He singled handedly introduced latin soul and hip hop to the world but, in a career spanning some four decades, he's never visited the UK...until now. Next month sees Joe Bataan play at Cargo at the launch of the Red Bull Music academy in London. Helen Clarke spoke to him about growing up in Harlem, industry politics and playing in London for the first time.

The tag 'pioneer' is bandied around the music scene all the time - as soon as someone adds a new blip or beep to a loop they're hailed a genius. But one man can comfortably and confidently accept the title. Joe Bataan was a key player in the emergence of not one but two genres of music - latin soul and hip hop. But despite his cult status he has never played in the UK, and after a career spanning four decades he's set to make his first appearance on our shores later this month.

Born Bataan Nitollano in 1942 to an African-American mother and a Fillipino father, he grew up in Spanish Harlem where, as a teenager, he would sing do-wop on street corners. But he soon became involved in local street gangs and at the age of 15 spent five years in prison after being caught in a stolen car. When he was released he switched his attention back to music - a decision that would turn his life around.

Not content playing the rhythm and blues and boogaloo that was exploding on the streets of Harlem, he began merging sounds. His blend of salsa and RnB became know as latin soul and spawned a thousand imitations. Covers of The Impressions' Gypsy Woman and his own Young, Gifted and Brown became break through hits, but he continued with his experimental streak. His cover of Gil Scott Heron's The Bottle is considered one of disco's first hits and the European smash Rap-O Clap-O was one of hip-hop's first outings. But he remains endearingly modest about his influence on modern music.

"Music is always looking for new avenues of expression," he said. "The fans are always on the look out for something different. I came along at a time when people were craving something new and I was able to offer my brand of latin soul. It didn't hurt that my band was the youngest of their kind at the time - barely teenagers and some as young as 12 years old.

"The fans tell me I touch something with the oldies ballads and some say I have broken new ground with rap and disco, and salsa of course. I suppose not many groups do what I try to bring in my catalogue of sounds."

With the success of Rap-O Clap-O in the late 70s, many expected Joe to lead the way in the emerging hip hop scene at the turn of the decade, but he suddenly vanished. Tired of the political wranglings that were infiltrating the industry, he quit to spend more time with his young family and took a job as a counsellor in a juvenile detention centre - perhaps to pay back the help he got as a youngster. This might also explain his latest project, working as a mentor for the Red Bull Music Academy.

Joe's gig at Cargo marks the launch of the project in London. Now in it's 10th year, the academy has already taken place in Cape Town, New York, Rome, Toronto and Berlin. Musicians and industry insiders taken over a warehouse space, and hold workshops to give promising new talent a helping hand. Past lecturers include MIA, Tony Allen, Bob Moog, Skream and, last year in Melbourne, Joe Bataan. London will host the academy in 2010 and applications are now being accepted.

"The academy has been responsible for me touring Australia and now they have offered me this great opportunity to play for my lost audience for the first time," he said. "They are just a great organisation to work with and I believe in a lot of the projects they are implementing around the world. There is a new crop of talent around the world still growing every day."

For his 'lost audience' the show is something they never dared to imagine. Despite his influence being rarely disputed, Joe's ethics and, some would say stubbornness, mean he's been confined the realms of the underground throughout his career.

"I have been waiting to perform for over 30 years and I am very excited about singing for the UK audience and fans. It's taken me so long to get over and for the UK to bring me over," he said. "There are many reasons for the long delay. Maybe it was meant to be or not the right time for me or the audience. Back when I was breaking ground around the world I ran into politics regarding my ownership rights and not wanting to give up any portion of my publishing rights to those who sought it in the UK. This subject cost me dearly and Rap-O Clap-O was never added to a the major radio station for airplay. Rap-O Clap-O, despite this turn of events, became a top five record around the world but never really got off in UK. Joe Bataan remained for the most part an underground favourite that wasn't shared by everyone."

For the lucky few who did share in it, his big gig will see him joined by disco/soul new kid and Bataan devotee James Pants, as well as a full band. "It will be good to finally bring the Bataan sound to London," he grins. And we suspect it may well be worth the wait.


Joe Bataan plays at Cargo, Rivington Street, Shoreditch, on June 11. Tickets cost £9 from www.cargo-london.com