Afrofuturism, Memory, Music Video, Musicology


Focusing on the intersection of collective memory, technology, and African American popular music, this paper use aspects of the sonic narratives in Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis-Suites I–V to introduce core concepts of Afrofuturism. The paper challenges the positioning of collective memory as being exterior to the sphere of individual cognitive memory. By inhabiting past, present, and future at once, Afrofuturism is able to critically revisit collective memory not only as a social framework but also as actual individual memory. Afrofuturist discourse questions the status of the human being by examining African Americans as always already robotic, and posits African American history as an essentially posthumanist tradition that rebels against the Western Enlightenment ideal of humanity. Through juxtaposing Monáe’s music as robotic with Theodor Adorno’s thoughts on the gramophone, it is shown that Monáe’s android emerges as a collective memory-technology, functioning as a musical memory bank. She insists that she is an actual android, thus pluralising herself and her memories. These memories are used to reinstate collective memory as actual individual memory within African American popular music.



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