Libretto: Liberia within Afrofuturism

In Tolson’s Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, a moment arrived early in the piece that helped me conceptualize Tolson’s writing within the framework of Afrofuturism as the interface of activism and art/aesthetics; this section consisted of lines 9-16. Whereas Hegel defines Africa from a racist perspective, Tolson characterizes Liberia in juxtaposition, which entails direct refutation of depictions of Africa as “side-show” or “bio-accident,” (10). With this contention, Tolson furthers an activist understanding of Afrofuturism as a space where historically oppressed peoples, specifically black folks, can actualize a reality that undermines racist challenges leveled against them. During the same passage, Tolson invokes an image of the Promised Land, calling Liberia “Canaan’s key,” (14). Making this statement, Tolson illuminates the concept of Afrofuturism fusing activism and aesthetic by advocating a positive view of Liberia while simultaneously borrowing biblical references as part of a larger, pro-black/pro-Africa argument. To conclude, Tolson proclaims Liberia as “mehr licht for the Africa-To-Be!” (16). With this statement, Tolson encapsulates a vision of the future (“Africa-To-Be”) that specifically accounts for, but reclaims, elements of black history and culture, such as legacy of imperialism, represented by Tolson’s use of German.

On the other hand, a moment more difficult to understand arrived with Tolson’s descriptions of the Futurafrique. When I initially read this section, I struggled to understand whether the Futurafrique referred to a political movement, party, or something more broad and ideological. In lines 611-615, I found it difficult to parse out what the Futurafrique held as their objective, but found it helpful to recall the importance of reclaiming history within Afrofuturist movements. Between lines 611 and 614, Tolson’s language surrounding the Futurafrique distinguishes them as possessing an innate connection with the surrounding world “flight-furbished ebony astride/velvet-paved miles, view with the/sunflower magnificence of the Oriens.” With this passage, Tolson confronts the conflation of futurism/progression and technological domination, as the Futurafrique appear to harness power from their connection to their surroundings. Like with the previous passage that I referenced, this passage ultimately illuminates the aspect of the course that focuses on, as seen in the markets of Black Panther, the imperative of integrating elements of black history into Afrofuturism, rather than prioritizing a stereotypically “futuristic” idea that replaces all semblances of roots with chrome edifices.

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