If ever there was one cultural movement that pushed back the frontiers of black identity, it was Afrofuturism. Inspiring generations of musicians to come up with ingenious, edifying narratives, it gave us Drexciya – an advanced underwater civilization built by the offspring of African women thrown off the slave ships – and Shabazz Palaces which chronicled the journey of an inter-galactic musical emissary Quazarz through Amurderca on the dystopian Gangster Star.
Beyond a light-hearted mockumentary “about black people living on Mars”, the debut album Grey Doubt by The Colours That Rise (Simeon Jones and Nathanael Williams) is a grainy collage of acoustic instrumentals played by a full band – plus velvety vocals of Andrew Ashong and Yazmin Lacey on ‘The Juice’ and ‘Atmosphere’ – that have been jazzed up with sound bites from 1980s comedy shows, TV-programs and interviews. It all makes for a juicy retrospective of black culture that crackles louder than a slice of Oscar Meyer in a cast iron skillet.
Being a beat-driven album, the percussion plays a prominent role in just about every highlight from futuristic ‘Orion’s Belt and Beyond’ and DJ Shadowy ‘Ghost in the Forest’ to luminous ‘Get Away’, thanks to the young Yussef Dayes’ mercurial style that could hold its own against seasoned drummers such as Myele Manzanza or Karriem Riggins. Whether the beats are human-powered or not makes little difference, as proven by ‘Deep Space’, a banging electro cut that sounds so mid-90s Detroit it could have been nicked from Keith Tucker himself.
The reason why the album veers off course and fails to reach its destination is down to a flawed concept. Sampling Elijah Muhammed’s radical, Afrocentric sermons only to retreat to the safety of a joke about “NASA’s autopsy on a black alien lady with dreadlocks” effectively turns the universal black experience of alienation into science-fiction that lacks any historical basis. As the past has shown, when we feel unhappy in this world, looking for answers elsewhere is not a bad place to start. But at some point we do need to find solutions closer to home.