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What is Afropunk, and what is it to Swordsfall?

Whatever We Want It To Be

Story Highlights
  • Definition of Afropunk
  • Explanation of Afrofuturism, Afropunk and Africanfuturism
  • What Afropunk is to Swordsfall

“Ummm…What's Afropunk?” It's a question I hear often. Sometimes in seriousness, sometimes in jest. Let's talk about it, and Swordsfall.

What Does it Mean?

Let's immediately be clear about one thing first and foremost, there is no standard definition for Afropunk. And there (gladly) never will be. It's a recent term for an old feeling. A timeless line of thought that has gone through Black folks in the West for centuries.

The feeling of not belonging in the Status Quo.

Wikipedia will give credit to the documentary that gave it the proper genre name, Afropunk directed by James Spooner. It was a movement and a lot of people liken it to the hip hop movement of the '80s. But with these things, it's deeper than just that. Often when you see these movements it's just the public showing of something long brewing.

Afropunk is Defiance

Every day black people have to deal with the fact that they are excluded by popular media as a whole. The progress we've made has only come through relentless outcry and anger. Each small step forward only coming after years of emotionally grueling battles with the majority. Eventually, the affected black people start to realize that the stories they need to tell, the representation they need, can only be told through the most open forms of expression.

Afropunk Documentary
2003 Afro-Punk documentary by James Spooner

Recognizing that sometimes it's the trappings of the genre that keep it from being exclusive. That rather than continue to demand changes and be disappointed, that we simply do it ourselves. Afropunk is a direct result of that. It is the output of a war on the status quo of media. Of the rejection that music HAD to be this way. That it had to be exclusionary toward black people.

The punk stands for all the same things for us that it does for white fans. It's the epic, sassy middle finger. The defiance for progress. The recognition that change comes from fury and fire and not just complacency. So Afropunk is simply taking the punk spirit of “Fuck doing what you want me to do”, and raising a black fist in the air.

Afropunk Vs. Afrofuturism VS. Africanfuturism

That's a trick headline. There is no versus. They are, however, different lines of thought. Afropunk in a sense is just about defiance to the current status quo, but it's also about change within it. It's modern times, with a black focus front and center.

Afrofuturism* is more about envisioning a future, or maybe a different future for black folks. But in a very western/American light. It's trying to build a bright future on top of a scarred past. It's taking American cities with heavy black roots like Chicago, and seeing them in the future. Seeing those people, in the future. *Clarification from Ytasha in the quote below*

I speak of Afrofuturism in terms of the cultural intersections of where the African Diaspora and African continent meet in approaching futures.

Ytasha Womack

Africanfuturism is in a way similar to both but with a fundamental difference. A clear focus on Africa being the nexus of origin. Total abandonment of colonialism or how modern times are built on that. It's Africa first in a deep worldbuilding sense. It puts the focus squarely, and prominently on Africa.

Afrofuturism: Wakanda builds its first outpost in Oakland, CA, USA.  
Africanfuturism: Wakanda builds its first outpost in a neighboring African country

Nnedi Okorafor, PhD

Often times when people are thinking about one, they conflate it with the other two. Something that is easy to do when you don't necessarily know the inner workings of each subgenre. However, they are just as important to understand because Blackness is not a monolith. Each of those subgenres gives respect to the various modes of power we have and seek. And often the different types of struggles and discriminations we face as black faces. Each important, but each different in their own way.

But bear in mind that each of these subgenres are growing as we bring more and more black minds to paper. So the breadth of titles in these categories will change and grow over time. Every day we find new elements of our lives that we want to highlight. New tokenisms to destroy and pain to be eased.

So, What is Swordsfall then?

Swordsfall falls in some strange state of being Afropunk and Africanfuturism. Not always in equal parts, but both represented in the work. As a blerd (black nerd for those that don't know), I have a real connection to western media. It's a strange love/hate relationship that I'm constantly working to detangle. For every one thing I like about it, I find five things I loathe.

ishvana illustration web
Ishvana by Tumo Mere/Swordsfall Studios. Her reference is Octavia Butler.

