The Americas. This is where the End began. The West, the place of Prophecy, the place of Destiny. The genetic cellular database of Ancestral awakenings thrums in tune to the drumbeat call of generations of soul, of pain and joy rising above the spontaneous eruption of life, uncontrollable, unbounded, free of constriction or constraint in its purest form. This is the natural path life takes like water, flowing down or up whatever channel presents a path, making one where none exists, or deepening preexisting ways, widening, eroding resistance whenever encountered to open the way for a more intense flow of energy.
What does all or any of this have to do with Hip Hop? With a bunch of kids who play their music too loud, who seem to have a fascination with cursing, disrespect of authority and women, baggy clothing, crime and material culture? How is any of this spiritual in nature and what does it have to do with consciousness? To answer these questions fully it is necessary to understand what Hip Hop is, what it really represents, where it came from and where it is going.
Loosely defined, it is the culture of the urbanized underclass, of the disaffected and the disillusioned masses. A culture of rebellion and revolt that employs every mode of communication known to humanity in order to get its message across. Music, art, the spoken word, the beat, movement. MC’ing, DJ’ing, Break Dancing/Popping/Locking and Graffiti are its major expressions, all of which encompass the primal cries of those relegated to possessing only their spirits and souls and little else of material substance. As a post-modern deconstruction of a Western European meta-narrative, Hip Hop stands as an exemplar of the effect upon the individual of societal ills that are now global in scope. Ageless, as an expression of African-based musical and communicative forms of expression, Hip Hop was informally born as a genre in late 1970s New York City and the surrounding region, expanding relatively quickly from a purely regional expression to its current status as multi-billion dollar music of the global youth culture. It is fair to say that Hip Hop has come a long way. But it is also fair to say that it has a way to go still before it reaches its full potential.
Afrofuturism as a movement has evolved alongside Hip Hop, similarly having no definitive beginning while simultaneously coalescing alongside Hip Hop in urban America during the late 1970s. Its formal inception occurs much later, in the late 1990s and into the 00s as the online presence of African Americans grew stronger. The application of diverse academic traditions to the same questions was the beginning of a process that sought to dissect the cultural and media-based discourse of African-originated and futuristically-themed influence in the preceding decades in the attempt to define their interests and cultural memes.
And so it was that a small, ethnically diverse but concentrated listserv, called Afrofuturism, was born and prospered, for a time. Beyond the vigorous debates, expositions of consciousness, collaborations and intellectualisms lay an underlying strata of vast potentiality and possibility, made manifest through the broad and open genres of science and speculative fiction. The movement was represented by black authors, academics, Hip Hop headz and performers alike, all sharing a similar fascination with futuristic themes and expressions of modern societal tropes under the guise of the fantastic. Afrofuturism never really coalesced as a full-blown cultural shift outside of the avant-garde arts and music scenes of the large urban areas, but the fish bowl-like arena the internet was in those days brought larger and more mainstream attention to this small collective of personalities and ideas, raised against the growing din of diverse voices the Net was soon to become.
Hip Hop and the Afrofuture cannot be separated from the evolution of America as a nation, but they also cannot be separated from the evolution of consciousness not only of this country, but of the world. The impact of Hip Hop has been felt upon every continent, in every country. Rap is the music of the global youth culture. It is the sound of rebellion and discontent that can be heard wherever the young are gathered and wherever inequalities have resulted in the formalization of destitution. The original means by which Hip Hop formed have been repeated in country after country, city after city as the young and the listless have found themselves with little money and no musical education but still possessed of singing hearts and dancing souls, theirs or their parents record collections and an ever-growing mass of CDs and MP3s that consolidate the Music of the Ages. The ready availability and affordability of computers, digital music and sound equipment have created the perfect environment for a large-scale explosion of beat-centered creativity as the hard, biting sounds of rap drive the air and digital-waves toward the resolution of a Hip Hop planet, born to tear down paradigms not built for their edification.
There is Russian Hip Hop, Middle Eastern Hip Hop, African Hip Hop, European Hip Hop, Latin American Hip Hop. You will find baggy jeans and ball caps worn by youth of every ethnicity, shade, size or gender in every country in the world. This acceptance of a quintessentially American artform by two generations, X and Y, who are now birthing a third, generation Z, will take the artform into new territory as global consciousness coalesces around the ideals that undergird the very essence of Hip Hop. Freedom of expression and lifestyle choices, a disdain for centralized authority, a dearth of color consciousness and a dislike of the trappings of corporate and/or governmental culture typify the belief system of Hip Hop Headz around the globe. The continuing revelations regarding the world-wide dominance of elite, corporate conspiracies have resulted in an ever-spreading understanding of the many threads that tie in to this reality, be they economic, political or cultural in nature. A wide-spread distrust of governmental measures as well as a realization that corporate culture does not have the best interests of the individual in mind bind diverse cultures and ethnicities together in recognition of their shared servitude and bondage to global consumer culture and hegemonic political domination by a self-serving and mega-rich elite.
