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Meet the Afrofuturism Curatorial Council: Ytasha L. Womack

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.

Ytasha L. Womack is one of the five leading Afrofuturism experts brought together to share their passion and knowledge in creating this visionary festival.

Womack is an independent scholar, filmmaker, dancer, and critically acclaimed author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. Her additional books include Rayla 2212 and Rayla 2213—a time-traveling / reincarnation series; Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity; and Beats, Rhymes & Life: What We Love and Hate About Hip-Hop. She directed the Afrofuturism dance film A Love Letter to the Ancestors from Chicago.

Learn more about Womack 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 way of looking at the future or alternate realities, but through a Black cultural lens. And when I’m speaking of Black cultures, I’m referring to people all over the world who embrace that identity. Afrofuturism is an artistic aesthetic. It’s a method. It’s a practice. And it’s also a great healing tool to help people who are wrestling with how to use the imagination or people who don’t feel comfortable thinking about futures. It’s also a great way to help those who have some issues or are not exposed to African philosophical relationships through space and time.

Afrofuturism can be found in music, whether you’re thinking about someone like a Sun Ra or Alice Coltrane in jazz, you think about Janelle Monáe or Parliament, Funkadelic, Outkast, and Erykah Badu. It also exists in film, Black Panther being the greatest example, but you see it in other projects as well. Television’s Lovecraft Country and The Watchmen both reference Afrofuturism. You see it expressed in dance, visual art, and again, you see it as practice. So while you see it in a lot of mediums, you also see people really thinking about futures and looking at how to engage that in their lives.

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

For those who are Afrofuturist and didn’t know they were Afrofuturist, oftentimes it was their engagement with music that first sparked these relationships that they were seeing between space and time and the African diaspora and continent. Some of the periods that are most exciting for people to think about are the 1970s, looking at works by Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic. I would say Herbie Hancock and Alice Coltrane, of course, and many others who at least in jazz and funk were totally exploring relationships of that space in time.

I think people don’t always recognize that music is expressed as a philosophical relationship to space and time—how the jazz approach to music is different from say, the classical music approach, or the approach to funk, or the approach to reggae or dub or hip-hop. These are all interesting patterns and webs, but they are really sort of remixes of a lot of African traditional ideas around the purpose of music and how music can electrify chakra points. It can create altered spaces or altered dimensions for people to have a greater understanding with themselves.

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 Ytasha L. Womack, available on Apple Music.

“This playlist is a sojourn through the multiverse to re-experience oneself. Soaring past the crossroads where inner space and outer space meet, this Earth-born music that spans from jazz to blacktronica to soul keeps us both rooted in the terra yet one among the stars.” —Ytasha L. Womack

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