“Afrofuturism bridges so many aspects of our culture, from African mythology, art and hip-hop to politics, comic books and science” – Ytasha L. Womack
What is afrofuturism?
Afrofuturism is a Black aesthetic expressed through art, literature, music and culture, created by artists and thinkers as a means of escaping the oppression and mistreatment experienced by Black people in their everyday lives.
It takes experiences of struggle and turns them into the fantasmic.
It is the intersection between science-fiction, historical fiction, cosmology, Black culture, resistance, and magical realism.
It is a way of connecting the past with the future, the real with the imagined, all with the hopes of finding new modes of reflecting the Black experience and making the world a safer place for people of the African diaspora.
Afrofuturism often reflects on the past, and looks for ways to interrogate and reinvent it, while also attempting to gain insight into how history relates to the present and the future. Take the works of Octavia Butler, a groundbreaking science fiction writer who today is often associated with Afrofuturism. In her novel Kindred, a Black woman travels back in time to the Antebellum South and meets her enslaved ancestors. She then brings what she learned from the past into her present understanding of the world.
The concept of Afrofuturism is extremely important today, since it is intimately tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, as a response to a media landscape oversaturated with images of Black death. Afrofuturism not only ties Black struggles together transnationally, but reflects on Blackness as being part of a collective future, when so often individual Black futures are extinguished. Without Black life, there is no Black future.
These musical artists are celebrating, critiquing, and creating a broad range of Afro-futures. And they do it while making some pretty dope music too. So get your mind right and let the music play:
1. Download Everything (Teaser) – Wildkatz ft. Saturn Rising
In “Download Everything,” we get a sample of the kind of pulsing futuristic beats Wildkatz creates while Afrofuturist dancer Saturn Rising, gives us a fierce performance all in 36 seconds.
2. M.anifest – W’ani Aba ft. Bisa Kdei
M.anifest’s “W’ani Aba” combines the musical styles of Afrobeat with the aesthetics of Afrofuturism to make a hopeful and bright song and music video. The video is filmed in Accra, Ghana and involves mystic and cosmetic animation. It also includes M.anifest walking through the streets of Jamestown, one of the oldest areas of Accra, handing out sci-fi style goggles to the young and old. Jamestown is a significant location, because one can see the decaying architecture from the colonial British rule juxtaposed with the people of the city. The song, and especially the video, talk about turning the old into something new to create a brighter future. All the goggles that are worn and handed out are created from recycled materials gathered from around the district.
3. Cybiko – Princess Nokia
In “Cybiko,” Princess Nokia places herself in a videogame-like world where she is both the character and the controller. In doing this, she is stating that she has the power to code and create her own world as well as inhabit it. Nokia is utilizing contemporary technology, showing us how she can use it (or “hack” it) to shape her world.
4. Q.U.E.E.N. – Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu
According to Janelle Monáe, “Q.U.E.E.N.” is an acronym for “Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated, and Negroids.” Monáe and Badu use religion, stereotypes, and histories of oppression to talk about each of the identities mentioned in the acronym.The song specifically centers those who identify with all five labels. “Q.U.E.E.N.” is about taking back the power from the oppressor and making sure it remains in the hands of the oppressed. In the music video, Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe are “time traveling rebels” who are frozen in “suspended animation.” The video is heavily inspired by the works of Octavia Butler, who played with the idea of rebels traveling fluidly throughout history to break shackles and bring acknowledge back to their own time.
5. Dial’Afreaq – Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu’s most recent album “But You Caint Use My Phone” examines how phone technology affects our natural world as well as our abilities to communicate with one another. The album warns us that if we don’t move past our obsession with phones, there will be very real and lasting consequences. In “Dial’Afreaq,” one of those devastating effects is the loss of the bee population, who are confused by the buzzing sounds emitted from our phones when we don’t answer one another. Though the song and album are playful, making up fake consequences such as bees being confused, Badu manages to address serious issues and imagine a world in which we are competing with our phones for each other’s attention.
6. Phenomenal Woman – Laura Mvula
“Phenomenal Woman” is a celebration of Black women and their resilience. Laura Mvula takes Afrofuturistic funk and combines it effortlessly with R&B to create this dreamy dance ballad. In the video, Mvula can be seen impeccably dressed, dancing with a chorus of equally stylish people. It is the kind of song that, as a Black woman, makes me feel proud, beautiful, and resilient.
7. Green Aphrodisiac – Corinne Bailey Rae
“Green Aphrodisiac” is one of those rare songs that manages to authentically capture the beauty and complexity of love and nature. Corinne Bailey Rae takes the body and makes it the universe. At once, the listener’s boundaries break down, and they are made to ask: What makes me different from the wind blowing through my hair? Is love for another, not also love for the universe?
8. Cybernetic Armor – Sammus
“Cybernetic Armor” is the story of a girl who, due to difficult circumstances, finds herself alone in the universe, forced to rely on “cybernetic armor” to survive. Sammus uses the construction of the cybernetic armor as an allegory for the layer of armor that women, especially Black women, must create to protect themselves from the oppressive systems they are faced with in everyday life.
9. Never Catch Me – Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar
In this Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar collaboration, we find the two artists hypothesizing what awaits them after death, and how this affects life. In one line Lamar says, “life and death is no mystery and I wanna taste it.” Lamar removes the stigma around death by stating that there is hope; that maybe death is not just the end of life, but possibly the beginning of something new and unexplored. In the music video for the song, two very young children lie dead in caskets. However, as the song picks up, life returns to their bodies and they dance their way out of the church, past all the mourners who are unable to see them in their new forms.
10. Forerunner Foray – Shabazz Palaces
“Forerunner Foray” is a psychedelic rap with many synth samples appearing throughout the song. The video is animated by Chad VanGaalen, and takes us on a mystical journey through the cosmos. Many absurd images appear in relation to one another. At one point in the video, basketball legend Magic Johnson is seen riding a piece of pizza through the stars.
11. MysticVerse – Bang! Zoom!
MysticVerse’s “Bang! Zoom!” has a complex flow, interweaving cosmic and science-fiction with the mystical and ancestral. It closely follows the Afrofuturist tradition of connecting one’s own inner strength to the power of the universe.
12. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
In “Alright,” Kendrick Lamar lists all the difficulties and obstacles he faces as a Black man in the United States. Just when the circumstances seem too bleak, he introduces the chorus, which is also the song’s title. Lamar looks to the near future and says: “We gon’ be alright. Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.” No matter how hard institutions try to oppress and marginalize Black people, the Black community will rise above it. Lamar depicts this in the music video for the song, as he floats over his native Compton. The video is a celebration of resilience and strength.
13. Video Girl – FKA Twigs
In this song and video, FKA Twigs combines both haunting vocals with dystopic imagery centered around surveillance and the prison industrial complex to create a mystical and eerie experience for the viewer and listener. In parts of the video, FKA appears as a cyborg dancing mechanically around the room; while in other moments she presents as a mystical apparition.