OPINION: What is Afrofuturism?

What is Afrofuturism? / Held at Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday 24th SeptemberWords by Juice Aleem

*Juice Aleem will be organising & hosting the AfroFlux – what is Afrofuturism? event as part of the B-Side Hip Hop Festival, free to attend at the Hippodrome on Saturday 24th September.  For more info, click here.*

You may have heard the term ‘Afrofuturism’ being thrown about a lot in recent years. And if not it’s been behind the scenes in many of your favourite music videos and sci-fi films.

In its purest explanation it’s simply a way of seeing Black people in the future. A future that too often forecasts an image with little to no melanated peoples: A way to escape the drudgery of the traditional all white male winning all the time narrative and it’s far more sinister real life big brothers of racism, sexism and colonialism.

Even groundbreaking TV projections such as the original Star Trek, only had Lt Nyota Uhura and Lt Hikaru Sulu as leading nonwhite characters. When yesterday has already been bleached of your presence the least one could expect is to see themselves somewhere in the tomorrow of a sci-fi TV show. After all, it’s not real is it? It’s just entertainment.

With the original peoples of many areas of the Earth slowly disappearing due to pollution, disease and warfare in this at times harsh real life of ours. We who have the will, creativity and ability, not only seek to protect our elder family, but project a tomorrow where our children are not hated or hunted for being of darker shade to what is deemed ‘mainstream’?

Today’s news and yesterday’s history books show a picture of Black and brown bodies being enslaved, beaten, choked, evicted, lynched, polluted, bombed and all-round disrespected. The today of this now has us in a place where Black women cannot go to school or work without being chastised for their natural hair and skin tones. And even then those same women are cursed again for bleaching and wearing hairstyles unalike their nature.

The mainstream media ask us to believe that Black, brown and poor people stab, shoot and even break their own backs once we come into contact with law enforcement. This is how the mainstream often presents Black people. Unless Juice Aleemsinging or playing ball there is often little way to swim out. Be basic or be invisible. This mainstream predicts a future with no Black people at all. Swimming through this tide towards freedom, a new way has had to be presented.

Afrofuturism is that new tomorrow. A blend of ancient myth and modern technology remixed to fit the future of those who travel it. There are many mainstream artists, activists and scholars who use its imagery and techniques but its peaks in the AvantJazz of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman are a great place to become initiated. Other spaces it inhabits include Dub Reggae and Electro. The elements that have been left us flood into films such as Blade and musicians like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The heroes of these pieces are left to be themselves and experiment without having to continually explain who and what they are.

Imagine Storm of the XMen, flying solo to save the day with the sonics of Public Enemy as the backdrop. If you can imagine that then you are at least a small part of the way to understanding what Afrofuturism is.

Juice Aleem will be organising & hosting the AfroFlux – what is Afrofuturism? event as part of the B-Side Hip Hop Festival, free to attend at the Hippodrome on Saturday 24th September. For more on AfroFlux – what is Afrofuturism? click here.

Juice Aleem is a Birmingham based rapper & producer. For more on Juice Aleem, click here.


BPREVIEW: B-Side Hip Hop Festival @ Hippodrome & various 23-25.09


Words by Ed King

Running for three days across the weekend, B-Side Hip Hop Festival comes to the Birmingham Hippodrome from Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th September.main-with-web-colour-bcg-lr

Presenting an ‘exciting weekend of talks, pop-up city centre performances, film, spoken word, workshops, D/VJ’s and graffiti artists’ much of the B-Side Hip Hop Festival is free to attend. Some workshops and performances will carry a cover charge – with tickets to the Masters of the Ceremony: Finale, held at The Patrick Centre (Hippodrome) on Sunday 25th Sept, priced at £10.

