Afro-futurism is back in a big way.
With the release of Black Panther, the sci-fi fantasy ideology is back in the mainstream. And there's no better person to lead us into a brave new future other than Janelle Monáe.
With the teaser for her newest effort in two new songs "Django Jane" and "Make Me Feel", Dirty Computer goes deeper into the sci-fi future narrative that has been the focal point of her career. She's been on a mission to bring us into a utopia that we've maybe been too jaded to see. Through her alter-ego, an android named Cindi Mayweather, Monáe seeks to be "the mediator between the haves and have not," a quote inspired by Fritz Lang's film Metropolis.
Much of her identity bounces around in a hall of smoke and mirrors.
She interpolates biographical facts about Cindi Mayweather, with her own autobiography, often deflecting from the life she's lived in favor of the future reality she's created with Mayweather. A girl from Kansas City? No, she's from the year 2719. Her dating life? She only dates androids. A black girl who grew up poor? No. She an archandroid messiah sent to earth to end division and discrimination.
Monáe's futuristic reality seems like a far-out idea. Androids? Ok sis. But for her this isn't a gimmick or farce; it's a system of belief. She follows in the footsteps of afro-futurist giants who've created version of their own future utopias. Octavia Butler's Earthseed series, George Clinton and the P-Funk spaceship, Star Trek's Uhuru and countless other are all united by this central idea; redeeming the lives of the disenfranchised by taking them to majestic futures.
But Monáe's manner of expression probably most closely follows the godfather of afro-futuristic music: Sun Ra.
He was a man, a myth; he was nothing and everything. He was a patron saint of those who gravitated towards the unknown, the weird and the progressive. In his day, his futurist philosophy resonated with the hippies and those who had an affinity for the surreal. Even after his death, his influence is strong. From Erykah Badu to Flying Lotus, any of your favorite music acts point to Sun Ra as an inspiration. While afro-futurism does not begin with him, Ra is like an intergalactic saviour, bringing this new philosophy of belief to Earth.
Just like Monáe, Ra was enigmatic with a biography that was scant and unknown to most. His birthdate, name at birth, and his personal history was traded for a narrative that is centered on creating a new reality for the most disenfranchised, specifically African-Americans.
Drawing from different belief and religious systems, Ra didn't consider his beliefs to be a fantastical notion or a form of escapism. He believed he was speaking an obvious truth. He believed he was from Saturn and didn't belong on Earth.
Just as Monáe uses the android as a metaphor for "the other," Sun Ra uses the alien as metaphor for "the other."
"I do not come to you as a reality; I come to you as the myth, because that's what black people are. Myths. I came from a dream that the black man dreamed a long time ago. I'm actually a presence sent to you by your ancestors," Ra says in his 1971 lecture at UC Berkeley.
Working under the belief that black people didn't belong on earth, he created his film Space is the Place. After coming from an extended trip around the galaxy, Sun Ra and his "arkestra" come back to Earth to take black people to settle on another planet.
Monáe dreamt of worlds, too, and for her they aren't pipe dreams. "And then I dreamt of a world where there were more aliens and androids that humans, I controlled them and I could tell stories that changed people's lives," she says in a 2013 interview with Les Inrockuptibles.
This is a reality she believes in and lives in.
For Monáe and Ra, their vehicle to this new world is music. And their music stretched the limits and challenged our perceptions of music. As defined by Mark Dery in "Black to the Future," afro-futurism is black struggle and ideas expressed in different worlds and realities. As forward thinking as afro-futurists are, they often call back to the past, taking symbols and relics and reimagining them. With music, they reference the past and redefine those sound for their new worlds.
Monáe's influences are far reaching. As a black woman, she's automatically pigeon-holed as an R&B artist, but she pushes against that notion. She bounces from romantic classical music to funk to folk and everything in between. Some may call her weird for her tastes in music, but it only further fuels her mission to end discrimination.
"Or just another little weirdo/ Call me weak or better yet you can call me/ You can call me your hero, baby," she sings in "Faster".
Having albums that goes from the funky to 60's pop to the Marvin Gaye and Simon & Garfunkel tinged songs, it would seem that Monáe is directionless in her pursuits, but she knows exactly where she's going.
