As we continue to add music to Unsweetened’s Playlist for a Feminist Future, I have been struck by the feminist musical moments happening right now. It’s easier than ever before to immerse yourself in art made by women and gay, queer, and trans folx, asserting their own vision of self and equality. One of the most striking examples of this is Afrofuturism.
For those of you who’d like a primer, Afrofuturism as a science fiction genre is perhaps best described as “the future as told by people of the African diaspora” that “intersects science fiction, technology, and ancient African mythologies,” as well as themes of black liberation, black power, and mysticism. It is used to describe the work of authors like the legendary Octavia Butler but has also come to characterize artists like Jean-Paul Basquiat and Renee Cox and musicians and singers like Sun Ra and Erykah Badu. As a theoretical framework to analyze art, literature, and music, Afrofuturism emerged in the 90s and remained an academic pursuit located in universities and lofty music mags, but the 21st century has seen Afrofuturism move to the forefront of American culture, in every intentional way – see Black Panther, the intensely and fiercely black superhero film just released by Marvel.
Today, at the crossroads of Afrofuturism, feminism, and music, you’ll find folks pushing the boundaries of artistic expression in popular culture and creating revolutionary spaces. And, honestly, in an ever-expanding genre, that takes into account the aesthetics and vision evident in video and fashion choices as well as musical influences, it was tough to choose just a few of these artists for the playlist. So, whatever platform you find this piece on, please feel free to add your suggestions.
Grace Jones, “Slave to the Rhythm”
I’d like to take a step into the deep past of Afrofuturism before fast-forwarding to the present. Grace Jones wore the mantle of the genre in her artistic style, a bold re-imagining of black femininity, her strident and discordant take on musical expression, African themes, and post-colonial critiques.
Missy Elliott and Da Brat, “Sock It 2 Me”
By the late 90s, Missy Elliot embodied the aesthetics of Afrofuturism and combined them with a generally weird vibe that challenged traditional notions of black femininity and the hip hop music of her peers.
Erykah Badu, “ME”
There are zero conversations about Afrofuturism and music that happen without mentioning neo-soul artist Erykah Badu who radical vision of a black feminist future was the subject of New Amerikah (Part One) 4th World War.
Janelle Monáe (featuring Erykah Badu), “Q.U.E.E.N.”
Janelle Monáe is another must-include in the Afrofuturist feminist canon. For many critics, her work forms the aesthetic and musical high points of the genre.
Ebony Bones, “W.A.R.R.I.O.R”
A fantastic and explosive vision of black feminism.
Lady Vendredi, “What Time Is It?
Performance artist and singer Nwando Ebizie’s Afrofuturist DJ project as Lady Vandredi uses themes of Discordism and voodooism and samba rhythms.
Laura Mvula, “Phenomenal Woman”
Laura Mvula combines funk and jazz fusion with Afrofuturist themes.
This is Seattle-based duo THEESatisfaction’s radical, feminist paean to Octavia Butler.
Solange, “Cranes in the Sky”
The quiet power of “Cranes in the Sky” – an anthem of liberation and independence.
Jorja Smith, “I Am”
I’ll end with this stunning contribution to the Kendrick Lamar-produced Black Panther soundtrack.
For these songs and many more, see the playlist below, follow, and listen.