space

A Black Man in Space

The Space Age, jazz, African culture and the boundless sci-fi of Afrofuturism gave birth to the sounds and images of Sun Ra in the 1950s. But he was not the only one whose Afrofuturistic visions took the Black community to space - the mothership soon took off and has been cruising the galaxies ever since. 

Do not Attempt to Adjust Your Radio ...

"We have taken control as to bring you this special show [...]
Coming to you directly from the Mothership

Top of the Chocolate Milky Way, 500,000 kilowatts of P. Funk-power

So kick back, dig, while we do it to you in your eardrums."

P-Funk

"There is an undercurrent of revolution to his polite announcement [...]. There is power in the airwaves, Clinton seems to say. Those that have been denied a voice must unleash it, before any dancing can be done.”     

-Amelia Mason

Mothership Connection (1975)

Parliament-Funkadelic's (or P-Funk's) first Afrofuturistic mythology concept album introduces us to the fundamentally Afrofuturistic themes and characters, like Starchild, that will remain central in the band's work. This album is filled with "Afronauts, capable of funkitizing galaxies," P-Funk explain. In this album, one of the first of its kind, the Black community finally ventures into the expanse of space - and becomes the cultural arbiter of the future. In the vastness of space, racism is battled in intergalactic fights with aliens - and funk is the expression of freedom.
The album has gone on to become a landmark for Black musicians and has remained so to this day. Listen out for works inspired by Mothership Connection.

For the first time, we can see a Black man in space. Revolutionary - even in art.

... or Parliament-Funkadelic, is George Clinton's music collective. Their funky, psychodelic sounds sought to unify the Black community and finally imagine and inspire freedom and equal status. 

The 1970s were wild - P-Funk's live shows were visited by the sparkling, magical mothership and its Starchild.

Mothership Connection.jpg

Get in - My Spaceship Leaves at Ten

Janelle Monáe travels on into futuristic space. Funk remains freedom - but now we make it ourselves. 

A few lines later, becomes the familiar "swing low, sweet chariot" cites the traditional Black spiritual. Referring back to the Biblical story of Elijah and changing it a little, this song tells of the chariot that will come and save any troubled and oppressed person. From the horrors of slavery, no literal chariot could arrive to save Black people - but here, the sweet chariot of the mothership has finally come to carry you home.

Decolonisation, resistance and freedom begins within yourself, and finally, fly into the endless possibilities of space. 

"Starchild"

Well, all right, Starchild

Citizens of the universe, recording angels

We have returned to claim the pyramids

Partying on the mothership

I am the mothership connection
Gettin' down in 3D, light year groovin'

All right, hear any noise

Ain't nobody but me and the boys

Gettin' down, hit it fellas

 

If you hear any noise

It's just me and the boys

Hit me, you gotta hit the band

 All right, all right, starchild here

 

Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip

And come on up to the Mothership

Loose booty, doin' the bump

Hustle on over here

 Ain't nothing but a party, y'all


Face it even your memory banks

Have forgotten this funk

Mothership connection

Home of the p. funk, the bomb

 

Doin' it in 3D

Let me put on my sunglasses here

So I can see what I'm doing

 

When you hear seats rumble

You will hear your conscience grumble

Hit me, you gotta hit the band

You have overcome for I am here

 

Swing down, sweet chariot

Stop and let me ride

Swing down, sweet chariot

Stop and let me ride

 

Are you hip to Easter Island?

The Bermuda Triangle?

Well, all right

Ain't nothing but a party

 

Starchild here, citizens of the universe

I bring forth to you

The good time on the mothership

Are you hip? Sing, fellas

 

Starchild here, doin' it in 3D

So good, it's good to me

Hit the band

 

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming forth to carry you home

Swing low, time to move on

Light years in time, ahead of our time

Free your mind and come fly

With me, it's hip on the mothership groovin'

For centuries the pyramids have been regarded as structures so great and awe-inspiring, many believed they must have been built by aliens. For humans to have done it seemed improbable - for non-white human impossible. Yet here they are, the Black community, reclaiming the grandeur of human history.

