Although the term “afrofuturism” was coined in 1993 by Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future”, afrofuturism began decades before and is a key element of the atompunk era.
Although it is an explosive and vibrant literary genre pioneered by such greats as Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, and Nalo Hopkinson, we concern ourselves today with the music end of it. Here are some of my top Afrofuturist musical picks from the atompunk era:
Lee “Scratch” Perry:
One of the creators of dub. In 1973 Perry built a studio in his backyard in Jamaica, and while recording and producing tracks for such legends as Bob Marley & the Wailers, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, and The Heptones, forged a new style of reggae with a futuristic, spacey sound that of course we all know and love today as dub.
Afrika Bambaataa needs no introduction. His electro funk tracks influenced the very development of hip hop and is the father of electro funk. His social and political awareness is unparalleled and if anyone has ever tried to bring a bright afrofuture into being both artistically and in reality, it is the great Kevin Donovan, aka Afrika Bambaataa.
Obviously one of the greatest jazz pianists who has ever graced this planet, Mr. Hancock’s 70s and early 80s forrays into afrofuturistic musical themes are some of the best of the era. His Headhunters albums are legendary, his electro helped shape the 80s, but the most quinessential “afrofuturist” albums are probably including the sextet/septet album trilogy, Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant. You should listen to those. I’m including Manchild because I LOVE THIS ALBUM. I have a thing with it going way back. So this is the one i’m posting.
Although her last name comes from her being the second wife of John Coltrane and McCoy Turner’s replacement on piano in 1966, Alice Coltrane was a major force of afrofuturistic music in the 70s. Her deep, Vedantic spirituality was a major guide in both her life and music.
Always looking ahead, taking jazz into the future, Miles’ most notable specifically afrofuturist album is hands down one of my persoanl top 5 albums of all time. That is how much i love this album. I cannot put it in words. I. Love. Bitches. Fucking. Brew. I cannot not put it on this list.
Sun Ra is of course one of THE two most prominent names that come to mind when one considers Afrofuturist music. He is cosmic jazz. He IS science fiction come to life to live among us. Claiming that he was of the “Angel Race” and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee. Sun Ra denied any connection with his birth name, saying “That’s an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym.”
George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic
What can possibly be said in words? The glory, the funkavasciousness, the utter, staggering myth creating awesomeness that is George Clinton and P-Funk in the 70s is impossible to overstate. It is one of the brightest moments for music in the entire 20s century. The guy didn’t just create a style, he create an entire MYTHOS. He didn’t just sell a groove, he sold a vision of an afrofuture that was impossible not to want. For white people too! For Asian and South American and… he made us all truly hope the mothership was indeed coming down right now, the blackstronauts of funkativity returned to reclaim the pyramids.