Updated: Jun 17, 2021
Just like film or literature, music and its visualization are vital parts of the concept of Afrofuturism.
The first pioneer of musical expression of Afrofuturism is probably jazz artist Sun Ra (Herman Blount), who in the 1950s included futuristic costumes and elements, inspired by ancient Egyptian culture and the space age into his performances. The artist is often described as controversial as he claimed to be from the planet Saturn and developed his self-portrayal as a fictional character from “cosmic” philosophies and a lyrical poetry that preached above all awareness and peace.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Afrofuturism aesthetic reached a peak in jazz with artists such as Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders and Herbie Hancock. Afrofuturism became mainstream with a vocalist and producer called George Clinton who was a member of the funk band group called Parliament. The group’s live performances were extravagant with Afrofuturistic costumes and UFO’s landing on stage, and they created the albums Mothership Connection and The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.
The concept, pioneered by Sun Ra, has inspired artists including saxophonists Kamasi Washington. Washington understands music as spiritual and a medium of self-expression and describes Afrofuturism as “the creative expression of the wonder and marvel of what the future may hold.” However, in the present, the Afrofuturism scene is mostly dominated by women, including Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, FKA Twigs, Ibeyi, Solange and even Rihanna and Beyoncé. These artists do not only embrace Afrofuturism through their music and fashion, but they also include cyborg and metallic visuals into their styles, reshaping the scene.
Janelle Monáe is a contemporary artist that is openly inspired by the Afrofuturist leanings of Clinton and Sun Ra. Monáe became known for incorporating Afrofuturist elements into her music videos, addressing topics, such as slavery and freedom. She created her alter ego Cindi Mayweather, an android, who is fighting against a dystopic society called “The Great Divide” to release its oppressed citizens. Just as earlier figures of the Afrofuturistic scene, Monáe creates her visuals to express the liberation of Afro-Americans from the limitations of the world.
While the style and interpretation of the different artists differ significantly, they all follow a similar message to embrace the idea of Blackness being explored exceeding the boundaries of reality.
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