Louis Chude-Sokei is a Nigerian-Jamaican- American writer and scholar at the University of Seattle, Washington. In this episode, he discusses the music culture surrounding Nigeria’s internet scammers (known as “Yahoozees”), his own experience as a black immigrant in Los Angeles’ Inglewood neighborhood during the era of NWA, and the way blackface performance is perceived outside the U.S. He’s the author of The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black-on- Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Duke University, 2006), which examines the life of Bert Williams, a top vaudeville performer-- a black blackface performer-- and one of the most famous entertainers of his era.
His new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (Wesleyan, 2015), tackles the complex relationships between blackness, robotics, and technology. In this way, the book is in conversation with Afrofuturism. First coined by the cultural critic Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is a growing field of art, music, and academic scholarship which finds its roots in sci-fi imagery in black culture: Sun Ra, George Clinton, Octavia Butler, and Samuel R. Delaney. Afrofuturism seeks to find alternates to the current sometimes harrowing circumstances of contemporary black life through imagined futures and emergent possibilities. Its expression is visible in the work of Janelle Monae, producer Flying Lotus, and rap duo Shabazz Palaces.
In his conversation with Ben Bush for the Organist, Chude-Sokei emphasizes the emerging field’s pre-20th century roots as well as non-US aspects that have until now fallen outside the critical paradigm related to Afrofuturism—from PT Barnum’s black cyborg to the metaphysical echo of instrumental dub reggae.
A playlist based on songs discussed in this episode (and in The Sound of Culture)
Louis Chude-Sokei on Joice Heth, PT Barnum’s black cyborg
Bina48 on the Organist
Interview by Ben Bush.
Produced by Mickey Capper.