Afrofuturism Mix

Track artwork

On the last day of Black History Month, I invite you to check out John Morrison from Liberation Art and Culture Works‘ mixtapes:

Black History Month Vol.1: Africa: Center of the World

L.A.C.W.-Black History Month 2012 Vol.2: Black Love is an Act of Revolution

L.A.C.W.-Black History Month 2012 Vol. 4: The Shadows of Tomorrow: Afro-Futurism Mix

Also, vote for his remix of Robert Glasper’s “Move Love” from his new album Black Radio.


The My-Stery: Mythologies in Popular Culture

Myth is all around us; it structures our societies, cultures and realities. Despite Nietzsche saying “God is dead,” the myths of various cultures still are embedded throughout our own cultures to this day. To understand most of the imagery and symbolism in our culture, we must study myths and stories. While doing research on various traditional religions, mythologies, and spiritual practices for my thesis and my poetry collection, I have come to realize how much these have influenced our cultures.

My first example is the Hype Williams-directed Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson video, “What’s It Gonna Be.” Studying the images in the video, it is a cyborg version of traditional mythological gods or archetypes. Water is an important part of life and many religions have had water gods to reinforce its significance. In this video, Janet Jackson represents the mother water god (Mami Wata, Ayida Wedo, Venus, Virgin Mary, Isis, Erzulie, Oshun) and Busta Rhymes represents the snake god/water god/sky god (Damballah, Agwe, Shango, Zeus, Snake in garden of Eden, Moses, Yahweh). Jackson is wearing purple/indigo, a color that symbolizes royalty and fertility, while Rhymes is a transforming figure who turns into a snake-like character as well as a band leader, leading the way like Moses with his staff. Since the song is about sex (“gonna make your body wet”), it makes sense to use these gods because they tend to be fertility deities.

Modern Griots: Elton Leonard Jr.

Visual artist Elton Leonard Jr. describes the spiritual, social, and political aspects of his work:

My artwork takes a critical view of cultural, political and erotic perspectives. In my work, I reconstruct the American dream and fantasy images that are part of our childhood and adult culture. Having engaged subjects as diverse as black women’s rights, spirituality, African-American liberation and African culture, my work reproduces familiar visual signs, arranging them into new conceptually layered pieces.

Often times these themes are combined into visual feminine elements that feature surreal and abstract backgrounds, juxtaposed with symbolic spiritual images, and often embellished with vibrant colors. The colors orange and yellow (that I most frequently use) establishes a dream-like surreal quality, suggests notions of calmness, peace, love, happiness and safety; which formally unifies the disparate figures in each portrait.

While I use a variety of graphic as well as digital materials and processes in each project my methodology is consistent. Although there may not always be material similarities between the different projects they are linked by recurring formal concerns and through the subject matter. The subject matter of each body of work determines the materials and the forms of the work.

My work for the most part is a major recording that reminds us about the beauty and sweetness of women and how to find the goddess within all of us. Believe it or not, we as humans are all Artists in one shape or form that is personally unique to us; for we have to ability to create our own lives and most of all our own destinies.  My artwork is the very blueprint of who I am.

Source: Pangea’s Garden

“What is Afrofuturism?” Part 5

Oliver Blecher did a post on afrofuturism and its manifesto. Blecher is a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of British Columbia. Currently, he is writing a book on the history of social scientists in the U.S. military, and he frequently writes commentaries on politics and popular culture.

I first came across the term “Afro-futurism” sometime in 2004 or 2005 when reading Octavia Butler’s book Lilith’s Brood. It was around that time that I was beginning have my entire way of thinking subverted by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Over a series of months, I began to explore the links between Butler’s science-fiction project and Sun Ra’s afro-Egyptian aesthetic cosmology, and read Mark Dery’s spectacular Black to the Future, where he underscores an emergent ontological parallax that occurs when the historical plight of African-Americans is coupled with a bricolage of futuristic techniques to build an afro-techno-utopian future.  

Obviously, that isn’t my struggle. Nevertheless, “my own” ontological underpinnings are entirely inseparable from the sonic-utopian architectonics of Sun Ra’s thought. The way in which his playful, atonal musings let the muted Other float in his compositions is a metaphor for his utopian vision; every composition is an irreducible event of pure difference. In my opinion, Sun Ra was the most important avant-garde artist of the twentieth century, and this mixtape is dedicated to his vision and his musicial progeny.  

Monday’s mixtape can be downloaded HERE.

