This month I will be heading to the island of Barbados, where my mother is from, for a few weeks. So I thought why not do a few posts dedicated to speculative imagination of the Caribbean while I’m there! As one exhibition and book were titled, Who More Sci-fi than Us?
Below is a video from Astro-Caribbean/New Flesh spacemen comprised of British rappers Juice Aleem and Toastie Taylor.
Although I tried not to add onto the dozens of think pieces that are already out there about Beyonce’s latest video, “Formation,” sometimes I like to jump on the bandwagon to either use it momentarily like a free ride to a needed destination or to veer it off into my own direction.
The video has opened the door for much conversation and possibility of new connections, which to me is the main benefit of it, and there has been valid thoughts on all sides about it from the possible meanings of itssymbolic artistic imageryand bringing some focus to black cultures that often have been forgotten, marginalized or denigrated, even by black people themselves, to the critiques that highlight the problematic centeringof a cis-gendered, non-queer, high class, wealthy, light(er)-skinned, thinner celebrity against the marginalized realities of poorer, lower-class, heavier-set, darker-skinned, queer and transgendered people. Looking at the video and listening to the lyrics, it is difficult to ignore its use of Western capitalistic and white-centric measures of power, including Givenchy and Bill Gates, and their stark contrast against the images of disasters that affected those marginalized communities and black traditions that helped us to survive the violence and trauma created by the former. It does appear on the surface to be a form of capitalist opportunistic exploitation, appropriation and a softer silencing/erasing of marginalized cultures despite the “inclusion” of their imagery.
But as a creative writer/artist myself, I tend to look at culture and imagery more ambiguously. In trickster philosophy, various contradicting realities and meanings exist at once; we all wear various conflicting masks to negotiate with and maneuver through society at large. At the end of the day, Beyonce is a pop artist, not an activist per se, and just as I can learn and be inspired by various sources, I can be inspired by her work and apply it back to my own work.
Certain aspects of “Formation,” and responses to them, kept stirring thoughts in my mind, especially in relation to recent posts I had on this blog. Not saying all the thoughts below went through Beyonce’s mind, but these are the thoughts her video inspired in me. Let us look beyond Beyonce because it, for me, is not about her but the larger symbolism and archetypesthat are part of human psyche and social cultures.
Sorry I have been away for a while; I was working on a big book festival project that was supposed to be scheduled for this year, but due to unforeseen conflict, has to be postponed to next year. So, now I have some time to make a comeback, including an upcoming recap of the Afrofuturism conference I attended last weekend at The New School (that will be posted next week).
So my first post will be some great music that has come out since I was gone, some music to take you to a higher level! But first, here is a small tribute to Ben E. King who wrote one of the greatest love songs about a love that could survive even apocalyptic situation, and also a love that is “supernatural.”
On Thursday and Friday, Brooklyn-based artist Aisha Cousins will present her work-in-progress, Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification, at BRIC House Ballroom as part of their Fireworks residency program. Directed by Letitia Guillory, and in collaboration with Greg Tate and Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, the production follows “…a black middle aged cool marketer, at the tipping point in his battle to claim the American dream, mov[ing] into a notoriously dangerous black neighborhood that just happens to be at the tipping point in its battle with gentrification.” Confronting the modern issue of gentrification through the lens of legendary black folk hero, Brer Rabbit, and his home in the Briar Patch, Cousins’ production explores “tricksterism, techno-anismism, and urban survival techniques” through “music, performance art and community engagement.” Below is my interview with her about her upcoming opera:
1) Can you tell the readers about her background and how it contributed to the development of Brer Rabbit: The Opera?
I write performance art scores (do-it-yourself instructions for live art projects) that engage black folks from different cultures and backgrounds in exploring their overlapping experiences. So one of my favorite projects for the past few years has been this fictitious holiday I developed called “Brer Rabbit Day” where individual black folks make up their own holiday based on their family history with or personal connection to Brer Rabbit stories. When my collaborator Greg Tate and I were trying to figure out what to propose for BRIC’s Fireworks Residency, he really resonated with that project and said we should do an opera about it.
*For the next six months, most of my time will be invested in a big project, so I will be cutting back on posting here to probably once or twice a week, or a few times a month. But if you would like to be a guest blogger or help moderate this blog, you can email me at email@example.com.
*Wonder why there is a perception that black people experience less pain or why Darren Wilson described Mike Brown the way he did? Well, one reason may be the Magical Negro stereotype. According to a recent study, many white people have a “superhumanization bias,” where they think black people have superhuman abilities. While some may think that is positive, it actually works against us as I mentioned before Wilson described Brown like he was The Hulk.
*The Toast’s “Wave My Freak Flag High: Afrofuturism, Imagination, and Impostor Syndrome:” “I’ve only been familiar with the term afrofuturism for the past few years. It didn’t exist for me when I first read Octavia Butler more than a decade ago, or when I read the first Dark Matter anthology while I was still an undergrad in the late ’90s. Somewhere along the way, I saw the short film anthology Cosmic Slop, bought a copy of Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place on DVD, and noted that music videos from the likes of Tupac and Dr. Dre, Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes included post-apocalyptic, space, and robotic themes and elements. In hindsight, I can apply an axiom about porn to afrofuturism: I know it when I see it.”
*The Link Newspaper’s “Re-Remembering The Future:” “Alisha B. Wormsley Brings a Mythical Perspective to the Narratives of the African Diaspora”
Kode-9 & The Spaceape’s “The Devil Is a Liar” from the upcoming EP, The Killing Season. This EP covers themes of confronting illness, the unknown, and “things not being what they seem or appear to be.” In the video, Spaceape (Stephen Gordon) is clearly dressed like Baron Samedi (Hatian Voudou loa of death), one of the influences for the look of the video. Read more in the interview about the video and EP on The Fader.
Okmalukoolkat of Future Mfana latest video “Allblackblackkat,” a “hyper-surreal take on a Zulu cleansing ceremony performed on a male member of the family before funerals, a ritual which Okmalumkoolkat himself experienced as a child.” He describes his persona as “future concepts in the now…Like Zulu sci-fi but it’s also all about highlights. Most things that are edited out of our known history, from his point of view of course.” (Source: Okay Africa and OA2). This is from his latest EP,Holy Oxygen I.