Afrofuturism in Music

As we discussed in class, Afrofuturism in music is an interesting avenue to explore, with artists like Erykah Badu or Janelle Monae. After some searching, I found an episode of This American Life that discusses Afrofuturism. It led me to a song called “The Deep” by a group called clppng which features Daveed Diggs from Hamilton. The podcast explains that, “The song is based on the underwater mythology of the 90s Detroit electro band Drexciya.” The song works with a mythology that imagines that pregnant women who were thrown off of slave ships birthed their children in the water and these children were able to create a thriving civilization under the sea. The intro to the song states, “We built our home on the sea floor, unaware of the two-legged surface dwellers until their world came to destroy ours. With cannons, they searched for oil beneath our cities. Their greed and recklessness forced our uprising.” The song goes on to talk about an uprising from these people after the people on the surface ruin the peace in the civilization down below. The song imagines great peace in this civilizatoin built from children who would have been slaves, and deals very openly with the questions, “what if we had never been colonized? What if we have been left alone?” This kind of imagined separate space makes me think of “the quarter of the negro” that Langston Hughes discusses. Although this space can sometimes be negative in Hughes’ work, both discuss a space purely for black people, without interruption from any kind of white colonizing power.

Music and Afrofuturism

A part of this class that has really interested me is music’s role in Afrofuturism. Before this class, all of my knowledge about Afrofuturism centered around Black Panther. The assertion that Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae could be an Afrofuturist text was extremely intriguing to me. I started to explore this further and found tons of videos and interviews that  Monae has been a part of where she talks about her role as an Afrofuturist artist. My favorite anecdote from one of these interviews is when Monae tells the interviewer from Rolling Stone, “But I only date androids. Nothing like an android — they don’t cheat on you.” As I moved past Monae and moved on to researching Afrofuturist music as a whole, I was surprised to see an article from the BBC entitled “8 afrofuturist classics everyone needs to hear.” I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of the movement before registering for this class, but there were “classics.” I was admittedly embarrassed. In any event, music’s role in the movement pairs ideology with the personas these musicians take on stage, the lyrics that they write, and the clothes that they wear. It is interesting to see how the movement manifests itself.

Tolson’s recognition of history and the future

Although it is hard to understand at times, The Libretto for the Republic of Liberia is a condemnation of Western colonialism and imperialism and a celebration of Libera as an African nation. The first stanza which reads, “Liberia?/No micro-footnote in a bunioned book/Homed by a pendant/With a gelded look:/You are/The ladder of survival dawn men saw/In the quicksilver sparrow that slips/The eagle’s claw!” (Tolson) seems to be a recognition of Libera’s greatness in spite of slavery and colonialism. the line “No micro-footnote in a bunioned book,” speaks to Tolson’s belief that Liberia is a country to be remembered, while the lines “The ladder of survival dawn men saw/In the quicksilver sparrow that slips/The eagle’s claw!” seem to speak to Tolson’s celebration of Liberia’s freedom from Western domination. He is speaking about the greatness of an African country that has overcome subordination on the part of the West, which most definitely aligns with the values of Afrofuturism.

I began to become confused with the poem beginning with the section that reads, “The Futurafrique, the chef d’oeuvre of Liberian/Motors slips through the traffic/swirl of axial Parsi-Feirefiz/Square, slithers past the golden/statues of the half-brother as/brothers, with cest prace…” (Tolson). At first, I could not understand any reference in this stanza, but upon further investigation, I found that Tolson wrote this poem to celebrate the centennial of the founding of Liberia. In this context, I read this stanza as a look into modern-day Liberia, as Tolson ties the first section of the poem, which talks about a more archaic Libera, to this new section of the poem, which discusses a thriving, contemporary Libera that has withstood the test of time. He clearly discusses the relationship between history and the future.


Hegel as a “villain”

When presented with the Hegel reading, we were cautioned that Hegel would serve as the “villain” in our talks about Afrofuturism. After having read the excerpt, it is clear that Hegel is the “villain” due to his misgivings about the “African character” (Hegel 150). Hegel states that, “We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality – all that we call feeling – if we would rightly comprehend him; there is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this type of character,” (Hegel 150) insinuating that black individuals do not possess the same level of understanding about existence as white individuals do. In the context of this class, and in the context of Black Panther, Hegel’s comments about the “African character’s” fallacies in ethics and morality are particularly interesting.

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