BAMBDFEST is a multi-day festival in celebration of the Black Arts Movement Business District and Black arts, culture, and economics in Oakland, CA. The month-long festival in was established in February 2019, produced by the Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc. in collaboration with BAMBD, CDC, and funded by a Creative California Communities grant from the California Arts Council and is under the artistic direction of Dr. Ayodele Nzinga.
The Festival will consist of public performances by theater artists, musicians, dancers, comics, poets, youth groups and town legends. It will feature an eclectic mix of free and paid arts events, gallery installations, vendors, arts & crafts, public symposiums, and more that showcase the best of Oakland’s vibrant artistry. The festival will engage Oakland artists, arts venues, businesses, and the public in a massive celebration of Oakland, and the history and importance of the rich contributions of The Black Arts Movement to the State of California and the world beyond.
BAMBDFEST 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic is pivoting to online platforms.
We are committed to supporting artists, direct service providers, small businesses, our community members through the powerful medium of art and cultural production. We are committed to economic development and dedicated to offering opportunities to artisans, craftspeople, content creators, community-based organizations, community organizers and entrepreneurs to celebrate and participate in Oakland’s only officially declared arts district in the most ambitious cultural event of the year.
Interested in sponsoring BAMDFEST events or participating as an artists, vendor, or a supported please visit our website and use the contact us form.
Afrofuturism 101: Intro to Afrofuturism
By Eric K. Arnold
“Let’s travel at magnificent speeds around the universe” — Rakim Allah
Afrofuturism is defined by Wikipedia as a “cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African diaspora culture with technology.”
That’s pretty sufficient as a technical definition, yet it doesn’t begin to unpack any of those terms. A little more context is needed: one way to think of Afrofuturism’s cultural aesthetic is the blending of tradition and technology, from an Afro-Diasporic perspective. This encompasses everything from music, to literature, to visual art, to cinema, television, and animation.
A few examples: Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters album (1973), which connected tribalism with advanced technology in a musical context; Afro-house producer Osunlade, whose Orisha-affirming recordings turn dancefloors into ritual spaces; hip-hop artists ranging from Afrika Bambaataa and the SoulSonic Force to Jonzun Crew to Rakim and Kool Keith, whose music follows in the Afro-Diasporic folkloric tradition while embracing technoculture and, sometimes, space-influenced or cosmological themes. Jamaican dubmasters like King Tubby, Prince Jammy, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Scientist have sometimes been identified with Afrofuturism; Scientist notably had a series of albums with space-themed titles, but the reference implies that the aesthetic of dub music is in itself Afrofuturistic.
The Black sci-fi field includes Sun Ra’s film and soundtrack, “Space Is the Place” (1974) — shot in Oakland, California — novels by Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany, and, most recently, the major motion picture “Black Panther,” which centered around a fictional African kingdom which has developed advanced technology, yet still practices ancient religions and established cultural practices. Some other examples might be Lt. Uhura in the original “Star Trek,” Lt. Geodi LaForge from “Star Trek: the New Generation,” the Lawrence Fishburne and Whoopi Goldberg characters in the “Matrix” trilogy, Billy Dee Williams and John Boyega’s characters in the Star Wars saga, and even Yaphet Kotto in the first “Alien” movie. The groundbreaking anime series “Cowboy Bebop” could also be seen as Afrofuturist-tinged — its soundtrack mashes up jazz and hip-hop, and a few minor characters are depicted as being Black.
The operative idea that Black people exist in the future is an obvious reaction to the historical exclusion of this demographic from many classic science-fiction movies and novels. Besides being — one of Afrofuturism’s main tenets, it also begs the question, why wouldn’t there be Black folks in the future?
The works of Jean-Michel Basqiuat are often cited as examples of an Afrofuturist aesthetic in visual art, but while Basquiat may be the most-recognized by the mainstream art world, he’s far from the only one to carry this theme. Futuristic concepts have been explored by thousands of aerosol-based artists over the past half-century, including (but not limited to) hip-hop pioneers Phase 2, Doze Green, Lee Quinones, Futura 2000, and Vulcan. SF-based artist Dug One, who comes from an aerosol background, illustrated the animated film “Wave Twisters,” which features many futuristic/sci-fi concepts.
