Mix du Dimanche : My Body Full Of Stars, une réflexion sur la black mythocracy

Aujourd’hui un mix du dimanche un peu particulier, qui nous emmène voyager vers le futur… il s’agit d’une sélection musicale du journaliste et producteur Ian Mcquaid, qui accompagne le projet afrofuturiste de l’écrivain irlando-nigériane Emma Dabiri (un essai que vous retrouverez en version originale à la fin de cet article) ; et où se mêlent musique, parole, message, et ambiance.

Bon là vous êtes surement en train de vous dire que c’est un truc un peu perché… pas faux, d’ailleurs les premières mesures de ce mix de plus d’une heure donnent directement le ton, on y entend la voix du musicien Sun Ra narré sa philosophie cosmique, sur fond de distorsion hendrixienne !

Construit de manière classique, cette ouverture mystique laisse place à trois mouvements, débutant par la pulsation futuriste de quelques titres dancefloor : de la proto techno de Number Of Name, au hip-hop syncrétique et teinté de kwaito, des Sud-Africains de Dirty Parafiin ; mais une musique ne laissant aucune place aux paroles… celles-ci étant restreintes à des lieux communs, sur la fête, l’amusement, et la décadence.

C’est à partir du deuxième mouvement que les paroles commencent à prendre sens, et à dominer la musique, à l’image du refrain scandé par la chanteuse Laura Mvula « who made you the centre of the universe? ». On retrouvera d’ailleurs à la clôture de ce mouvement la guitare et la voix de Jimi Hendrix.

Quant au troisième, et dernier, mouvement, il nous emporte à la recherche de nouveaux espaces, de nouveaux univers, en fusionnant musique, ambiance, et texte.

 

My Body Full Of Stars, An Afrofuturism Mixtape :

Playlist :

Hendrix – EXP // Actress – Uriel’s Black Harp // Roots Soundtrack
Sun Ra – Berkley Lecture snippet
A Number of Names – Share Vari
Dirty Paraffin – Papap! Papap!
Missy Elliott – Smooth Chick
Binghams Speech
Strafe – Set It Off
Laura Mvula – That’s Alright
Richard Pryor – 2001 Monologue
Freddie Hubbard – This Is Combat I Know ­
Shabazz Palaces – An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum
Deltron 3030 – Virus (acapella)
TV On The Radio – The Wrong Way
Jimi Hendrix – 1963 (A Merman I Shall Be)
London Lucumi Choir – Cantos Espirituales
James Stinson phone interview
The Other People Place – Eye Contact
Egyptian Lover – Egypt Egypt
Sun Ra – Berkley Lecture snippet
Nigga Fox – Ze Piqueno
Bryte – I Like Your Girlfriend
Azealia Banks – Fierce
Tyree – I’m Free
DJ Cndo – Terminator
Leif ft Spank Rock – Star Alliance
SupaNova Slom – Energy
LTJ Bukem – Atlantis
Sun Ra – Outerspaceways Incorporated
Sun Ra Berkley lecture snippet

 

My Body Full Of Stars, texte original de Emma Dabiri :

“I put all things about Ancient Egypt out of my head since they failed. I’m thinking about the future of Black Egypt, which is outside the realm of history. So what I’m talking about is the myth, and nothing that has ever been,is part of what I’m talking about. Blackfolks need a mythocracy not a democracy. History has been very unkind to black people. They not gonna make it in history. His Story is not gonna helpblack folks at all….”

Thus spoke Professor Sun-Ra, in his 1971 Berkley lecture The Black Man in the Cosmos, segments of which narrate the following mixtape.

This essay is an exploration of Afrofuturism, and as we examine the ideas of the aesthetic – as set out by Sun Ra – a startling irony emerges.

One can draw parallels between the Afrofuturistic orientation articulated by Ra, and attempts by radical European scholars to engage time, and imagine a world beyond the confines of the Cartesian binaries that so circumscribe the conditions of contemporary existence.

In her analysis of the German philosopher, Fredrick Nietzche, feminist scholar Elisabeth Grosz outlines an understanding of approaches to the past as well as the function of history

A being largely dominated by memory and the past is one for whom the present, and its possibilities of action are curtailed. To be mired in the past is to be unable to think and act the future; conversely, to be unanchored in the past, to have no connections to, or resonances with, the past, is also to have no way to see or make a future, it is to have no place from which a future can be made that is different to the present. Well-being requires a judicious mix of the historical and the ahistorical, the timely and the untimely, the past and the future (Grosz, 2004:116).

Such a position remains controversial in a European context. However, it reflects a more fluid, African centered understanding of time, and the ways in which the purpose and functions of both history, and the past, might be imagined from a more African perspective, encapsulated beautifully above in Sun-Ra’s conceptualization of mythocracy.

Sun-Ra continues

Honesty is not what I’m talking about. You’re not in a place where the truth is gonna do you any good. Truth has been abolished. Any truth you say is not permissible in here….the truth is not permissible for me to use because I’m not righteous or holy. I’m evil. That’s because I’m Black and I’m not ascribed any righteousness. I’m using their dictionary.

Again strong parallels with Nietzschean thought emerge.

Nietzsche was not concerned with historical accuracy or so-called ‘facts’, but rather with the potentialities of the past for the transformation of the future. Such a conception of history seeks to problematize the prevailing views on which the study of the past (from a western perspective I hasten to add) has previously been based, such as the belief that the past is an objective reality that can be more or less accessed and reconstructed in the present through material artefacts and texts retained or gleaned from the past (Grosz 2004: 114).