The material and mainstream response to the impact of Hip Hop began early in its modern evolution. With the success of the Conscious Hip Hop movement in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a concerted effort was made on the part of the Music Industry to derail the movement by changing the focus of the music from positive messages, African history and evolved states of being to that of material wealth, violence and hyper-sexuality. According to music industry insiders, there was a successful attempt to provide monetary incentives and change the focus of individual Hip Hop artists to rap more about these topics and also to contract artists that would create the type of music that glorified self-hate and violence in many forms. This era was accompanied by rising drug use, gang violence in many inner cities and the destruction of previously cohesive neighborhoods by gentrification and urban renewal projects that diffused black power by moving populations out of the urban center and into suburban apartment complexes. The simultaneous influx of illegal drugs – as well as the continuing unavailability of stable sources of income – into these uprooted communities contributed heavily to the continuing dismantling of black political power. But what the Powers-That-Be did not take into account was the expansion of Hip Hop’s influence out of the black community and into the white community and from there, into the rest of the world. Even though the possibility of this happening was evident from its earliest beginnings – as exemplified by its multi-ethnic composition in the early to mid-80s as it spread like wildfire across America – the change in the focus of Hip Hop from a black consciousness to a gangsta/thug mentality that glorified the patriarchy and material accumulation appealed to the children of the suburbs, the children of affluence, the white children of th establishment. Their rebellion against their parents and dedicated economic commitment to Hip Hop raised the art form to national and international prominence, if not in spite of, then because of the negative direction the Industry chose to force the music into.
As Hip Hop has evolved within the crucible of a planet in the throes of change, it has come to represent a shifting of consciousness, being the musical form best suited for political and social challenges. Its hard, eviscerating beats, biting and rough dictions and choruses, are theperfect backdrop to a world on the cusp of transformational change. While mainstream Rap still possesses that material edge that glorifies bling, the dollar bill and the objectification of women as sexual objects, underground Hip Hop culture remains conscious and concerned with the plight of the underclass the world across. With the spread of Internet access across the planet, that underclass has realized that they hold common cause with each other, no matter their country or origin or color. A global political consciousness is a precursor to a global spiritual consciousness as people become aware that politics is only the outermost layer of an affliction that goes much deeper. The speculative aspects of the Afro-future arise in this space created by infinite potentiality as artists meld their conceptions of the present with ideas about what could be, in a perfect world. The addition of both New Age and Afrocentric spiritual ideals, as well as the culmination of the Age – centered around the 2012 fulcrum – combine to create a discourse ofextraordinary exceptionalism that surpasses nation-hood and represents an elevated sense of connection, of oneness, of common cause.
There is a revolution of the spirit as well as the body that is overcoming the dictates of materiality, of modernism and the consumer culture. While there are many causative factors that have contributed to this awakening, the impact of African-related innovations and movements in the West have been strongly felt. From the Haitian revolution and the victories of Touissant L’Ouverture, to Nat Turner, the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, there is a connection. From Jazz to Country to New Age genres, there is a connection. From Fats Domino, Little Richard and other African-Americans impact upon the evolution of Rock and Roll to the evolution of electronic and computer-based music and art forms, there is a connection. This connection is the expression of the Souls of Black Folk, the visceral nature of their interactions with the world, the spirit-filled mass consciousness that resists all attempts at suppression, repression and genocide. It is, in microcosm, representative of the human spirit in macrocosm, it is what happens when a group of people is put upon for centuries at a time and their desire for utter freedom grows beyond the capacity of any seeking control over them to contain. It is when expression becomes mandatory, where not even death is threat enough to maintain silence, that the extraordinary becomes mundane and wonder fills the world to overflowing on a daily basis.