Afrofuturism was introduced as a term in 1993 by author Mark Dery, but, obviously, it’s existed for far longer — perhaps even as far back as ancient Kemetic and Nubian civilizations whose religious practices incorporated many of what we would call scientific principles today: astronomy, astrology, geodetics, algebra, and advanced geometry.
Since the coining of the term, it’s since developed into schools of thought and “waves” of Afrofuturists (similar to how feminism is categorized by generations). Where it gets tricky is that, in a broad sense, Afrofuturism doesn’t just include works and practices developed by Black people, it can also include works influenced by an Afrofuturistic aesthetic — like the Art of Noise’s “Beat Box.” What some see as the co-option of Afrofuturism by non-Black people has led, in fact, to a sub-classification called “Black Futurists.”
Another point which needs to be made is that many ideas which have been codified as Afrofutrurist came out of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) — of which Sun Ra was a co-founder (along with Amiri Baraka and Marvin X). BAM went on to become a seminal influence on various aspects of culture for ensuing generations. It had direct influence on funk and jazz-fusion, and an indirect but impactful influence on hip-hop. If one were to try to distill the Afrofuturistic ideas of bAM into a credo, it would probably go a little something like this: Black liberation and creative self-expression can be empowered by the intentional embracing of technology.
This isn’t just aspirational language, as the opposite has shown itself to be true through the racial disproportionality of the digital divide, and how lack of access to technology can be a major limitation to education and opportunity in an Information Age. Thankfully, in recent years we have seen this credo upheld — not just through musicians, producers, and filmmakers, but also through the push to desegregate the tech industry with initiatives like Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, and the Afro-Tech conference. All of which can be described as literal applications of Afrofuturism in a practical and tangible context.
Afrofuturism 201: The Jazz-Funk-Hip-Hop Continuum
By Eric K. Arnold
Miles’ Davis’ 1970 album Bitches Brew is often cited as a starting point for jazz fusion, a genre which expanded beyond the traditional parameters of jazz, creating a sonic pastiche of musical and cultural alchemy.
But Bitches Brew is also a flashpoint for an Afrofuturist cultural continuum which has developed over the past 50 years. The album itself changed the course of music and was undoubtedly a visionary undertaking. Songs like “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Pharaoh’s Dance” seemed to have been brought into existence from a parallel universe, one in which music was fluid, amorphous and not necessarily beholden to conventional limitations or traditional song structure. One particularly innovative technique employed on the album was the featuring of two separate drummers and pianists on each stereo channel.
Among other things, the album highlighted the contributions of several key sidemen: keyboardist Joe Zawinul, guitarist John McLaughlin, and drummer Billy Cobham. All three would go on to helm their own bands and become leaders of the fusion movement, with Zawinul forming Weather Report — who later added virtuoso bassist Jaco Pastorius — and McLaughlin heading up the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Bitches Brew was followed by a live double album, Miles Davis at the Fillmore, which not only blurred the lines between rock and jazz, but set the stage for Davis’ next studio album, the ambitiously-experimental, densely-layered On the Corner. Initially poorly received, it has since been acknowledged as a highly influential album, not only in terms of musical direction, but also for its advanced (for the time) production techniques, which included multitracking, overdubbing, tape-cutting, and the use of an electric sitar (foreshadowing the interconnections between world music, jazz and pop which would become common over the next several decades).
Among the On the Corner sidemen were keyboardist Herbie Hancock and percussionist James Mtume. Mtume would go on to make the song “Juicy” which was later sampled by and became a breakout hit for rapper Notorious B.I.G., while Hancock would link with Bay Area-based musicians the Headhunters for a series of albums which took jazz-fusion to new heights in terms of commercial success and global awareness.
Hancock’s 1973 album Headhunters revitalized jazz as a commercial genre and popularized synth-bass with the song “Chameleon.” Another song on the album, a remake of Hancock’s own “Watermelon Man,” embodies the “tribal jazz” aesthetic with percussive whistles, a loping bassline, and chukka-chukk rhythm guitar, framed around jazz chording. That song was later sampled by Supercat on the “Dolly My Baby” remix. Hancock would go on to make several more albums featuring the Headhunters, including Thrust and Flood — which also featured Afrofuturist cover art.
