African Afro-futurism: Allegories and Speculations

How to Cite

Steingo, G. (2017). African Afro-futurism: Allegories and Speculations. Current Musicology, (99/100).


In his seminal text, More Brilliant Than The Sun, Kodwo Eshun remarks upon a general tension within contemporary African-American music: a tension between the “Soulful” and the “Postsoul.” While acknowledging that the two terms are always simultaneously at play, Eshun ultimately comes down strongly in favor of the latter. I quote him at length:

Like Brussels sprouts, humanism is good for you, nourishing, nurturing, soulwarming—and from Phyllis Wheatley to R. Kelly, present-day R&B is a perpetual fight for human status, a yearning for human rights, a struggle for inclusion within the human species. Allergic to cybersonic if not to sonic technology, mainstream American media—in its drive to banish alienation, and to recover a sense of the whole human being through belief systems that talk to the “real you”—compulsively deletes any intimation of an AfroDiasporic futurism, of a “webbed network” of computerhythms, machine mythology and conceptechnics which routes, reroutes and criss-crosses the Atlantic. This digital diaspora connecting the UK to the US, the Caribbean to Europe to Africa, is in Paul Gilroy’s definition a “rhizo-morphic, fractal structure,” a “transcultural, international formation.” [...]

[By contrast] [t]he music of Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, of Underground Resistance and George Russell, of Tricky and Martina, comes from the Outer Side. It alienates itself from the human; it arrives from the future. Alien Music is a synthetic recombinator, an applied art technology for amplifying the rates of becoming alien. Optimize the ratios of excentric-ity. Synthesize yourself. [...] From the outset, this Postsoul Era has been characterized by an extreme indifference towards the human. The human is a pointless and treacherous category. (Eshun 1998, 00[-006]-00[-005])

The debate that Eshun outlines—along with its rich lexicon of terms—has a formidable history, both preceding More Brilliant Than The Sun, and following that book’s publication. Taking a cue from Eshun, in this paper I examine a related—although not identical—tension within Afro-futurism, namely the tension between allegory and speculation.