Afro-Futurism and the Young Lions

As we head towards the 1980s and the ways that the Young Lions attempted to reestablish the jazz tradition by skipping over the Avant-Garde, fusion, and other styles that flourished in the late 1960s and 1970s, I thought it might be useful to also point to the ways that they also transformed the aesthetic choices associated with Afro-Futurism. As we have discussed, Afro-Futurism isn’t limited to jazz. As scholarship has shown over the last 10 years, it has only expanded (see the special issue of the Journal for the Society of American Music as well as a special issue of Social Text, both edited by professors currently at Columbia University). More recently, Ken McLeod published an article on Afro-Futurism and music of the 1970s.

After the 1970s, however, the aesthetics of Afro-Futurism are replaced by other priorities. Some can locate the remains of the flamboyant excesses of ’70s Afro-Futurism in the video for Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” (1983) as plain old futurism, with its emphasis on robotics at the expense of showing living people.

In contrast, many of the Young Lions sought to redefine jazz as the music of sophistication. Wynton Marsalis, for example, spent much of the 1980s and ’90s recording classical albums.

He also won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for his jazz oratorio, Blood on the Fields.

Other musicians, such as Wynton’s brother, Branford, embraced ’80s rock and hip-hop aesthetics through their collaborations with mainstream pop acts. As you can hear, those aesthetics are rather distant from the energy that permeates much of the fusion music of the 1970s. Where have all of the synthesizers gone?


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