Do we, sounding out notes, sing for each other? We do. We sing, we write, we whistle. Sarah has arranged plants and wooden animal sculptures delightfully, shrine-like, atop a bookcase that runs beneath our front window, in the midst of which hangs a triangular shard of stained glass. I sit before it and gaze upward, through the triangle of colored light, into the sky — the “up above.” Children of my time grew up admiring skywalkers and jedi warriors, as do children of today. These figures are some of our earliest heroes. Interplanetary travel of the sort imagined by the Star Wars films provided a hopeful vision of technology’s past and future. Counter to it stood the abduction scenario of Poltergeist. With those famous spell-like opening words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” Star Wars opens a portal to the myth-space of the ancient future past. Worlds are places we visit in starships. There’s the danger of Empire — the galaxy’s thanatopic death-drive — but we can fight it by joining the Rebel Alliance. Heroes are abducted from their home planet, swept up by destiny. Star Trek came later for me as an imagination-space, with its Federation-authorized Starship Enterprise, an intergalactic captained battleship. My first meeting with an Afrofuture occurred in my late adolescence or early adulthood, when I happened upon a copy of Funkadelic’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies among records belonging to my grandmother. The album blew my mind, partly censored cover art by Pedro Bell suggesting funk-powered intelligence and humor — psychedelic consciousness of a sort I’d never encountered before. “The kind of style that messes up the program.” The album is a warning about negative vibes.
The following are multimodal, multigenre maps of consciousness.
Across these maps run time travelers, world runners
growing and evolving together into ever-larger
circles of trust, connected
Heed her words:
Moor Mother, at the end of Circuit City when she
shouts, “You can’t
time travel / Seek inner and outer
dimensions / Without free jazz!”
or on Youtube:
“If you wanna do something / find a way to create it.”
“Singing together / is how we heal.”
Fugitive study leads me to the Dogon tribe. Place matters to Afrofuturists: Chicago is the mothership, and Philadelphia is the devil’s playground. IFA originates among the Yoruba people. Yoruba divination practices make use of an ancient binary system of 256 odus. Charles and Ray Eames’s short film Powers of Ten opens with a couple picnicking in a park in Chicago. Chicago is where police killed Fred Hampton. Chicago is where police beat the future as the whole world watched. Philadelphia is where police bombed MOVE. With our portals and our time machines, let us re-member the past. Let us return these truths to the times to which they belong.
In place of “Afrofuturism,” a term coined by white cultural critic Mark Dery, science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor prefers “Africanfuturism” and “Africanjujuism,” terms she coined herself. She defines the latter as “a subcategory of fantasy that respectfully acknowledges the seamless blend of true existing African spiritualities and cosmologies with the imaginative.” History is that which, ever-changing even as it rhymes, never neatly coincides with itself. Only in this way can the future be other than circuit city: rote repetition of that which came before.
Voices overheard through a wall scoff at and belittle; members of a circle seduce one another with words. Why do I continue to lean in? Do I sense among these voices a proud knowing? Do I think that by listening in, I might learn? Experimenting with that possibility, I place on my turntable a gift from my father — a copy of Sun Ra’s The Magic City. My father trained as a jazz percussionist, and told me a story a few nights ago — the night prior to the record’s appearance in the bins, in fact — of a show he played in the early 1970s. A band of his shared the stage with African percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Several tracks on The Magic City were recorded live at Olatunji’s loft in New York in Spring 1965. Let us learn of this remarkable happening, part of what critic Paul Youngquist calls “the Arkestra’s wonder years,” 1965 and 1966. Youngquist calls The Magic City “a miracle of musical invention” (A Pure Solar World, p. 182). Let us lie on a couch with our heads in the sun as we listen. Timpani, ride cymbal, bass, and piano: together with horns, these ride “Cosmic Eye,” the first song on the album’s B-side. Cacophony clears the way. Music of this kind helps us breathe, airs us out like laundry on a line.
When I step outside after dark to sit on my front porch, I feel aware, suddenly, of my glasses. Sarah hung a pretty wreath with Christmas lights. Neighbors’ lights can be seen beyond the trees. Indoors afterwards, Sarah and I improvise, jam for a few moments with toy instruments. Piano and tambourine. Sarah and Frankie watch bits of Frosty the Snowman on Sarah’s iphone. Flash cards send me off thinking about the Tarot. The Alethiometer in His Dark Materials delivers symbols in response to questions posed by the show’s heroine, Lyra Belacqua. Tarot spreads can be read similarly. Let us trust these spreads for clues.
Evenings are when I write. Sarah DJs, gets us dancing to James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone. Time to set up stereos and drums. Organize the studio, arrange speakers atop the desk. So I tell myself, past self to future self, mind ranging through the rooms of its memory palace assembling a “to-do” list. That’s where my head goes until I make my way out to the porch — where moths cast shadows and streetlights shine in my eyes. A daddy long legs crawls past as pass cars on the road. Crickets sing in the grass. Dogs bark from a distance on occasion. Traffic eases up come night. With the latter come cooler temperatures, however, so before long I’m back indoors, washing dishes and snacking on sesame sticks.
