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Meet the Afrofuturism Curatorial Council: Louis Chude-Sokei

Afrofuturism—Carnegie Hall’s next citywide festival in February–March 2022—explores an ever-expansive aesthetic and practice where music, visual arts, science fiction, and technology intersect to imagine alternate realities and a liberated future viewed through the lens of Black cultures.

Louis Chude-Sokei is one of the five leading Afrofuturism experts brought together to share their passion and knowledge in creating this visionary festival.

Chude-Sokei is a writer and scholar whose books include The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics and the memoir Floating in a Most Peculiar Way. He is a professor of English, holding the George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American Studies, and director of the African American Studies at Boston University. He is also editor of The Black Scholar, one of the leading journals of Black studies in the United States, and  founder of the sonic arts and archival project Echolocution.

Learn more about Chude-Sokei and his thoughts on the ever-expansive aesthetic and practice of Afrofuturism in the following Q&A.

What does Afrofuturism mean to you?

It’s become a lot of things to a lot of people. Afrofuturism initially emerged as a way of arguing that the techno culture that we are increasingly defined by not only features Black people at its center (despite Black people being not really represented by narratives of technology), and the experiences of Black people could be told and expressed through the tropes, the techniques, the machinery of contemporary techno culture.

What if, in fact, we thought of the experience of African Americans as not just rigidly historical and connected to slave ships and pyramids, et cetera? What if we also added the metaphor of space travel? The metaphors of technology and robotics? What if we start looking at contemporary and futuristic metaphors to tell stories about Black people and Black experiences? Not only would that revise how we remember race, but also it would give us a vision of the future in which Black people played a central and significant part.

What’s the place of music in Afrofuturism and who are the key artists?

There’s so many different genres involved. What signifies Afrofuturism in dub music is going to be different from what signifies it in Detroit techno. But there are some common sensibilities. There’s the fetishizing of machine and artificial sounds, which can be theorized as the fetishizing of difference—things that don’t fit. Things that are atonal (which comes mostly out of the experimental jazz tradition). There’re also noise effects, but not just noise—there’s added echo and reverb, and effects added to noise effects to emphasize the artifice of it.

For a lot of people, when they first hear techno, they say ‘It’s so artificial.’ Well, to a certain extent, that’s the point. But it’s also about turning the artificial, the outside, the alien, into something groovy, soulful, rhythmic, and powerful. That’s something you also hear in dub music, drum and bass, and other forms. This is also something you see in Sun Ra, one of the great prophets of Afrofuturism; Lee Perry; and George Clinton—they all spent a lot of time working with sounds outside of music, either highly technological ones or just manipulated ones.

Hear the Music for Yourself

The sonic essence of Afrofuturism is jazz, funk, R&B, Afrobeat, hip-hop, and electronic music. Celebrate this ever-expansive aesthetic and practice this playlist curated by Louis Chude-Sokei, available on Apple Music.

“It’s no secret that when movements and concepts reach the ‘ism’ phase, they often congeal into cliche or harden into orthodoxy. As they expand to attract and include others, the raw, unorthodox creativity that created them in the first place can be forgotten or lost to those who arrive to a table that’s already been set. With this tendency in mind, I’ve selected tracks that honor the wild, experimental sensibilities that feed Afrofuturism across the Black diaspora. From dub textures to the machinic surfaces of techno, kuduro, and gloriously uncategorizable beatscapes, these tracks are intended to keep Afrofuturism geographically, culturally, and sonically nonconformist.” —Louis Chude-Sokei

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