Midwest BSFA member Napoleon Maddox talks to jazz musician Graham Haynes about Afrofuturistic music ahead of IsWhat?!’s next installment of “The Deconstruction Period” at Woodward Theater on May 23.
Midwest BSFA: Over the last year and a half I’ve noticed an increasing number of young Black Americans identifying with Afrofuturism. At times, they are surprised that there is a name for the aesthetic with which they’ve been identifying. How do you account for this?
Haynes: I understand why they would be perplexed about the fact that there is a name. Creative people are not concerned with names or labels. The first hip hop artists did not say, “Let’s make some hip hop.” The first bebop musicians did not say, “Let’s make some bebop.” We create. The labels come later. Or in some cases, a theorist or intellectual may come up with a name, but usually that thing he is naming has been in existence for a while. (I worked on a multimedia project some years ago called Afrofuturistic with the poet Tracie Morris. It was a very interesting project that should have toured, but we just did one week at The Kitchen here in New York City. I was musical director.)
The concept of Afrofuturism is quite a vast concept. It should encompass all of the diaspora from the beginning of man essentially because we have pretty much agreed that life started in Africa. Ancient to the future! You cannot have a future without a past and eventually the whole question of time comes into play. I myself do not believe time exists. Only the illusion of time exists but I think we are talking more concretely so I will say this: we must look back to look forward but if we only look back we die! If we only look forward then we deny something essentially close to God or nature.
Midwest BSFA: Traveling and making friends in around the world over the last decade and half, I’ve noticed a shift in the global conscious of people that were previously less exposed to seemingly fridge concepts such as Afrofuturism. Of course, I am referring to the impact the internet. Do you think that the latest wave of young Afrofuturist benefit from the omnipresence of technology?
Haynes: I think the AfroFuturists can benefit from the Internet. The Internet is great but it comes with a problem — VOLUME. The volume and numbers of people you can reach with the net does not always equal quality. This is the problem of technology. More is not better and faster is not always better.
Midwest BSFA: When I spoke to a fellow musician and friend of yours, the great Knoel Scott of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, he told me that Afrofuturism is dead and that everyone had been co-opted. Do you agree with that statement?
Haynes: Is Afrofuturism dead? I can see why Knoel would say that. Many believe that it’s dead or co-opted because too many young blacks are being snuffed out. Too much of our knowledge seems like it is being lost. Too many of our people know nothing about the Civil Rights era, about the struggle and the history but maybe it just seems that way. Maybe people are just spreading out geographically and communing on the net instead of in the clubhouse or campus or what have you. I’m not sure. There are folks out there who get their information on the net about the past and the future but you don’t see them. They are there though.
Midwest BSFA: On May 23rd, you will play in Cincinnati as a part of an ensemble called “The Deconstruction Period.” The selected musicians are to sample and respond to themes that can be compared and/or contrasted. Artists using electronic production tools may sample, effect or re-play any segment of the proposed songs, in anyway they chose. The only rule is that the artists must bring their production tool to the conducted performance prepared to play separated elements of the composition. Do you feel projects like this are better served if they are intentionally connected to (1) jazz because of improvisation involved, (2) to hip hop because of the beats and technology involved, OR (3) to Afrofuturism because of the technology, awareness of continuum?
Haynes: I believe these things need to be wide open. As wide as possible. Don’t limit it at all to any style, genre, instrumentation or medium whatsoever. It should be beyond limit and as Duke Ellington said ” beyond category.”
Midwest BSFA: If there is a “next or now movement” how would you identify it?
Haynes: There is a new or next or now movement yes if not only because of the technology then equally because of evolution. Shit needs to move forward . Shit does move forward. Even if it moves backward, it will move forward again. And there are always gonna be futurists and those who feel the need to move it forward. The traditionalists or preservationalists will be there, too, but I would like to think they are outnumbered but the universal/cosmic need for things to move forward.
Graham Haynes’ Listening Section: