MBE June 10: Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman, and the Afrofuturist punk of ‘Neptune Frost’

Today we’ve got not one but two greats gracing us with their presence in the MBE studio: Musician, poet, and multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams and actress, playwright, and cinematographer Anisia Uzeyman. The duo have teamed up on the Afrofuturist sci-fi punk musical “Neptune Frost,” which you can and should catch in theaters now. Set in the hilltops of Burundi, the film follows a group of escaped coltan miners who form an anti-colonialist computer hacker collective as they attempt a takeover of the authoritarian regime exploiting the region's natural resources – and its people. 

After ten years spent making the film, Williams and Uzeyman join us to discuss the project’s culmination and its riveting soundscape, glowing as if fresh from a tropical vacay (but really coming straight from a mini-East Coast press tour) and appropriately basking in the positive reception Neptune Frost has already generated. From the LA Times to the NY Times, critics across the board are in agreement that the film is a visually and sonically striking achievement. 

“I’ve always questioned, when are we gonna hear 808s in a musical?” Williams says. “When are we going to have something that reflects the musical palette that we hear in the night club, or on Morning Becomes Eclectic, in a musical? This film was intended to bring that to life.” 

The duo’s process behind the complex work involved assembling a team to build sets on site and working with local actors and poets to translate text and dialogue from English into Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, and French. To showcase the diversity of language spoken in Burundi, Williams and Uzeyman play us a couple of the standout tracks from the film: The dreamy “Binary Stars” and a song titled “Mbere y'Intambara (Before The War),” sung in Kinyarwanda by the iconic and beloved Rwandan singer Cecile Kayirebwa, who makes her screen debut in “Neptune Frost” at the age of 75. 

We also discuss the effect of Burundian rhythms on post-punk (connecting dots between “Les Tambours du Burundi” and Tears for Fears), Williams’ sources of inspiration (from “Black Orpheus” to the Bollywood classic “Disco Dancer”), and Uzeyman’s personal discovery of perseverance. They say their hope is for “Neptune Frost” to have an everlasting life, like that of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but above all for everyone to feel invited into the film, to spark imagination, to uplift, to empower, and perhaps even get you dancing in the theater. “Neptune Frost” is now playing in LA at Laemmle theaters, where you can also catch Williams and Uzeyman doing Q&As for the next two nights.

Today we also honor Julie Cruise, an incredible singer and collaborator of David Lynch who tragically passed away this morning the age of 65. Her voice set a mood, tone, and scene, whether it was on the soundtrack of “Twin Peaks” or with the B-52s. We celebrate Cruise’s magic with her 1989 release (and personal request of Lynch), “The World Spins.”





Anna Chang