Afrofuturism, or afro-futurism, is an African diaspora cultural and literary movement whose thinkers and artists see science, technology and science fiction as means of exploring the black experience.
In the late 1990s a number of cultural critics, notably Mark Dery in his 1995 essay Black to the Future, began to write about the features they saw as common in African-American science fiction, music and art. Dery dubbed this phenomenon “afrofuturism”.
In "Black to the Future," Dery writes,
Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture—and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future—might, for want of a better term, be called Afrofuturism.
[...] If there is an Afrofuturism, it must be sought in unlikely places, constellated from far-flung points. We catch a glimpse of it in the opening pages of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, where the proto-cyberpunk protagonist—a techno-bricoleur “in the great American tradition of tinkers”—taps illegal juice from a line owned by the rapacious Monopolated Light & Power, gloating, “Oh, they suspect that their power is being drained off, but they don’t know where.” [...] Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings such as Molasses, which features a pie-eyed, snaggletoothed robot, adequately earn the term “Afrofuturist,” as do movies like John Sayles’s The Brother From Another Planet and Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames. Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland is Afrofuturist; so, too, is the techno-tribal global village music of Miles Davis’s On the Corner and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, as well as the fusion-jazz cyberfunk of Hancock’s Future Shock and Bernie Worrell’s Blacktronic Science, whose liner notes herald “reports and manifestoes from the nether regions of the modern Afrikan American music/speculative fiction universe.”
Afrofuturism manifests itself, too, in early ‘80s electro-boogie releases such as Planet Patrol’s “Play at Your Own Risk,” Warp 9’s “Nunk,” George Clinton’s Computer Games, and of course Afrika Bambaataa’s classic “Planet Rock,” records steeped in “imagery drawn from computer games, video, cartoons, sci-fi and hip-hop slanguage,” notes David Toop, who calls them “a soundtrack for vidkids to live out fantasies born of a science-fiction revival courtesy of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind).” Techno, whose name was purportedly inspired by a reference to “techno rebels” in Alvin Toffler’s Third Wave, is a quintessential example of Afrofuturism.
[...] Afrofuturism bubbles up from the deepest, darkest wellsprings in the intergalactic big band jazz churned out by Sun Ra’s Omniverse Arkestra, in Parliament-Funkadelic’s Dr. Seuss-ian astrofunk, and in dub reggae, especially the bush doctor’s brew cooked up by Lee “Scratch” Perry, which at its eeriest sounds as if it were made out of dark matter and recorded in the crushing gravity field of a black hole (“Angel Gabriel and the Space Boots” is a typical title).
African-American culture is Afrofuturist at its heart, literalizing [the SF novelist William] Gibson’s cyberpunk axiom, “The street finds its own uses for things.” With trickster elan, it retrofits, refunctions, and willfully misuses the technocommodities and science fictions generated by a dominant culture that has always been not only white but a wielder, as well, of instrumental technologies.
According to the cultural critic Kodwo Eshun, the British journalist Mark Sinker was theorizing something very like Afrofuturism in the pages of The Wire, a British music magazine, as early as 1992.
Afrofuturist ideas were incubated and elaborated on the eponymous list-serve established by Alondra Nelson in 1998. Participants in those conversations include Alondra Nelson, Paul D. Miller, Alexander G. Weheliye, Nalo Hopkinson, Sheree Thomas, Art McGee, and Kali Tal.
Afrofuturist ideas were taken up in 1976 by George Clinton and his bands Parliament and Funkadelic with his magnum opus Mothership Connection and the subsequent The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and P Funk Earth Tour. In the thematic underpinnings to P-Funk mythology ("pure cloned funk"), Clinton in his alter ego Starchild spoke of "certified Afronauts, capable of funkitizing galaxies."
In 2005, Solstice, a progressive jazz-rock band lead by Public Enemy (band) guitarist, Khari Wynn, under the stage name of "James Equinox" introduced a jazz-rock evolution to the Afrofuturist style. This modern interpretation remains true to the pace set by Sun Ra, including a "revolving door" of musicians.
Acid rap also often deals with Afrofuturist subject matter. In 2000, Deltron 3030 rapper Deltron Zero (aka Del tha Funkee Homosapien) would refer to similar themes with lyrics about "intergallactic rap battles" and a computer virus that could "trash your whole computer system and revert you to papyrus".
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