Of course, the formulation of the present moment is a collective endeavor that all streams of humanity have contributed to, that, in fact, every person who has ever lived has, in their own way, helped to create. Consciousness is a condition of awareness and each individual becomes aware of the realities outside of his or her own chosen spotlight for different reasons. But it cannot be denied that the world as it is today is the result of vast inequalities that have been fomented over generations. Inequalities that have resulted in the deaths of untold millions, the servitude of untold millions more and the domination of the world by a small, inbred and greedy elite. The atrocities that have come to predominate the historical record of these latter centuries of the Age of Pisces perhaps have no equal in the known history of humanity upon this planet. The world as it is today, with all of its pain, heartache and vast inequalities, is also a beautiful place, where the seeds of Africans brought to the Americas, mixed with the Aboriginals and Enslavers both, have broken ground, tilling the field of hearts the world across, as what has been done becomes clear and the ramifications of karmic repayment attend that clarification. Hip Hop and the Afro-future stand intertwined in the Present as an indicator of Past and Future, one indistinguishable from the other according to the infinite realm of probability that leaves conceptualization boundless and free to be, to become whatever we wish it to be. This is the legacy of our ancestors, and that which we leave to our posterity in our turn. The gift of life and love despite pain and heartache, and of expression ,without apology, of who we are, were and will be, far beyond what those who think they control reality could ever conceive of.
On January 2, I was on a live WREK Radio Sunday Special talking about Tron: Legacy and my latest research, Cybism and Decoding the Letter: Countering Mass Culture’s Reductional Breakdown Through Afro-futuristic Forms of Representation and Emergent Platforms.
The online archive of the show is available until Sunday, January 16, 2011:
http://www.wrek.org/playlist.php/main/24kbs/current/SS.m3u (it’s about 35 minutes in)
I also blogged about it here:
Enter the realm of pure unadulterated street art and experience what is now a thriving knowledge culture that merges specialized forms of representation: alphabets, drawings, paintings (graffiti), films/videos, choreographic notations based on symbolic, linguistic and scientific formulations, programming languages, hardware (robotics, handheld devices), software (game platforms) and so on . . .
This begins my essay entitled, Cybism and Decoding the Letter: Countering Mass Culture’s Reductional Breakdown Through Afrofuturistic Forms of Representation and Emergent Platforms … Or something like that. The inspiration for this effort is the work of the first phase of modern graffiti/hip-hop art pioneers who have explored Afrofuturism as a theme: Rammellzee, Futura (formerly Futura 2000) and Doze Green. More specifically the essay highlights Gothic Futurism, Rammellzee’s concept concerning a “new twist on the old mythologies and religions.”
“Ikonoklast Panzerism introduced by so-called graffiti for the remanipulation by and from energy through the body for the repercussions and rediscussions of society’s misleading reductional break-down.” ― Rammellzee
Rammellzee appropriated and decoded ‘sigma’, the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, and created a distinctly new form of representation as a transformation of a classic signature visual motif into a laser gun from science fiction. Canonical letter forms are re-created as metaphorical weapons to destroy negative cultural practices and “diseased systems.” To experiment with Ikonoklast Panzerism in Second Life I used techniques similar to collage and assemblage that had to be employed that are unique to the virtual 3D, game world environment. My Tribute combines the art of Rammellzee with urban detritus of the material world to construct an collage/assemblage of virtual 3D objects, or planes that were built and textured to simulate the real thing. The aspects of virtuality in this Second Life art simulation engaged users, embodied as avatars, in a participative experience.
This work reflects a system, or energy dynamics through a hybrid blending of material, analog aspects and the techno-presence of the body in an urban/cosmic environment. These practices are characterized by what Nechvatal refers to as a cybistic zeitgeist, as a “quality-of-life desire in which everything, everywhere, all at once is connected in a rhizomatic web of communication.” Artist/theorist Joseph Nechvatal’s notion of cybism detects an “attraction towards the abstractions of advanced technological and scientific discovery ―discovery now stripped of its fundamentally reductive logical methodology.”
The knowledge context in which these abstractions are produced lay out a “common plane of immanence on which all minds, all bodies and all individuals are situated.” Virtuality merges these aspects and practices through the creation of concepts and tracing of metaphysical planes on which these concepts exist. This plane involves creative practices that tie into other activities and practices external to it. To further explicate this development we can look to the next level or layer of artistic and technological progress: emergent game platforms and other digital media technologies.
Once this essay is submitted and published I plan to follow this post up. In the meantime …
Some of the first phase modern graffiti art pioneers/futurists are still leading the way:
There’s a new Afrofuturism exhibition at Soho Rep. The interview below is with our own Alondra Nelson, explaining the history and tradition of Afrofuturism.
Check out the substantial and fascinating new article by Louis Chude-Sokei: “Invisible Missive Magnetic Juju: On African Cyber-Crime.