On the table before me is a new board book, an interactive one with a “Slide and Find” feature. Frankie and I slide panels on each page and meet animals: Water Buffalo, Spider Monkey, Bald Eagle, Macaroni Penguin. The book is called Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? The election votes have been counted, and a result declared: Biden/Harris victory, Trump/Pence defeat. Many celebrate, as there is certainly reason to. Jes Grew-style dance parties erupt in the streets amid a mood of general happiness and relief. Frankie and I listened to the new Terror/Cactus single “Churro vs. Crow” and the accompanying track “Regresso” by Orquestra Pacifico Tropical aloud on our morning walk.
She and I admired the leaves, a colorful array of browns, red, oranges, and yellows, on this beautiful autumn day. Afterwards, a friend pulls up and honks her horn in our driveway. She and Sarah walk Frankie midafternoon while I run to Goodwill and score a stack of LPs from the Nonesuch “Explorer Series.” ‘Tis a good day.
Ishmael Reed begins his novel Mumbo Jumbo with a dictionary definition of the title phrase. He does so to demonstrate that White Americans have appropriated this phrase. They use it ignorantly, disrespectfully, forgetful of its origins. The term derives from the Mandingo ma-ma-gyo-mbo, meaning “a magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away” (7). Mandingo or Mandinko is a language spoken in West Africa (Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, and Senegal). Reed tells us with his title that his book is the work of such a magician. How would that work? Who are these “ancestors”? Are they black? Are they white? Why are they “troubled”? Where is “away”? I flip through old journals reading trance-scripts from the dawn of the Trump era (just after the election but prior to the inauguration). How was I able to write like that? Is it because consciousness is able to be in two or more places at once? Or is it on account of them loas? Nina Simone recorded three tracks based on originals by Bahamian artist Exuma: “Obeah Woman,” “Dambala,” and “22nd Century.”
I wrote about the latter song four years ago. Exuma called himself “the Obeah man.” The cover of his first album bore the message, “the future is freedom, the past a chain / the present, anybody’s game.” PaPa LaBas is described as an “obeah-man” (45) in Mumbo Jumbo.
The baby falls asleep to Parliament Funkadelic, Spaceship Earth reimagined as the Mothership Connection. “Are you hip to Easter Island?” asks singer George Clinton late in the song. “The Bermuda Triangle? Well all right / Ain’t nothing but a party.” Time to live light years in the future, in a time-space proposed by Afrofuturists. “One Nation Under a Groove.” Re-constitute the social order and make it funky: “Feet don’t fail me now!” Out of fear of its wrath, I refrain from playing Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & The Upsetters’s “War Ina Babylon,” opting instead to play Bob Marley & The Wailers’s beautiful “Redemption Song” as the baby wakes. Afterwards, we dance around, her in my arms, me on my feet, to Jorge Ben’s Africa Brasil — on which I discover to my surprise a song called “Hermes Trismegisto Escreveu.” Later, by myself, I climb to the room above the garage and bliss out to J Hamilton Isaacs’s Circumzenithal Arc.
“You there,” says a cursor, a pointing finger: “Feed your head.” DC hardcore bands of the 1980s laughed off the hippies, refused to remember what the dormouse said. Contra Jefferson Airplane, they clamped down defensively, shouting “Flex your head” through speakers and sound systems across time. That stance appealed to me. I was hailed by it. It formed me into a position as a particular kind of subject. Emanating from the capital, coeval with an era of federally-waged drug war, straightedgers like Ian MacKaye denounced drugs as “crutches.” The stance conveyed an ableism that was simultaneously hyper-defensive, its anger a reaction to fear. As punks, MacKaye and his friends and bandmates faced routine bullying and marginalization. Early episodes of teenage drug use led to denunciations of party culture, as on Government Issue’s “Rock’n Roll Bullshit,” and dramatic public acts of abstention from drug-assisted Dionysian revelry, as on Minor Threat tracks like “Out of Step” and “Straight Edge.” Always flexing, never feeding. It took years for me to recover and loosen up — but loosen up I did.
Hints of other storylines lie about. Pay attention to what is changing: the growth and the decline, the continuity of an always ever-changing ever-changing “always.” It’s a narrative of “Individuation.” Baby busting out of its prison. That storyline, at various levels of being, staged alongside related myths of enlightenment and awakening. Sarah suggests I refine my focus. The book I’m writing is on acid and radical politics. The other stuff is just part of the theorization of that. The brew that rocked the boat. An elaborate Heavenly Breakfast-for-dinner feast. Feel better and change the world. What are we to make of this thread of desire that runs like a fuse through being: the desire to overcome the alienations imposed by capitalism and Western rationalism and patriarchy and settler colonialism and modernity? Can it be done by a living theatre? Can it be done by fusing art with life? What happened to Sam Cooke? The authorities were frightened of him. Cooke was having fun, putting trouble on the run with his support for Malcolm X and Black Power. Killed, Sarah says, under suspicious circumstances. Hard shift to Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” which makes me think of my father, a photographer who worked on a photo shoot with Muhammad Ali. Spotify extrapolates a playlist for the occasion, leading to Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” and Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say, Pt. 1 & 2.” Afterwards Stevie Wonder warns of belief in “Superstition.” Van Morrison replies with “Into the Mystic,” after which point I lean back and marvel at the fact that this entire month is 4/20.