and ShaiKym of the Universal Zulu Nation toured the rare book archive in Kroch Library during their visit to campus April 14. They were accompanied by assistant professor of Africana studies Travis Gosa.

The visitors joked and reminisced over archive boxes of Conzo's photographs of dance parties in the Bronx and Buddy Esquire's event flyers.

Bambaataa had requested a tour of the archive, and Katherine Reagan, curator of rare books and manuscripts, obliged, bringing out several items of interest. These included a poster for Rev. Martin Luther King's speech April 16, 1961, in Bailey Hall, a framed copy of the 13th Amendment signed by Abraham Lincoln, a facsimile of Cornell's copy of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's hand and a newly acquired collection of more than 100 posters celebrating Barack Obama's inauguration from diverse cultural perspectives.

Assistant curator Laurent Ferri showed the visitors a variety of rare materials on global Islam he had initially assembled for a library session with history professor Eric Tagliacozzo and his students. The materials included an illustrated Muslim prayer book from 1797, a French map of Africa and the Near East in 1720, a 1493 illustrated copy of Dante's "Inferno," the first Latin translation of the Quran (1550), and the limited-edition art book "Touba -- New York" (2006), one of only 45 printed.

During the tour, Bambaataa snapped pictures and at one point mounted a library ladder and began singing "Marian the Librarian." (Later, at a panel discussion, he mentioned Robert Preston's performance in "The Music Man" among what he considered early examples of rap.)

Finally, Reagan opened a box of recent additions to Cornell's "Born in the Bronx" hip-hop archive, with 12-inch vinyl records and vintage Death Row Records press kits from 1993 promoting their new artist Calvin Broadus (aka Snoop Dogg).