But I have the things that just resonate with me as a theme. Those things I want to carry forward. Have those same themes but with representation so deep that it's authentic by its nature. I'm not putting blackness on top of colonialism, but I'm also keeping in the elements of Black America that I feel need love and respect.

I think in the end the biggest reason why I say Afropunk, is because I am simply NOT from Africa. And that's not something that should be glossed over. Africans have stories, troubles, dreams and more that I will never be able to tell or understand, simply because I did not LIVE them. As someone who has fought that fight with the majority in America, I'm in no rush to be that same hypocrite.

Instead, I use Africa as a backdrop, as a source. I imagine it as the true origin of my personal story. Where my family tree in real life becomes untraceable at slavery, Swordsfall lets me dream differently. It lets me put in a different base, a happier beginning. I get to go to the culture of MY ancestors for lore. I replaced Europe as the standard for my armor and weapons. I thought differently about what it meant to take over new territory. And I did it all with Africa and the African Diaspora in mind.

Changing the Base

I'm very clear about what I'm doing with my own journey into Afropunk. Or more specifically, Afropunk Sci-Fantasy. Something that I think people try and take apart word by word, term by term. But I mean it as a whole, as a unit. Those three words together ARE exactly what I mean. Not each separately.

Growing up I've seen how people like David Bowie and David Hasselfhoof would get codified in lore. Sting would become the model for Constantine. Over and over again I'd see these white industry figures become apart of our very nerd canon. While I have no issues with that, it feels wholely onesided. Where were our icons in our media? Why can't I read a comic book based on Morgan Freeman? Why can't I see characters whose base model was Pamela Grier instead of Marilyn Monroe?

And why, am I always begging for others to do it?

So when I put Afropunk Sci-Fantasy as the subtitle to the logo, it wasn't because I wanted to fit into a subgenre. I did it because I realized that that combination of words represents exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm indulging in the things I love, the western media and places I love. Sci-fi, fantasy, anime and more. Then I simply,

Paint it all Black.

Yobida final web
Yobida. A real African “serpent” reclassified properly as a Dragon. Art by Jonah Lobe

It's a simple, yet powerful reimaging for me. It led me to question so many things. Here's an example.

Me: Why are all dragons from Europe and the East? Oh, look there are African dragons! But….white..”dragon experts” (Not even going to get into that) decided they're serpents and not dragons? That's it? No other reason? Oh. Ok. Well, time to make them DRAGONS IN ALL CAPS.

If that's not the punk spirit, then what is? And sometimes, it's as simple as that. It's not because of exaggerated features and stereotypes so it can read “African” or “Afro”. It's Afropunk because they were denied being called Dragons for no valid reason than bigotry and to HELL with that.

Sometimes the fire of Swordsfall comes from the statement of its existent and not the content of the piece. The fire comes from the low-level deconstruction of things we take for granted. When I go looking for history to ground my stories, I go to Africa before I go to Europe.

Afropunk and I

How to sum all of this up? Afropunk isn't something you can measure neatly into a list of items. There is no checkbox for Afropunk other than “Are you being as black as you want to?”. When you see it in music like at the Afropunk Festival, you see it come out in our dress. It's an exploration in a way that's devoid of white rules and expectations.

The Dracon
The Dracon and their taste in fashion. Art by Tumo Mere

As far as for myself, it's a place where I can question all the things people wouldn't let me before. Why does King have to be a title for men? Why can't it be gender-neutral? Oh look, it already has that in some ancient African societies? Cool? Have some Kings, yes, yes it's a woman. No, I meant King.

The Sci-Fantasy part lets me dream Black in the past AND future. I don't have to feel like I can't have “old-timey” tales because of bigotry. What bigotry? It's my Afropunk sci-fantasy world. It's not a thing. We raise a fist to the thought of bigotry on Tikor.

It's freeing.

It's a statement.

It's Afropunk.

Yellow Border

Sources

Cause ya. It's that kind of article


Swordsfall

Creator and Author of Swordsfall. He's a longtime omni-nerd who grew up during the classic days of Toonami, TechTV, and Transformers. However, as a black man in the hobby, he found himself longing for more stories that told the adventures of people that looked like him. Creating Swordsfall has not only been an effort to be the change he wanted to see but also as his own personal journey.

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