The following year, 1974, Sun Ra released the movie and soundtrack to “Space Is
The Place,” a cult classic which has become an iconic template for the Afrofuturist ethos. The plot concerns a time-travelling jazz musician who transverses from 1940s Chicago to 1970s Oakland, playing high-stakes Tarot with a demonic antagonist named Teddy Overseer, while planning to mobilize a chosen group of Black folks for an extraterrestrial voyage on a spaceship. “Space Is the Place” would later be appropriated by electro-boogie group the Jonzun Crew as a song title, while Sun Ra’s identification with Kemetic (Egyptian) cultural motifs would later be paralleled by a slew of hip-hop artists, from Hieroglyphics to Nas.
In 1975, Parliament released the album Mothership Connection, whose title track reimagined the traditional gospel chant, “swing down sweet chariot” as a call for a pick up by a galactic cruiser. The album became not just a funk classic but also a sonic template for what would become hip-hop. The vocal phrase “let me ride” became the title of a hit single and video for Dr. Dre on 1993’s The Chronic; another hit from the album, “Give Up the Funk,” has been sampled dozens of times, by Snoop Dogg, MC Hammer, Method Man & Redman, and many others.
Sci-fi themes were also prevalent on the two Parliament albums which followed: 1976’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and 1977’s Funketelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome. “Dr. Funkenstein” — about a mad but funky scientist who makes funky clones in a secret laboratory — has been sampled at least 30 times, by De La Soul, Ice Cube, Too Short, and others. The biggest hit single on Funkentelechy, “Flashlight,” echoed Hancock’s “Chameleon” with a synth bassline played by Bernie Worrell, which lent the song its futuristic sound.
Throughout the 70s, soul, funk and jazz-funk artists often embodied Afrofuturist tropes, among them radical self-awareness and cosmic spirituality. Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1977 album All & All featured a gatefold cover — the front paid homage to Kemetic imagery, including a large pyramid, but on the back cover, flying spaceships and a futuristic scene are clearly visible.
Jazz-funk impresario Lonnie Liston Smith built up a solid body of work which often explored inner space, from “Astral Travelling” to “Expansions,” while Roy Ayers’ “The Third Eye” and “Red Black and Green” show that the legacy of the Black Arts Movement continued in the cultural expression of Black artists. The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Planetary Citizen” is recognized as a classic breakbeat, while Pastorius and Hancock’s “4 AM”elevated funk to a level of unmatched technical precision.
The influence of Afrofuturism further extends to musical genres and styles which emerged in the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s. The popularity of synth-bass and the advent of technology like electronic drums, sequencers, samplers, vocoders, and talkboxes led directly to such genres as electofunk, techno. hip-hop, house, Miami bass, and freestyle. It’s fairly easy to draw a line connecting the dots between Cybotron’s “Clear,” Zapp & Roger’s “More Bounce to the Ounce,” Ronnie Hudson’s “West Coast Poplock,” Orbit’s “The Beat Goes On,” K-Rob & Rammellzee’s “Beat Bop,” and Spoonie G & the Treacherous Three’s “The New Rap Language.”
By the time hip-hop gained mass popularity, in the mid-80s, Afrofuturistic concepts were firmly embedded into its DNA. Early hip-hop often reveled in its appropriation of technology, from the Furious Five naming the “beat box” used by Grandmaster Flash, to the pioneering use of the detuned 808 bass drum on “Planet Rock,” to Mantronik’s experimentation with the 808, 909, and 707, to Spyder-D calling out the Emulator and Linn drum on “Placin’ the Beat” to Grandmaster Flash’s analog turntable sampling on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.”
These giant steps led to further evolution from producers like Ced Gee, Marley Marl, and DJ Premier, who perfected the techniques of looping, chopping, and cutting samples which have now become canonized in rap and electronic music.
In the post-hip-hop landscape, the world envisioned by the early adopters of Afrofuturism has become smaller and more intersectional. The use of the electric sitar on Bitches Brew makes for a direct line of connection to the Southeast Asian rhythms incorporated by Missy Elliot and Punjabi MC, and finds parallels in the fusing of North African traditional music with modern production by MC Rai and Cheb I Sabbah . If there is such a thing as post-Afrofuturist sensibility, it can be found in the music of Massive Attack, who deploy an array of techniques built up over the years, from exotic rhythms, to use of ambient space and texture, to blending samples and live instruments, to mashing up genres — creating, in effect, a futuristic sound which exists in the present moment.
But for how long? After all, one thing about the future we know is, while it may be tethered to the past, it is constantly evolving forward.