Some events at the B-Side Hip Hop Festival are also, arguably, more ‘hip hop’ than others, with an oddly ancillary approach to dance taking up a large chunk of the programme. But never fear, Birmingham Review has ploughed through the cacophony of culture (appropriated or otherwise) to cherry pick you a few maraschinos worth checking out if it all gets a bit middle class and muddled – see below.

break-mission-logo-web-colorFor more information direct from the Birmingham Hippodrome, including the full B-Side Hip Hop Festival event programme & online ticket sales, click here. But before that, cue wavy dream sequence… going back, distant, distant… dista…

Birmingham has always held a strong Hip Hop scene – whether it’s the Wu Tang Clan at the Que Club, De la Soul at the Medicine Bar/Factory (on a chuffing Monday) or Public Enemy in Moseley Park (…still, can’t, quite, believe…) the more respectable end of the spectrum has always had a warm second city welcome. And we grow our own too, with artists including Lady Leshurr, Soweto Kinch, Juice Aleem, TrueMendous, RTKal all hailing from these Brummie shores – alongside local labels such as Eatgood Records nurturing even more.

There’s longstanding regular club nights too, with Heducation giving it a fairly loud crack of the whip and Scratch Club still going strong – read our interview with the latter, including World DMC Champion Mr Switch, at this year’s City of Colours festival here. And god love us, but when you type ’50 Cents Birmingham’ into Google all you get  is a BBC News report about Mr Jackson cancelling a PA in Argos due to a domestic violence charge. Bling.

The Blueprint Gallery (Selly Oak) and City of Colours (…and breathe) have done superlative things for the city’s graffiti and street art scene too – gaining city wide and council respect for what was once called ‘Criminal Damage’. So all in all, the Birmingham’s in pretty good shape for a good old block party.

Meanwhile, back at the Hippodrome

the-conversationB-Side Welcome: The Hip Hop Conversation – 23.09.16
Hosted by Birmingham’s own MC, rapper and all round rocking hologram, Juice Aleem, the B-Side Hip Hop Festival opens its doors with ‘a conversation and Q&A that explores Birmingham’s independent and vibrant contribution to global hip hop culture’.

From its humble back street beginnings, to the Council endorsed landscape that we are beginning to boarder, The Hip Hop Conversation will include speakers and artists from Birmingham and much further beyond.

Throwing their two cents into the ring will be ‘Mouse, BOM 5 (NYC), Chief 69 (NYC), Psykomantus, Buddha Stretch, DJ Renegade, Focus and more’ – alongside you, the audience, with your eager arm held high. Plus it’s free, so get involved people. 8-11pm / The Old Rep / Free / For direct info & reservations, click here.


break-mission-x-just-jam-intl-16Break Mission x Just Jam Intl ’16 – 24 & 25.09.16
There’s almost too much here to surmise here, but I’ll try. It’s a dance off. Just imagine Jurassic 5 find a time machine, can’t work out the control pad, and end up next to Danny and Cha Cha at Rydell High. Cue the music…

With categories in Hip Hop, Break Dancing & Popping – alongside a range of ages, formats and prizes – qualifying rounds will be held from on Sat 24th at 11am to 7pm, in both The Patrick Centre and Reflex Bar . The big showdown will be held on Sun 25th at The Patrick Centre between 4:30-7pm. Plus there’s DJs. And live sets. And street celebrity hosts. And an afterparty… just click on the link. Admission is free, with the UK organisers – Break Mission – asking for non monetary donations in the form of food, clothes and apparel. All donations will then be redistributed to local charities.

Birmingham Review missed the Break Mission x Just Jam Intl 2015 at the Que Club last September, but we love the door entry idea. Plus the 2016 event is uber packed – with graffiti, food stalls, music and a load more for your no money. Win, win, spread the love, and win again. Held at various times & locations / For direct event info, click here.


afrofluxAfroflux – what is Afrofuturism? – 24.09.16
Hosted by Juice Aleem, who is having a somewhat busy weekend at B-Side, this ‘exploration of Afrofuturism and its many connections to the Hip Hop subculture’ will be a great chance to do just that. Find out what Afrofuturism means.

Running for a good 10hour stint, Afroflux will present speakers, live performances, DJs, film and a Q&A discussion – covering the multi faceted culture/sci-fi hybrid in many different forms. Juice Aleem is an engaging artist, with a book on Afrofuturism currently being tweaked for release; Afroflux looks like a promising introduction to anyone wanting to know more about this arena of art, culture and social constraints.

Click here for a short Afroflux introduction from Shantie TV, and watch out for Juice Aleem’s OPINION piece introducing Afrofuturism – published in Birmingham Review on Thursday 22nd September. 3:30pm – 2am / Hippodrome / Free / For direct info, click here.


sweat-the-techniqueSweat the Technique Workshops – 25.09.16
Following their early September workshops, festival partners Break Mission are offering three master classes for anyone wanting to add Breaking, Hip Hop or Popping to their dance floor portfolio.