Tracklist: Sun Ra, “The Satellites are Spinning”; Bilal, “Levels”; L.I.F.E. Long, “Karma Movements”; Antipop Consortium, “Fluorescent Black”; High Priest, “Monk Street,” “Elevation”; Flying Lotus, “Clay”; Funkadelic, “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks”

Modern Griots Interview: Tunde Olaniran

Tunde Olaniran is a Michigan-based artist who “marches to the beat of his own drum.” The singer, rapper, songwriter and social activist has a background that defies any expectation others may have of him. Growing up in such places as Germany, Nigeria and London, Olaniran was raised by an American social activist mother and a Nigerian Christian father, all of which exposed him to a wide range of influences. Not only has Olaniran received praises from Kanye West at a Chicago Idol competition, but he has also shared the stage with Syleena Johnson, Ebony Bones, Switch, Diplo, XXXChange, and Jahcoozi. In addition to that, Olaniran has previously worked in two groups, Stereoluxxx, with Brian Preczewski, and taste this!. Some of his songs, including “I’m So Trill,” “Superconfidential” and “I Got It” has received airplay both nationally and internationally. In March 2010, he released the first part of his 3 EP series The First Transgressions and he has had some of his music videos played on MTV as well as has performed at South by Southwest. And with a style and sound that are just as unique, Olaniran is definitely someone that will get your attention.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Musically, there’s a blend of genres that spans from hip-hop to soul and techno/electronic sounds. Overall, African/Asian influences creep in through the sounds I sample and mix together. It’s drum and synth-heavy, and pretty danceable, or at least something you’ll groove to.

How did growing up in Germany, Nigeria, England, and Michigan as well as your social activist mother and Christian father impact you and your art?

Just getting to live a life free of absolutes gave me the freedom to think sideways about music, art and performance. I never had a very conventional sense of “THIS is how you are supposed to act, think, or talk,” because norms and values change from place to place.

Who are your major musical influences?

In general, I’m influenced by fantasy and science-fiction genres, in both film and literature. It includes books by Piers Anthony and Ursula K Le Guin, movies like Firestarter and Labyrinth, and comic books like X-Men and Harbinger. In terms of music, I think I’m inspired by artists like Fiona Apple, Missy Elliot, Santigold, Ebony Bones, Robyn, and Lauryn Hill.

What social activist projects are you involved in?

I work in reproductive and sexual health, as well as community empowerment through the arts. For the past year, I’ve been exploring ways to talk about health disparities with youth. We’ve also launched a mobile STD testing program in my city, so we can try to overcome barriers like racism, lack of transportation, etc that keep folks from getting tested regularly.

You were part of the band Taste this! and the duo Stereoluxxx. Can you describe your work with them and whether you enjoy more being part of a music group or a solo artist?

Taste this! was a rock band, and Stereoluxxx was an electro-r&b project. In both, I was the singer/songwriter, as well as occasional producer/arranger/keyboardist. I think that writing for both projects gave me a diverse perspective and now I feel confident in being able to write to just about anything. Being in a band comes with a sense of friendship and adventure, but I appreciate having total artistic freedom now and not having to dilute or compromise for someone else’s tastes.

Your style is definitely outside of the box. Who influenced it and has anyone criticized you because of it?

M.I.A. has definitely influenced my style; I think when I first heard her, I was hearing something that really spoke to me and showed me what was possible. It was like finding my music soulmate! So I started out and fumbled around with different sounds and ideas.. I think I’m still fumbling a bit but there is definitely no blueprint for making the kind of music I want to make.

I don’t think I’ve been criticized by it (although my mom has in the past wished I’d do more Luther Vandross covers, I’m sure!), but it’s definitely a barrier. It’s deemed “too avant-garde” by some. I think the hardest part is when one blog looks at my picture says “we don’t cover hip-hop” and then another blog listens to me and says “this isn’t really hip-hop.” So you get a little bounced around. However, I see it as my responsibility to just keep making music and work to create stuff that catches your ear no matter what you think you’re “into.”

Were there any major obstacles to you becoming a musician, either growing up or in the music industry?

I think my biggest obstacle is just staying motivated and not letting doubts stop you from moving forward. I’m learning that there are just certain steps you have to take. There’s nothing magical about that process.

What are your favorite instruments to work with?

Synths! I love synths and their sound and feel. I’ve got my eye on a new one right now, actually. When I actually buy it, I’ll probably end up writing a whole new album.

Can you describe how you, your style and stage performance (alien-looking female dancers) fit into the afrofuturist aesthetic?

I want to interrogate common narratives of black performance, especially Black American male performance. The crazy thing is that I’m doing it a bit unconsciously. After a recent show, this older guy came up to me and said “You remind me of Sun Ra,” and I had no idea who that was. Although I have a more Westernized perspective, I have also unknowingly absorbed influences from my studies (bachelors in Anthropology) as well as the deeper cultural influences of my Nigerian family (beneath the British/Christian colonial aspects). My performances are kind of like trance rituals, and I want to bring people into that experience. I utilize the wardrobe, makeup, lighting, and choreography to that end.

What are you currently doing and your music plans for the future after releasing your EP The First Transgressions and performing at SXSW? 

I’m planning some east coast dates in Mid-April, and will be filming my next video in March. We plan to release a single and some remixes leading up to “The Second Transgression.”

Thank you to Tunde Olanira and Olivia Dikambi for the interview. Watch his video below for “Cobra” and check out his youtube page to see performances and videos for his EP.