The Mothership Connection can finally restore the forgotten and broken memory of the Black community. We go back to the ancestral mothership, back to the freedom of the fundamentally Black sound of funk.

We have already been called to "hit" Starchild earlier, and to "hit" the band - which we can do musically, but also literally. The hint back to the brutality of the traumatic memory of slavery becomes transformed into "hitting it" with funk and regaining freedom through music. This second time, with Starchild here, we know we "have overcome for [he] is here." This is not a Bible quote, yet it almost could be - it carries at least the same sense of suffering and overcoming hardships as Moses's story ever could. So finally we, too, are liberated by the arrival of our messiah - and Starchild brings funk. 

 

Clipping.

American experimental hip hop group from LA consists of rapper Daveed Diggs, and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes.

Splendor & Misery (2016)

It represents a mix of futuristic sounds and hip hop. The album tells the story of an enslaved person, referred to as Cargo #2331, in the future in outer space.

Splendor & Misery.jpg

Cargo Ship

Perspective from the artificial intelligence (A.I.) within the cargo ship. Loaded with lots of cargo,  one of them is cargo #2331 - representing one slave on a slave ship. Not an individual person but a number, dehumanizing the enslaved person.

The cargo ship in Splendor & Misery represents the slave ship from the future: the A.I. (commander) as the slave-owner and the cargo as the enslaved person on the ship. 

"The Breach"

Generally operating normally

A small anomaly has become evident

And probably should be noted

There is spiking in the pulse of a member of the cargo

And the crew and other passengers have not begun to notice

The docility you certainly have taken steps to cultivate

For all intents and purposes would totally accept it

But the readings that are coming through

While not negating wholly the hypothesis

Seem to be unable to suggest it

 
(...)

Now: one specifically is up and moving to the door
He has found the access panel situated in the floor
He is entering the codes and overriding has begun
Reading rage in the nervous system, nothing can be done
It seems to circumvent necessity of physical restraints
Send security immediately over to the gate
And remember that these beings were selected for their strength
You should arm yourself accordingly in order to be safe

The first indication of the "cargo" showing deviant behavior from the rest of the ship cargo.  From the perspective (as Diggs raps)  from an on-board computer on a space ship, as an enslaved human (protagonist) being shipped as cargo unexpectedly begins attempting to break out of the cargo hold. The deviant behavior of the enslaved person is represented as "small anomaly":

  • stepping out of the mass is perceived as dangerous.

The enslaved people are represented as "these beings" - portraying them as animals/objects - who are dangerous, powerful, and a threat to anyone around them. 

  • animalistic representation

  • one should defend oneself in order to protect the "planet" or the other members of the ship.

  • reinforces the notion of enslaved people as goods/cargo brought to America to work (as a machine). 

Different meanings of "All Black Everything":
Here, it gives the sense of a lo ss of control from the mothership: everything is black and without any signal to earth or other galaxies, i.e. they are off course/lost their course.

"All back everything" again is ambiguous. During the song's progression, the "mantra" expresses different meanings: Here, it first refers to the endless space, but in other places, it represents fear, loneliness, doubt, amnesia, sleep.

A shift happened during the enslaved person's control of the mothership. 
In contrast to the beginning, the AI of the ship is now sending messages that anyone coming to stop the protagonist should turn around, otherwise they be killed.

  • declares its allegiance to the protagonist 

  • the ship has fallen in love with the enslaved person

  • The AI’s protection saves his life but also dooms him to isolation. Thus, it is “all black everything.”

Is the enslaved person's destiny fixed?

"All Black"

Warning: mothership reporting

Cargo number 2331 has commandeered the vessel

Warning: mothership reporting

Cargo number 2331 is armed and he is dangerous

Warning: mothership reporting

Cargo number 2331 is setting a new course

Warning: mothership reporting

Mothership reporting:
 

All black everything

All black everything

All black everything

All black
(...)