So if you sit somewhere between Napoleon Dynamite and Carlton Banks, this could be a safer shortcut to cool than what those kids in leather jackets tell you about. Running simultaneously (because no one can be that cool) for three hours on the festival Sunday, each workshop will be led by ‘world class dancers’ in their genre: Focus (Breaking / Finland), Buddha Stretch (Hip Hop / USA), Hit Master Fish (Popping / USA). 10am to 1pm / Hippodrome / £15 per workshop / For direct info & bookings, click here.

B-Side Hip Hop Festival 2016


For more on the B Side Hip Hop Festival, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/b-side-hip-hop-festival

For more from the Birmingham Hippodrome, including the venue’s full programme & online ticket sales, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com

BREVIEW: The Flyover Show 2016 @ Hockley Circus (underneath Hockley Flyover) 20.08

The Flyover Show / By Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Words by Ed King / Pics by Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media)

For the full Flickr of pics, click here

One of the great things about The Flyover Show is the roof. Sounds odd, but as I stare out of my bathroom window at sheets of early morning rain knowing I’ll be spending the rest of the day with the B4100 as an urban canopy is somewhat of a comfort.

Luckily by lunchtime the skies have settled into a dry, battleship grey, with splashes of sun and good humour – archetypal English event weather. And as the background sounds of DJ Winchester welcome us on to the curiously effective event site, the concrete concourse that connects the underpasses of Hockley Circus (underneath the eponymous ‘flyover’) the day begins to take shape.Soweto Kinch @ The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham Review

Soweto Kinch’s ‘one-day festival of music, art & dance’ has been out of action since 2012, when around 6,000 people came through the Maxi Priest headlined line up, and it’s eventual return is both welcome and precarious.

A week is a long time in ‘small p’ politics, and to be off the funded event calendar for nearly half a decade is arguable suicide; the big thing hanging over The Flyover Show 2016 – other than two lanes of asphalt – is if it can win back its supremely supportive crowd.

Since its inaugural event in 2008 The Flyover Show has fostered a safe, friendly and diverse audience – with a clear mandate “challenging the preconceptions surrounding the area, showing that community and culture can thrive in all corners of our city’s heart.” But four years without a sound… if you build it again, will they come back?

Black Circle @ The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham ReviewThe first live performance comes from the six strings and sultry tones of Affie Jam – a local singer/songwriter with more to offer than most. Everyone’s giving it their all, on stage and off; as the line up unfurls The Flyover Show’s curator and creator – Soweto Kinch – parades the open event site with an infectious call to arms, like a mix between the pied piper and Mos Def.

The event doors have just opened and it’s a little thin on the ground, with most of the early birds perched on the slanted cobbles tones that adorn this accidental amphitheatre. Kinch marches on, it’s hard to ignore or resist; The Flyover Show has always relied on more than just bodies to fill out the empty pockets on site.

Black Circle kick start the full band performances, and introduce the first flavours of reggae that will culminate in this year’s headline – the legendary within certain circles guitarist, Ernest Ranglin.Call Me Unique @ The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham Review

Ranglin has an impressive portfolio, having played with many jazz and reggae greats, alongside running both Studio One and Island Records back in the days when you would really want those jobs. And at 83 the man is on his ‘Farewell Tour’ – playing a litany of high profile events including Glastonbury Festival, The Barbican, Montreux jazz festival, Istanbul Jazz Festival… and now The Flyover Show.

It’s a coup for Birmingham. But to see this artist at a free, community focused event (as opposed to a bank breaking bill at the Symphony Hall) is another feather in The Flyover Show’s cap.

As well as breaking the media myths Handsworth, Lozells and Hockley are so often hung drawn and quartered with, Soweto Kinch set up the annual event to “break down these constraints of culture and class, and brings world renowned acts right into the heart of our community.” With Ernest Ranglin headlining The Flyover Show 2016, this particular arrow has arguably never been closer to its mark.