It’s a sweeping and well thought-out piece that contextualizes Nigeria’s infamy as the home of internet fraud, in an analysis that makes connections between the country’s political history, the creativity of Nigerian computer users, the sense of exclusion felt by segments of the Nigerian population, the global free market, Nigerian popular culture, Western paranoia and the growth of African cyber-crime franchises, all interwoven with a review of the film District 9.
With each successive technology I learn, or master it changes how I view the past, present, and the future.
Experiencing virtual 3D space can transcend the material world but it is very much a material experience. Through Alternate Futures I am exploring Afrofuturism and viractuality — a term coined by Joseph Nechtaval who I recently befriended on Facebook after I bought his book, Towards an Immersive Intelligence. This exploration is beyond my imagination. Lisa Yazsek has been researching Afrofuturism in literature. She writes,
As an international aesthetic movement concerned with the relations of science, technology, and race, Afrofuturism appropriates the narrative techniques of science fiction to put a black face on the future.
Alternate Futures aims to place visitors within a perceptually immersive 3D Afrofuturist construction in Second Life, then subsequently asks them to consider the future of black history and culture. Visitors experience fragments of history, culture, and myth as they explore the simulation. I’ve come to my own realization as I add to this work that my sense of space and time changes. I recognize close connections between form and meaning (in art), as well as history and virtuality or viractuality.
The concept of viractuality begins with the realization that every new technology disrupts previous rhythms of consciousness. Every period in time has it’s own reality — it’s own integrity and uniqueness. ~ Joseph Nechvatal
Having practiced and mastered the art of collage in material space (to some degree) I am discovering that collage in immersive 3D space is entirely unique. A collage (from the word coller, to glue) is a work of visual art made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole. In Second Life collage integrates two, three, and four dimensional forms of art. I am experiencing the overlapping of the visual elements with sound, animation and video in new and exciting ways.
On a different level I am finding new meaning and connections between the virtual art and existing narratives. Steampunk Dream is my short story about time travel and reconnecting with the past. I am making the story real through the creation of an immersive 3D space that makes it possible to create links to external content such as web sites, online videos and streaming media (radio). For example, visitors can click an image or object to launch a web browser and view segments from LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton, a documentary that draws the connection — a vicious cycle — between poverty and the lack of education opportunity for black people living in the Mississippi Delta, over 150 years after the abolition of slavery.
As I was constructing this part of the installation I remembered this film. It’s another way of looking at Afrofuturism by making reference to how a family tries to end a cycle through self-actualization. Younger members imagine a future where they are no longer tied to their reality. Steampunk Dream is as much about time travel as it is about being virtual as an aspect of reality that is not material, but which is nonetheless real.
[Giles] Deleuze’s concept of the virtual has two aspects: first, we could say that the virtual is a kind of surface effect produced by the actual causal interactions which occur at the material level. When one uses a computer, an image is projected on the monitor screen which depends upon physical interactions going on at the level of hardware. The window is nowhere in actuality, but is nonetheless real and can be interacted with. This example actually leads to the other aspect of the virtual which Deleuze insists upon, which is its generative nature. The virtual is here conceived as a kind of potentiality that becomes fulfilled in the actual. It is still not material, but it is real. ~ wikipedia
As I add to the virtual 3D collage in Steampunk Dream numerous connections are being made visually (ex. clouds are visually similar to cotton), virtually, and socially which is how I was able to make the link to LaLee’s Kin. How I come to the subject and content today is very different than how I might have explored it before I got into the IBM exhibition space in Second Life.
…the opening and closing scenes of Invisible Man hold forth the possibility of a different relationship between technology, race, and art: by hiding out under New York City and stealing electricity to power his turntables, Ellison’s protagonist creates a space outside linear time where he can begin to rewire the relations between past and present and art and technology. In doing so, he becomes, however tentatively, the figurehead for a hopeful new Afrofuture. ~ An Afrofuturist Reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man by Lisa Yazsek.
In Ellison’s novel the narrator introduces himself as an invisible man. He explains that his invisibility owes not to some biochemical accident or supernatural cause but rather to the unwillingness of other people to notice him, as he is black. It is as though other people are sleepwalkers moving through a dream in which he doesn’t appear. Being invisible sometimes makes him doubt whether he really exists. Alternate Futures and more specifically Steampunk Dream make real the reality of worlds (histories, narratives) that often exist in the margins of the mainstream, using new forms of art and technology.
OPENING: Monday June 21, 6pm SLT (9pm EST)
Afrofuturism is about knowledge. The simplicity of knowing truly, what love is.