Much in the way that Ra's arkestra members resonated with his philosophy, it's easy to fall into Monáe's android gospel through the way she makes seemingly disparate music genres connect flawlessly.
Atonal and cacophonous, some of Ra's compositions truly demanded for his audiences to change the way they process music. His music traveled from conventional to surreal works that seemed to only makes sense if you are willing to venture past convention into a chaotic void.
Ra's been gone for nearly 15 years, but Monáe has taken the mantle. In her own way, she's spread the gospel of a future reality that considers "the others." She favors a tailored tux over robes and Egyptian regalia, but it's all relative.
With the upcoming release of her "emotion picture" Dirty Computer, it's easy to see her as the new leader of the new guard of afro-futurists.
The head of Wondaland Society, a leader in the movement for women's rights; she really is the archandroid.
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Chinwe Oniah is a freelance writer who writes about popular music and culture. She's appeared in Pigeons and Planes, REHAB Online Magazine, California Magazine and others. Find her somewhere on the internet @thewaysofchin.
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
It is Eartha Kitt who once said, “Aging has a wonderful beauty, and we should have respect for that.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why, it really does get under my skin, that we live in a culture that is almost obsessed with staying young. Why? Don’t you want to grow, evolve…mature? That’s why I’m also not big on people who are damn near obsessed with looking 20 years younger than they are. Nah, personally, I think the goal of looking great for and at your age is where it’s at because, as my mother (who ages remarkably well) used to say, “I’ve earned every year. I don’t want to be looking like a child when I’m not.” (It’ll preach.)
This kind of wisdom is the type of hindsight that cannot be matched. Because again, while getting older shouldn’t be anything that any of us are afraid of or ashamed to do, wouldn’t it be great if we were more proactive than reactive when it comes to how we take care of ourselves — so that as we do age (and it is inevitable), we will age…gracefully…seamlessly…beautifully?
That’s why I took the time to ask 15 women in their 40s to share some things that they wish they had done in their 20s as far as physical beauty is concerned. Look at it as me doing a solid for any of you younger readers who really think that “I woke up like this” will last…forever. It won’t. And if you settle into that very real reality by taking good care of yourself now, the 40s will be where you actually end up looking better than ever.
*Middle names are used in all of my interview pieces, so that people can speak freely, no matter what the topic may be.*
“Some women aren’t gonna like this but, Black can crack. I see it often; especially when I look at a lot of these women’s necks — even celebrities. You can look like you’re 29 in the face but because you didn’t take care of your neck when you were in your 20s, it’s out here looking like it should be in a nursing home. That part of your skin ages and sags like everything else. I wish I had cared about that back in the day. I do now and yes young women, moisturize your neck every night and every morning. I personally use a combination of rosehip oil and lavender because they help to stimulate collagen production. Don’t wait until you have tree rings. Do it…now.”
“I wish I had taken better care of my breasts. Not [just] as far as my health; as far as their appearance. When you’re in your 20s, everything is perky and unicorns. Hit 35 and you start to notice that your girls like your feet more than your neck. Doing some exercises to make your pecs more prominent and applying some cocoa or shea butter every night are little things that can keep them youthful. Don’t wait. A breast lift is an option but those aren’t cheap. And if you can avoid paying what a used car costs to keep your breasts sittin’ high, why not do that now?”
“It might sound weird but I wish I had laid off of my protective styles more. It’s like we’ve forgotten that the point of them is to grow our hair out but that can’t happen if we’re never giving our hair a break from all of the tension that comes from tight-ass braids and twists. Now my edges are suffering and that can make you look older than you are. Those ‘Brandy braids’ are cute, girl, but so is having a full hairline. Don’t live in a protective style — your future self is screaming this at you.”
“I wish I drank less. I had a good time, trust me. But drinking on the weekends and then having drinks a couple of nights a week after work took its toll. My skin feels drier and it takes more work to keep it moisturized. These days, [I] eat edibles instead. It’s healthier and it has compounds in it that can slow down the aging process. Oh, to be young again.”
