In the 1990s the term Afrofuturism emerged to describe a vein of science fiction-inspired art that repositions black subjects in a purportedly race-free future that is nonetheless coded as white. While ostensibly about the future, Afrofuturism in fact works dialectically with an equally overwritten past to critique the reified distance between racialized fictions of black magic and white science.
Three successive concepts— the experimental jazz bandleader Sun Ra’s myth-science, the funk bandleader George Clinton’s P-Funk, and the hip hop artist Kool Keith’s robot voodoo power—track a historical continuity of collapsing fictions of both past and future in Afrofuturist music, reflecting strategic versions of what Paul Gilroy refers to as anti-anti-essentialism. The robot voodoo power thesis thus recognizes in Afrofuturism a dialectical third way out of the double binds and unproductive debates about racial essence and non-essence.
This according to “The robot voodoo power thesis: Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith” by J. Griffith Rollefson (Black music research journal XXVIII/1 [spring 2008] pp. 83–109).
Above, Sun Ra in the early 1970s; below, Earth people by Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon), one of the works discussed in the article.
In the 1970s George Clinton took funk to a new level when he formulated the P-funk concept, which was defined by a philosophy, attitude, culture, and musical style.
Grounded in the ideology of Black Power, P-funk advocated self-liberation from the social and cultural restrictions of society, creating new social spaces for African Americans to redefine themselves and celebrate their blackness.
P-funk had its own language, fashion, dances, and mythical heroes and villains, who Clinton presented as black science-fiction characters. The mastermind and producer of five P-funk groups, Clinton combined these cultural components to create stories about black people and black life from a black perspective.
This according to “Funk” by Portia K. Maultsby (The Garland encyclopedia of world music III [New York: Routledge, 2013] pp. 680–86); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the opening of the P-Funk Earth Tour, whose production budget was the largest amount ever allocated for a black music act to tour at that time. Above, Clinton emerges from the Mothership, a highlight of the evening; below, an excerpt from the tour’s performance in Houston shortly after it opened in New Orleans.
BONUS: Wishing for more? Here’s the whole concert.