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Music Looking To The Future

clownhousethethird / Flickr / Creative Commons

Science fiction is a place where art meets forward thinking, and African American music has its own science fiction thread, called Afrofuturism, which is populated by some of our most progressive musicians.

The Afrofuturists seem to have been the major innovators of the last 60 years of Black American music, and their vision of technological and social change toward a post-racial utopia is one of the most optimistic in modern art. Sun Ra wore a golden cape when he came from Saturn to help invent free jazz. His anthem “Space is the Place” was a promise that the chosen people would return with him to freedom. George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic took the stage by emerging from their mothership to push the boundaries of '70s funk. One of the inventors of hip-hop, Afrika Bambaataa, dressed as a futuristic Egyptian robot when he unleashed “Planet Rock” in 1982.

I’m now hearing a strong Afrofuturist thread in the newest electronic music. Flying Lotus, maestro of the LA beat scene, sums it all up in “Never Catch Me” from his latest album You’re Dead. Flying Lotus fuses jazz chords, sci-fi sounds, the words of rapper Kendrick Lamar and an otherworldly performance by bassist Thundercat to evoke a future that transcends death itself.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.