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Meet the Afrofuturism Curatorial Council: Sheree Renée Thomas

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.

Sheree Renée Thomas is one of the five leading Afrofuturism experts brought together to share their passion and knowledge in creating this visionary festival.

Thomas is an award-winning writer, poet, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and associate editor of the historic literary journal Obsidian. She is a contributor to Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda and a collaborator with Janelle Monáe on The Memory Librarian. Her books include Nine Bar Blues, Trouble the Waters, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, Shotgun Lullabies, and the groundbreaking Afrofuturism anthologies Dark Matter and Africa Risen.

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

What does Afrofuturism mean to you?

Afrofuturism is a creative lens that we’re using all around the world to explore storytelling in new ways, to talk about where we want to be as a community on the earth through music, literature, visual art, architecture, and scholarship. And it’s a way of seeing Black people thriving and surviving in a future context, and being the masters of technology rather than being the tools.

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

Music is our first language as humans. We sing to each other, we create hunting songs, we create songs where we want to win and be victorious. And music is the way that we communicate our values, and our dreams, and our aspirations, and our fears. Music in Afrofuturism is a powerful wave of all that storytelling for us. We’ve always communicated our dreams and hopes through music and sound, and it’s changed the world. Black music has literally changed the world.

The very first person I think of for Afrofuturist music of course is Sun Ra because he was a man from the South—from the Jim Crow South—who actively remade himself into this wonderful Astro being who traveled from the stars, an ambassador to bring us the joy of music and to ask us to be better humans to each other. He drew upon the ancient cultures of Egypt and other parts of Africa with his wonderful band to bring a lot of joy into the world. And the orchestra is still creating a lot of that joy in its music and reminding us that we are made of the same things as the stars. We are all connected in that, and that’s a wonderful message to have out there as we travel on this planet together. Shifting gears, of course there’s George Clinton and Parliament and Funkadelic, Erykah Badu, staHHr, and Janelle Monáe, who took all of the pageantry, all of the different personas, the humor, the wit, the eroticism, the sensuality, and just the irreverence of the culture and put it into music.

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