Innovation is crucial to the creation of music because it pushes the art form forward while simultaneously broadening the dimensions of the art and culture that fosters and supports the music. These sonic architects embrace the principles of Afrofuturism, innovating popular music with the creation of new sounds and new genres, and utilizing technology to design seemingly infinite musical landscapes. While innovation remains a hallmark of Black music making, a cadre of musicians have utilized Afrofuturism’s sonic platform to tell their musical stories and outline their visions for new musical futures.
Afrofuturist icon George Clinton and the musical collective Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk) built upon Sun Ra’s futuristic foundation. Through funk music, Parliament-Funkadelic created a musical universe all their own, with sci-fi-inspired characters, cosmic stories, and a general philosophy that sought to “free the minds” from societal, racial, and gendered restrictions. Utilizing stage props like the Mothership – a ship that descended to the stage to take the musicians away – and outlandish costumes and performance styles, P-Funk engineered an Afrofuturist version of popular music.
Parliament-Funkadelic created their own universe of characters, stories, and concepts, as well as their own funky aesthetic, with the aid of visual narratives found within the inserts, liner notes, and their album artwork. Illustrator Pedro Bell’s inspired vision set the stage with comic-inspired characters such as Thumpasaurus and Funkapus. Artists Overton Loyd and Diem Jones also supplied P-Funk with original, sci-fi-inspired characters and stories to match the unique, funky, and otherworldly quality of the music.
"I had to find another place where they hadn’t perceived Black people to be, and that was on a spaceship."
Musician, producer, mentor, and futurist, Nona Hendryx (b. 1944) is driven by her constant push to re-create and reenvision her art and image, utilizing technology to invent new musical and aesthetic forms throughout her career. As a founding member of the pop group LaBelle, she wrote songs such as “Cosmic Dancer” and “Space Children” about Black futures, citing Superman comics, quantum theory, and the film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman as inspirations. She envisioned the space-age look of the group with Puerto Rican designer Larry LeGaspi. Creating art without boundaries within a music industry that historically imposes strict ideas around genre, gender, and race, Hendryx makes music to not only challenge but destroy existing norms.
By 1971, Hendryx, Patti LaBelle (b. 1944), and Sarah Dash (1945–2021) transformed their classic 60s girl-group image into the glam rock-inspired, space-age style of LaBelle. Best known for their smash hit, “Lady Marmalade,” LaBelle challenged gender and racial norms with their outlandish, cosmic visual style.
"Afrofuturism rekindled my childhood fascination with science, space, astronomy, and I introduced it into the music . . . that I wrote."
Song titles like “Women Who Fly” exemplified Nona Hendryx’s Afrofuturist and feminist spirit. Along with Betty Davis and Chaka Khan, Hendryx was among the first female pop artists to embrace an African and space-age futuristic aesthetic, with visuals and costumes that gave funk and pop music its own unique style and flair. A longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, Hendryx also works as an educator focusing on the needs of girls of color in sound recording and STEM.