Afrofuturism: space-based Black musical genre prominent in the 70s and 80s


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AFROFUTURISM

By Daryoush Haj-Najafi Dec 21 2011

Afrofuturism is the space-obsessed African-American musical genre that was most prominent in the 70s and 80s. Obviously space was pretty fashionable among musicians at the beginning of what everyone thought would become the Space Age, but afrofuturism was more focused on a brighter future free of the oppression and struggle associated with the 20th century. It was an almost psychedelic utopia where music, funk, dancing, creativity, intelligence, and battles between good and evil were all the same thing. There is also a lot of rapturous lord of the dance-type stuff about how thepower of music is spiritually uplifting.

Of course, any concept as far-out as afrofuturism was going to have some serious implications for fashion. A lot of crazy, highly futuristic clothes were coming out in the 70s, but the hippies and most of the rockers avoided them and even though the early techno guys looked to Europe for fashion inspiration, these clothes provided an aspirational black alternative to the clothes white America was wearing.

Also, afrofuturism was an attractive idea especially at a time when racial prejudice, identity politics, and economic factors—thanks to segregated education and employment discrimination—dictated that looking like old money isn’t really for black people. If you think about it, when sportswear replaced afrofuturism back in the 70s and 80s it was fairly futuristic itself.

The style’s building blocks include serious doses of the already pretty futuristic ancient Egyptian style, blended with something more space age: massive, visor-like glasses, colored hair, and anything remotely sci-fi. Early afrofuturism was always colourful and metallic, while late afrofuturism meant face masks and other accessories that featured mecha-style merging of man and machine. The intended aesthetic was the all-powerful alien party animal which is so obviously superior to a hippie Jesus wannabe, or a potentially violent thug, that the mind can only boggle as to why the style hasn’t been revived to death.

 

This highly pretentious 1996 documentary about futurist tendencies in black music—the narrators and talking heads are almost embarrassing to watch—features George Clinton, Derrick May, Stephen R. Delany, Nichelle Nichols, Juan Atkins, DJ Spooky, Goldie and gives a good overview of the music, ideas, and inadvertently, the style.


Sun Ra.

Space Is The Place [Sun Ra Film 1974]


Jazz totally is a four letter word, but Sun Ra’s style is EPIC. His thing was being lost in space and transporting the African-American population to another planet—very Moses and exodus vibes. He was super on the metallic vibe, rocking cloaks, caps, and massively oversized alien jewelry.


Lee Scratch Perry.

Strictly speaking, Lee Scratch Perry is not usually considered, nor is he an afrofuturist. However, anyone who has ever heard his dub or listened to his magical rantings will agree that he is indeed from another planet. Also, he’s been doing the afrofuturist mainstays like colored hair, futuristic glasses, and has had a complete disregard for conventional matching for decades. It’s probably something to do with the amount of weed he’s smoked, since psychedelia and sci-fi can get pretty intertwined.


The P-Funk Mothership after landing on stage.

Parliament and Funkadelic built their whole thing around the battle between the Jesus-like Starchild who brings the Funk—the cause of creation, and energy in life—and Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk. “Sir Nose Devoid of Funk” attempts to end the Funk because he is too cool to dance. He is the master of the Placebo Syndrome, which causes unFunkiness, a combination of stupidity and no dancing. His goal is to place the minds of all humanity into a state called the Zone of Zero Funkativity. In the mid-to late 70s, when P-Funk were huge, the Starchild would land the Mothership on stage.

 

Fashion-wise, calling Afrika Bambaataa afrofuturist is dodgier ground, though Afrika loved to play on the whole ancient Egypt space alien thing. He and the Soulsonic Force rocked some fairly striking hairstyles and the regulation visor-like shades, though musically they were total afrofuturists.


Rammellzee.

Rammellzee called himself a gothic futurist because he thought graffiti artists were, like medieval monks, able to bring the musical and mystical power of words alive. I guess he was applying that to his flamethrower and sound system, incorporating Transformers-esque outfits. He was actually Latino, but whatever, the main point is he was channeling the same spiritual, conscious, mystical but futurist vibe.


MF DOOM.

The man can sure accessorize and is one of the best exemplars of a contemporary take on the afrofuturist-inspired look.

 

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/afrofuturism


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