Yesterday I woke up thinking about my vision for the future, more specifically what Utopia looks like and nothing specific came to mind except the color blue, a color that is rare in nature. Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. According to the Yoruba if you are one who is aware you are said to possess Itutu, which is almost impossible to translate it into English, but is similar to the concept of cool. It’s a mystical coolness. The color which is associated with Itutu is always blue.
Robert Farris Thompson of Yale asserts that Itutu is the origin of American cool. His 1973 article An Aesthetic of the Cool traces Itutu from the Yoruba to several other African civilizations and finally to the Americas, where the descendants of Africans perpetuate the importance of being cool.
Itutu is part of my Utopia where many of the past and present infrastructures, or social constructs have been destroyed, or have fallen into ruins. The prisons of our present have gone and what is left is vast amounts possibility…for ALL people. Whereas blue signifies consciousness (blackness) or ancestral inheritance I can imagine specific futuristic scenarios in perceptually immersive 3D space and I decided to exploring these ideas via Second Life, a virtual 3D world.
Alternate Futures: Afrofuturist Multiverses and Beyond is a collection of virtual 3D visions that presupposes a sustained black culture — past, present, and future. It contains fragments of imagery and sounds that are cosmic, utopian, and dystopian.
Twentieth-century identities no longer presuppose continuous cultures or traditions. Everywhere individuals and groups improvise local performances from (re)collected pasts, drawing on foreign media, symbols, and languages. This existence among fragments has often been portrayed as a process of ruin and cultural decay (Clifford 1988: 14). re: The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra
What visitors will see in my Second Life installation, Reflections External, are static and moving fragments from African art, science/technology, history & mythology. From Ndebele-inspired art to binary numbers & cosmic imagery, this installation calls upon a vast collection of images & ideas (knowledge). Each of these elements are not discrete, but are related to many of the other elements from the Afrofuturist aesthetic. It’s not a perfect future but a more inclusive one, indeed.
One part of an equation
Is a blueprint/declaration of the other part
Yet differentially not. . .
It is nothing
If it is all
Still there are different alls
The end is all
But all is everything
Yet if everything is all/the end
It denies the other side of the end
For some ends
Have many points leading to their respective selves
And there are/is each/their many points
Leading out from their
(Sun Ra 1985).
Note: Alternate Futures will officially open to the public this week on the IBM-sponsored exhibition simulation in Second Life. Stay tuned!
Thank you Kali for welcoming me into the afrofuturist.net fold. I’ve been working on an Afrofuturism art simulation on IBM Exhibition A in Second Life, a virtual 3D world. The official opening is sometime later this week, most likely this Wednesday. For those who can’t use Second Life I am documenting the work as machinima, or real-time recording of my experience virtual 3D space. Here’s the trailer (see link below). More information coming soon!
I just ran across this interesting essay by Jetse de Vries, titled “Should SF Die?” It dates back to December, 2009, when there was a lot of discussion among writers and fans about problems in sci-fi, including ethnocentrism and racism. de Vries provides a number of good links in his piece, and gives his take on the argument, including providing an alternative future for sci-fi, in which it overcomes its majority whiteness. Definitely worth a read.
Well, it has been a decade and more since we kicked this off, this Afrofuturism thing, this our thing, this lifestyle slash paradigm that was not so much a movement as it was a statement of intent, of purpose and of choice. Since that time period a lot has happened. So many of us who were around back in the day have gone on to bigger things, if not better, our lives have progressed as have the collective lives of the worldsouls with whom we travel this path and the world has become a different place.
Where is Afrofuturism in all of this? Well, as was the case back in the day, it remains a truism that Afrofuturism is most directly concerned with the NOW. Where are you at? What are you doing? What brings you here to this page? Was it curiosity? The desire to connect with old friends? To find a new path? Whatever your intent is, is what Afrofuturism is. We are here as always to discuss, explore and maintain, to grow, elevate and expand our horizons, both inner and outer. I am here particularly to do all of the above, and to experience continuity of action and intent through shared interaction and purpose with those whom I know share long experience and paths of growth.
We have and are traveling the road of a lifetime, Afrofuturists and those of you Explorers of Alternative Ways. Where are y’all at? Speak out and speak up, we want to hear your voices, see your words, your art, what you are working on, who you are or have become, and where you are headed. Because wherever you are, that is where we all are. Whatever you know, that is what we all know. No knowledge is new knowledge, no experience is new upon the face of this earth. Share to interrelate, to grow, to progress.
Peace, to the Afrofuturists.