The significance of these similarities must not be overlooked. Consider the decimation of African epistemologies, dismissed as primitive, and the wholesale destruction of vast corpuses of knowledge that existed in oral genres. These ways of knowing were disavowed in favour of the rigidity of written forms of knowledge, deemed superior by our European superiors. One cannot help a wry smile at the irony, when those considered some of the greatest minds in Western thought, only end up at what we knew millennia ago. Reinventing the wheel. But it’s all good. We know better. The future is prescient of the past, and both influence the present. Chronology remains as much a myth as the minotaur.

Certain attempts to address “race” or “blackness” such as the reprehensible ‘Exhibit B’ exhibition (banned – after public pressure – from the Barbican earlier this year) demonstrate the way many non-black liberals, artists, and/or activists approach race work, often centralising narratives of racism, slavery, and oppression, reducing blackness to little more then the “tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects and slave-ships” identified by Fanon in Black Skins White Masks (1986: 112).

Meanwhile black artists, while never forgetting the centrality of these experiences to contemporary articulations of blackness, (how could we? for it is us, and us alone, that live (and die) according to our blackness) are increasingly seeking to reimagine ontologies of blackness in ways that attend to more African centered philosophies, and which might liberate us, imaginatively at least, from the strictures imposed upon us by others.

Afrofuturism carves out a space for black people to write ourselves into speculative pasts and futures, to reimagine our identities beyond and before human history and form.

The necessity of such philosophical work, in the face of what might be considered more pressing, material demands, should not be underestimated. Martin Luther King urged us to realize that nobody else could provide us with liberty or freedom, reminding us that

No document can do this for us…no emancipation proclamation… no civil rights bill can do this for us….nobody else can do this for us…if the negro is to be free he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with the pen and ink of self asserted manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

What more effective way to facilitate accessing the soul then through the alchemy of music, which exists primarily in indigenous African cultures for such purposes. Throughout Africa, music, song and dance, have never been reducible to entertainment alone. These art forms were devised in order to bridge the gap between temporal planes; the present and the eternal worlds. From the mbira of the Shona, to the kora of the Mande, the bata of the Yoruba, and the ngoma drumming found throughout eastern, central and Southern Africa, music has always been a tool for societal transformation.

Whether used to petition ancestral spirits, to document histories of rebellion and resistance, as narratives of intergenerational memory, to promote psychosocial healing, or a combination of all, music has remained central to African civilizations. The reason that music of African origin provides the foundation for almost all contemporary popular music is because of this ability to channel the divine, providing a depth, a soul so often missing in this neo-liberal moment.

As such Black music has long been a rich site for analysis of what political scientist James C. Scott’s calls the ‘hidden transcript’

Every subordinate group creates, out of its ordeal, a ‘hidden transcript’, that represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant (1996, xii).

Probably one of my favourite tracks on the mix-tape  is Strafe’s (1983) Set it Off, which demonstrates this concept of the hidden transcript;

Y’all want this party started, right? Y’all want this party started quickly, right? Set it off on the left y’all, set it off the right y’all, set it off…

What is happening here? An invitation to dance, or a provocation to insurgency? The multilayered ambiguity of this track always hits me right in the gut, located as it is in a long genealogy of black resistance. From the music of the Zimbabwean Chimurenga, to the origins of house in Chicago, Black music has long attended multiple objectives. To the uninitiated it might just be party music, -albeit particularly infectious party music with an essence often imitated but rarely replicated – while the insider might recognize it as a call to arms, expertly disguised in the guise of a banging tune.

This mixtape deviates somewhat from the standard Afrofuturistic fare. While major label artists such as Missy are featured, they are not those that consciously promote themselves as Afrofuturistic, but are rather artists that nonetheless embody the musical innovation that drives the concept.

Afrofuturism is largely articulated as African American but we wanted to draw upon the broader Diaspora, including not just the West African regions from which many African Americans originate, but also the broader African context, reaching to South Africa, as well as incorporating the often overlooked contributions of Black British cultural production.

We have avoided as much as possible the major label backed, self aware, Afrofuturist aesthetic championed by artists such as Janelle Monae. In our opinion much of this music remains somewhat bland, employing Afrofuturist imagery – at worst cynically, at best superficially – whilst remaining devoid of the sonic creativity and other worldly orientation of genuinely futurist artists such as Shabazz Palaces, Freddie Hubbard, Tyree, or Jimi Hendrix.

Like these others Hendrix did not employ the term Afrofuturistic in relation to himself, but his output is quintessentially that. His A merman I should turn to be is not only sonically transcendental, but it’s lyrical content references Yoruba mythology, evoking images of the orisha Olokun, who is associated with the deep sea, and who is understood as heralding the way for spirits that are passing into ancestorship

 

So my love, Catherina and me,

decide to take our last walk through the noise to the sea

Not to die but to reborn,

away from a land so battered and torn

Forever, forever….

These lines remain suggestive of the cyclical nature of time in African cosmologies, wherein sharp delineations between the worlds of the unborn, the living, and the ancestors are dissolved. Did Hendrix explicitly know about the beliefs of the Yoruba spiritual system? Or was it something communicated to him through time, and across geographical space, overcoming the ruptures engendered through the centuries long trans-Atlantic trade in black flesh? This shared consciousness, emergent throughout the Black Atlantic world is the essence of Afrofuturism.

Come on we’re many

With all that we feel, the time is ideal to

Set it off I suggest y’all

Set it off….

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