Basil Gabbidon & band @ The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham ReviewCall Me Unique is next on stage, performing tracks from her soon to be released Urban Gypsy EP. Strong, confident and engaging, Call Me Unique is a solid performer – with a developed edge coming out in her new material.

The Flyover Show crowd, many of whom have grown up, with and around the Handsworth based singer/songwriter (Call Me Unique lives round the corner, and has done everything from street flyering to broadcast interviews to help promote The Flyover Show) and it’s another of the day’s welcome sights to see her on stage.

Call Me Unique’s set introduces a further series of local artists, including TrueMendous, Trope, RTKal, Deci4life and Juice Aleem – performing mainly hip hop focused sets, with rhyme and verse holding a firm grip over the growing audience (it’s heading into late afternoon and there’s about 700 people here now). Some technical difficulties bring the running order into sharp light, but allow for more on stage banter from the section of the line up with a closer bond to Birmingham. Shout outs are given, given back, and a feeling of warm familiarity flows on and off stage.

Eska Mtungwazi, or Eska for short, ushers in the headline acts – coming on stage as the late August light starts to dip into early evening. A stalwart performer, Eska’s rising balloon saw her as a highlight of the recent Mostly Jazz festival – with her sonorous delivery and rich melodies now rippling across concrete and crowd at The Flyover Show Ernest Ranglin @ The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham Review2016. It’s (she’s) pretty spectacular, and steps up the on stage flair in time for Basil Gabbidon and his band; brass and bright strings washing a wave of Birmingham reggae out across the crowd.

As Gabbidon and company strut through their set, it all gets a little carnival; with a mouth of pipping hot jerk chicken I join the dancing front rows. But as the lights on stage come up, and those above us come down, it’s time for the headline act – Ernest Ranglin has entered the building… well, municipal urban concourse, but you get the adage.

Dub riffs and decades of confidence ooze off stage, as the crowd dutifully drag themselves into the barriers and shoulder drop skank. I didn’t know about Ernest Ranglin before seeing him on the bill for The Flyover Show 2016, but you can tell almost instantly that you’re watching an artist of serious intent and caliber. The rest of the crowd gets this too – and show a reassuring appreciation to the man who agreed to play the event due to the audience it attracts. “I might get too warmed up, but I think I’ll be alright,” Ranglin jokes to the crowd – who have, by this penultimate point, grown to well over 1000.

Ernest Ranglin @ The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham ReviewRanglin’s set is a joy to watch, and I suspect the people on stage are having just as much fun (maybe more) than those dancing at the front. Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson have been touring with Ranglin, but still seem in appreciative awe that their on stage with the man.

Then, in a suitably special finale, Basil Gabbidon comes back on stage for a final thank you performance; the atmosphere is thick with pride, respect and camaraderie, and it’s a little hard not to feel like you’re watching something special. And that you’re part of it.

After running a little late (the line up warrants an adventurous approach to on-stage logistics) The Flyover Show hangs up its hat at around 9pm – with the families and friends that made up the day’s crowd standing strong since about 3pm. The champion returns. The Flyover Show 2016 has been a resounding success, with any fears of torrential downpours and apathetic crowds being dispelled by mid afternoon.

The Flyover Show 2016 / By Michelle Martin (Visual Voice Media) © Birmingham ReviewBirmingham has seen a recent redaction of events that celebrate black culture, as well as burning a few cultural bridges between potentially disparate communities – The Drum has closed, Simmer Down has folded and Birmingham Carnival is on a sabbatical. So the return of The Flyover Show could not be more box tickingly pertinent – with arts funding and council representatives needing something to show ‘diversity’.

But the success of The Flyover Show, what made it, developed it and what has reintroduced it nearly five years since its last outing, is the crowd. A cliché perhaps, but it’s the people off stage that really make this event – responding to what is being brought on stage with a sense of pride and ownership.

It works, it worked before and it has worked again, and as I pack up to go home – still early enough to have some light to see me up Great Hampton Street, I circle one sentence in thick bold.

‘Proud of our crowd’.

Then I add, ‘already excited about The Flyover Show 2017.’ And I don’t think I’m the only one.

For more on The Flyover Show, visit www.facebook.com/TheFlyoverShow

For more on UPRIZE-CIC, visit www.uprize-cic.com

For more on Soweto Kinch, visit www.soweto-kinch.com

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