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Jake Blount Presents: Afrofuturism

Jake Blount Presents: Afrofuturism
Jake Blount Presents: Afrofuturism | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

The concept of Afrofuturism is central to Jake Blount's The New Faith album. In this playlist, Blount shares some of the Afrofuturistic music and sounds that spark his creativity. Below, read a Q&A with Blount about Afrofuturism and his new album.

Apple Music

Listen on Pandora here.

Smithsonian Folkways: Your take on Afrofuturism is very unique, taking us to a new, post-climate change society who still have this reverence for the songs of their past. How did you come to this vision?

Jake Blount: I consider myself a performer of traditional Black folk music. My previous releases, Reparations and Spider Tales, delved into historical performance styles and updated them for the present. The New Faith, though grounded in the oldest traditional material I've yet worked with, depicts the traditional Black music of the future; though many seem to perceive it as a dramatic departure from my earlier work, I consider it to be the logical next step. One of the more powerful things about being immersed in folk music is knowing that you're part of an artistic lineages that spans centuries into the past, and indefinitely into the future. I saw how the COVID-19 pandemic forced changes in my musical practice, and the practices of my peers, and I began to wonder how our tradition will eventually cope with more radical challenges that seem increasingly difficult to avoid. That exploration turned into The New Faith.

SF: What are some of the Afrofuturist works & authors that inspire you creatively?

JB: N.K. Jemisin and Octavia Butler are my two favorite authors, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with their work. Lately, I find parallels between Butler's books and my own work more and more often. For example: I believe that many of the old songs I work with have messages that often go unrecognized by modern audiences. Spider Tales was a deliberate attempt to take the pain, grief and terror of those old songs into myself, and channel those ancient emotions into my own time period. It was nearly two years later that I read Octavia Butler's Kindred, in which a Black woman repeatedly skips through time and space from her native year of 1976 to a pre-Civil War plantation. She is subjected to the same horrors as a distant foremother, and is pulled back to the present bearing those wounds. The parallels were too strong to ignore.

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower was the direct inspiration for The New Faith. Imagining the future that awaits future generations has tended to be paralyzing rather than galvanizing for me. Although I chose to examine a different time period than Butler - and likely a different timeline and universe altogether - her work showed me the way into that kind of imagining. Focusing on the lives and experiences of individuals and small communities rather than humanity as a whole makes the future possible to manage.

SF: Tell us about a few of your playlist selections!

JB: Flash Light by Parliament is a classic in my household - we always used to have dance parties to that song. I don't think anyone knew what it was about at the time, but it's always been a part of my life!

Janelle Monáe has a couple songs on there. They might have been my first introduction to Afrofuturism - I remember when Tightrope dropped back in my sophomore year of high school, and all the queer kids huddled around someone's laptop to watch them tightrope down the asylum hallway with their tuxedo and pomp. I've loved all her albums, and enjoyed The Memory Librarian as well - but the Metropolis series has my heart for sure.

SF: What is the meaning of breaking the album into the Psalms of the Sentinel, Gravedigger, and Teacher?

JB: I started the album by choosing songs that felt topical. A little more than halfway into assembling the repertoire, I realized that the songs fell into three categories by subject matter. One of those categories had three songs, and so I added songs to the other two to match. I landed on three groups of three songs each. That seemed to suggest that the ritual depicted on the album might itself be a tripartite event, and I chose to let that implied structure dictate the type and quantity of spoken material on the album. In other words: the album decided to break itself into three parts! All I had to do was name them, and guide the listener from one to the next.

SF: What was it about the setting of Maine that was inspiring for The New Faith?

JB: I had the idea that people in the South would be fleeing northward in search of arable land and milder weather when things got into full swing, climate-wise. I thought about how the majority-white states of New England would likely respond to an influx of refugees, and the conclusions were clear. When white people decide where to put Black and brown people, they give us the least livable land available - if they give us any at all. Any study of the placement of reservations within the United States will tell you that - as will examining the population of severely polluted areas like Louisiana's Cancer Alley. The islands off the coast of New England will be devastated by climate change-enhanced nor'easters in the years to come - we already see that happening on some of them. It seemed logical to me that the wealthy white folks who currently maintain vacation homes on those islands would largely abandon them due to rising sea levels and storm damage - and that those empty, near-unlivable islands would make ideal refugee camps.

SF: What do you hope people will take away after listening to your new record?

JB: Honestly, I'm not sure. The album was meant to be exploratory rather than didactic; I'm not sure there's a specific message, or lesson to be learned. It's one potential future to reflect upon. If that reflection casts an unflattering light on our own actions and decisions, then perhaps it might inspire change.