 

(All black everything)

He shouts at the dark, stands back

Counting the seconds before his voice returns

(All black everything)

No more cracks in the hull

The small crack in the skull healed up quickly, now it is

(All black everything)

The space stretches on and the pace that he's on

Matters not as he hurtles into the

(All black everything)

He repeats it at night with the lights out in his cot crying soft curses into the

(All black everything, all black everything)

(All black everything, all black)
 

Something within this one's different

The others died so easily and he is so persistent

He never did bleed out and fever couldn't kill his system

Though it was pumped through all the vents

In the event of a total loss of control

He quotes Kendrick's "Control" verse and spews his vitriol

Into the echoes of the bowels of this floating metal hull

(…)

 

Warning: mothership reporting

This will be the last report, turn back, everything is fine

Warning: mothership reporting

Cargo number 2331 is not a danger, let him be

Warning: mothership reporting

If you continue to pursue there will be no choice but to destroy you

Warning: mothership reporting

This love will be defended at all costs, do not fuck with it.

All black everything
All black everything
(...)

From the perspective of the mothership. The A.I. is no longer in control of the vessel.  Instead, the enslaved person is now in charge of the ship and sets a new course -> by changing the course of the ship, he actively tries to change his own destiny.

When converted from hexadecimal to ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange - encoding standard for electronic communication) cargo number #2331 becomes #1 

  • referring to the one survivor of the uprising. 

As the ship's wounds heal, so do the enslaved person's wounds on his skull caused during the fight/revolt. This might indicate that they have some sort of dependency or relation to each other. 

Resistance and control: The ship’s AI has watched Cargo 2331 survive the injuries and illness that have killed everyone else on the ship. Image of "the chosen one"
"Through all the vents": defense mechanism from the mothership to keep the enslaved people under control > this alludes to the rules and practices implemented by the slave owners.
"Kendrick's..." Dual meaning:  

  • The control position in which the protagonist is in now. 

  • And the fact that he quotes lyrics from the past hints at the possibility that he moved forward in time and space.

Reference to Lupe Fiasco's "All Black Everything"

The song tells the story about slave ships and racism, wondering what a world without it would have been like, and is a manifestation of African pride (referring to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, etc. ).

Links to Clipping's "All Black"  as it presents the theme of the enslaved person on his journey into "the black", escaping a world of discrimination and racism. 
 

You would never know
If you could ever be 
If you never try 
You would never see 
Stayed in Africa 
We ain't never leave 
So there were no slaves in our history 
Were no slave ships, were no misery, call me crazy, or isn't he 
See I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything.

 

Uh, and we ain't get exploited
White man ain't feared it so he did not destroy it
We ain't work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it
Constitution written by W.E.B. Du Bois
Were no reconstructions, civil war got avoided
Little black sambo grows up to be a lawyer
Extra extra on the news stands
Black woman voted head of Ku Klux Klan
Malcolm Little dies as an old man
Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him
Followed by Bill O'Reilly who read from the Quran
President Bush sends condolences from Iran
Where Fox News reports live

We Who Are About To...is the title of a feminist science fiction novel by Joanna Russ.

The unnamed protagonist of the book is stranded with a small group of people on an alien planet. She is forced to kill all other survivors to defend herself against rape. Like Cargo number 2331, she is left alone, becoming increasingly philosophical. Eventually, weak from hunger, she resolves to kill herself.

Continuing the gangster-rap-in-space theme of the song, Diggs references how, in gang culture, it’s vital to be aware of what neighborhood you are in at all times. Here, the neighborhood is a solar system. 

A reference to Octavia E. Butler’s sci-fi series: “Lilith’s Brood”. The Oankali rescue the last remaining humans on Earth after a nuclear war. They make Earth habitable and in exchange want to interbreed with humans to create a hybrid human-Oankali race.

Butler Xenogenesis.jpg

"Air 'Em Out"

The song re-imagines the genre of gangsta rap for the futurist sci-fi world in which this album is set, weaving in numerous references to classic science fiction, including the works of Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, and Samuel R. Delany.

Shoulda made the noose a little tighter

Cause it ain't nobody dead, yeah
(...)

 

We who are about to bang them drums (Bang)

Beatin' on a dead body ridin' shotgun

Talkin' that shit, bitch bite your tongue
(...)

See that ship over your city, better run, run

(...) 
 

Your war is like a board game where he come from

Already bored, claiming your gang, "Pyong!" go the gun
(...) 

