The "Robot Voodoo Power" thesis: Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith

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Rollefson, J. Griffith
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Center for Black Music Research - Columbia College Chicago and University of Illinois Press
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In the 1990s the term Afrofuturism emerged to describe a vein of science fiction inspired artistic production that repositions black subjects in a purportedly race free future that is nonetheless coded as white. While ostensibly about the future, Afrofuturism in fact works dialectically with an equally overwritten past to critique the reified distance between racialized fictions of black magic and white science. This study examines this dialectic by focusing on three Afrofuturist musicians: the experimental jazz bandleader Sun Ra, the funk bandleader George Clinton, and the hip hop artist MC Kool Keith. Using the concepts of Ra’s myth-science, Clinton’s P-Funk, and Keith’s robot voodoo power, the article tracks a historical continuity of collapsing fictions of both past and future in Afrofuturist music. Following from Paul Gilroy’s discussion of the unsatisfactory nature of the two critical positions most commonly taken with regard to black identity—the essentialist and anti-essentialist arguments—the article proposes that such Afrofuturist constructions reflect strategic versions of what Gilroy refers to as anti-anti-essentialism. The robot voodoo power thesis thus recognizes in Afrofuturism a dialectical third way out of the double binds and unproductive debates about racial essence and non-essence.
Voodoo , African American culture , Soul music , Parliaments , Funk , Subjectivity , Robots , Science fiction , Universalism , Narratives
Rollefson, J. G. (2008) ‘The "Robot Voodoo Power" thesis: Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith’, Black Music Research Journal, 28(1), pp. 83-109.