“I wish I had incorporated some sort of hand care. If anything takes wear and tear on a constant basis, it’s our hands and we’ll be out here having a beauty regimen for everything but those. Now my hands are starting to look older than I would like and so I’m having to work overtime to get rid of some fine lines and fragile-looking skin. What I do is get hand facials every couple of months. Look to see what spas or salons offer them. It makes a really big difference on your hands. Your arms too.”
“I’m the most comfortable sleeping on my side but it’s not the best for my face — anyone’s face, really. I used to hear that it would cause wrinkles but when those aren’t something that you have to worry about, you don’t care. I’m starting to see a few around my lips and so now I’m on my back more often. I’m thinking that if I had cared about this in college, avoiding wrinkles would not be on my list of concerns at this age.”
“Stay off of acidic drinks. Your teeth will age just like everything else and sodas and orange juice doesn’t help. Think about the people you know who look one way…until they smile. Then they look 10-15 years older. Go to the dentist regularly and schedule a professional whitening appointment. White teeth make you look younger. Just take good care of them. You’ll be glad that you did, if you do.”
Jaye. 44.“Gray hair is a blessing but my grandmother always told me that it can come in prematurely — and a part of what causes that to happen is stress and a poor diet. When you’re young, you don’t care about stuff like that. But let those first ones creep in around your hairline and suddenly, you’re looking for all kinds of hacks. My advice? That man, that job, and that relative that is already making you want to pull your hair out? Let them go. Your hair can’t take it. And all of that junk food you’re consuming? I still hit a drive-thru but these days, it’s more like a couple of times a month instead of during every lunch break.”
“Get your legs waxed. All of that razor shaving can cause discoloration or leave razor marks that can make your skin look older over time. Plus, it creates ingrown hairs and something about those can make you look older too.”
“Stop not taking sleep seriously. When you’re 25, you can go on four hours of sleep for days on end but it catches up to you. Sleep is what rejuvenates you and if you don’t get it, eventually you will look like it. I have dark circles that I’ve been trying to get rid of and a part of it is due to years of no sleep catching up to me. Whatever it is, it can wait until you’ve had at least seven hours. Don’t listen if you don’t want to. One day you will look in the mirror and wish that you did.”
“I wish I had spent more time outdoors. It’s no secret that Black people have more of a vitamin D deficiency than anyone else but trying to pile up on supplements when you’re older is a lot. When you’re at restaurants, eat on the patio. Sit on your back deck to read a book. Go for a walk in the mornings. I’m dealing with some hair loss stuff right now and it’s partly because I need more vitamin D. And thinning hair makes you look older than you should.”
“Waist trainers are bad for you. I wish those damn things would go away. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get that a snatched waist can take a few years off. Hell, I know that I took mine for granted back in my 20s. Snack on bananas and berries. Do some cardio even if that’s power walking through the mall. Stop drinking cold stuff so much. It might sound like a mama’s tale, but drinking things at room temperature reduces bloating. There are other things that you can do to get the curves that you want without smashing your organs. Lord.”
“I wish I cared more about my damn arms. Nothing makes you look older quicker than your upper arms not being in good shape. Get some five-pound free weights and set aside 15 minutes. Dry brush those bad boys; it’ll keep dimples from showing up. Keep them extra moisturized, so that those annoying little bumps won’t show up. And use sunscreen. The sun doesn’t know if you’re Black or not. It comes for us too.”
“Have a professional care for your skin. There are a billion things that you can do at home but an aesthetician is trained to figure out what works best and what doesn’t. Facials, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels from time to time have all played a role in me starting to look younger. If I had taken preventative measures, it would’ve kept some money in my pocket because I wouldn’t be going quite as much as I do now.”
“I wish I had been more choosy about my sex partners so that I could’ve had wilder sex. Listen to Auntie here. There is some stuff that good sex will do for you and aging that no cosmetic can. Sweat out those toxins. Work out that core. Take in some of that sperm. Just do it with a man you can trust and you can be totally free with instead of these knuckleheads. Yeah, better mate selection is the beauty tip that I recommend — and stop acting like it’s a rite of passage to start this at 35. Get a good man now and sit down somewhere. So that you can lay down in peace. That’s what I’ve got for you.”
Pass the plate around for Payce, y’all. As far as beauty and maturity go, she just preached — to women of ALL ages! Amen? Amen.
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