Boy, he on some other shit, check your solar system bitch

Don't let a motherfucker catch you sleepin' at the wrong sun (Wrong sun) Son the haters, send 'em into orbit

Higher than these motherfuckers claiming it's they purpose

 

Try to play a killer soft like silk (Salt)

Ol' Frelk ass gotta pay for the milk

Lies high off these lows when they step up in the party

Where they got up in they o's like some fuckin' Oankalis

So it's whips and chains, that's they game

Like it was in bulk, back when a mack could slang

With his partners tryna make his fuckin' name in the traps

All the way from Panshekara to the Kefahuchi tract 

Whatcha gon' do about it? Ain't nothin' new about it

Shoulda made the noose a little tighter

Cause it ain't nobody dead, just some muhfuckin' riders

Air 'em out (Let 'em breathe) Air 'em out (Got the fire!)

Air 'em out (Wanna see?) Air 'em out (No!)

Shoulda made the noose a little tighter

Cause it ain't nobody dead, just some muhfuckin' riders 

In this song: both Cargo #2331 bragging about not being dead and romanticizing the idea of dying because he’s not sure his life all alone on the ship is really worth living.

Shifting from terrestrial gangsta rap imagery to a futuristic galactic sphere.  

In clipping.’s Afrofuturistic set trip, you look up to see the narrator’s ship over your city and know you’re in trouble in some kind.

mixing in a laser gun onomatopoeia between references to UFOs and solar systems takes it from the street to the stars.

Panshekara is a Nigerian town, whereas the Kefahuchi tract is the setting of a science fiction trilogy by M. John Harrison. 

  • The main character moved all the way from a small town in Africa to a different space & time.  

Even in the distant future, we still have racism and slavery.
The noose evokes the image of lynching. The singer is effectively saying that they should have killed him, instead of leaving him alive to lead a revolt on the slave ship.

 

Black Panther

...catapulted Afrofuturism far into the mainstream. With its imagined Wakanda, it offers an entirely new, highly-developed and imaginative space in and through which African Black people become "the definition of the future."
However, Ta-Nehisi Coates takes off into vaster expanses: In his Black Panther comic series, a group of Wakandans leaves behind the planet steeped in a history of horrors committed against Black people and travels into space to create their own home, on their own terms. They found  the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda - where their claim to imperial rule is resisted by The Rebels a.k.a. The Maroons, as well as legendary T'Challa himself.

Black Panther 1.jpg

Black Panther: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda 

The first two volumes tell the story of our protagonist as he goes from resisting being an enslaved worker for the empire, being rescued by the Maroons, becoming their strongest fighter and, after they suffer a loss and withdraw for a period of time, finally takes back his place as the legendary T'Challa - fighting against the Empire, for the freedom of the galaxies, and for his own memories. 

Memory and Identity

...is an important theme in Black Panther. T'Challa's memories are stolen when he is captured by the Empire. Without them, who is he? 

Leadership
Leadership

The Maroons can only be led by a nameless - a person whose name and identity was stolen in the slavery system of the empire. Voices, identity, and power must be returned and supported, rather than overshadowed by those whose privilege naturally grants them positions of power.

press to zoom
"Your memories are knowledge!"
"Your memories are knowledge!"

Appropriation of stolen knowledge can build entire empires, while simultaneously robbing its most oppressed from their memories, history, and the community that makes resistance possible.

press to zoom
Ownership and Space
Ownership and Space

"You have nothing - least of all your own lives," says The Manifold. He speaks with many voices - the dominant language, the multitude of powerful voices of the oppressor, the coloniser. And if revolutions are always tied to land, so is ownership. To have your own space, one where you belong and where your identity can be rooted is not only ownership of land, but ownership of yourself.

press to zoom
Leadership
Leadership

The Maroons can only be led by a nameless - a person whose name and identity was stolen in the slavery system of the empire. Voices, identity, and power must be returned and supported, rather than overshadowed by those whose privilege naturally grants them positions of power.

press to zoom
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The material on this page was compiled, created, and arranged by Monika Ciemiega and Serena Nicolaci. 

Complete bibliography and list of references.