“Toward a Different Kind of Horizon”

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Painting and design by Aaron D. Williams

I’ve been planning a Cleveland concert event that’s coming up in less than two weeks. Here’s how it started.

In April of 2022 I flew to NYC to attend the Time Zone Protocols Unconference at The New School in NYC. This outstanding gathering of artists and scholars was an outcome of some of Rasheedah Phillips’s ongoing practice with Black Quantum Futurism (BQF) which explores personal and systemic outcomes related to colonial, racialized regimes of temporality that (re)produce temporal realities informed by white-supremacy.

Using Afrofuturism and Black Quantum Futurism as a framework, the Prime Meridian Unconference reveals how Westernized time has helped catalyze and perpetuate systemic oppression since its advent, denying Black communities access and agency over the temporal domains of the past, present, and future.

Of course, Camae Ayewa was there contributing a talk and some real-time art-making. This was my first time meeting Ayewa. I’d been late to the party regarding her work, only learning about the Moor Mother records around 2019’s Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes. Her work is visionary and challenging in its urgency. I don’t really fanboy out about much, but I was super excited to chat with her even a bit.

Ayawa had been collaborating a bit with Kyle Kidd, a mutual friend from Cleveland and then-member of local band Mourning [A] BLKstar. I decided that, if I was still employed in the next academic year–I’m a non-tenure-track contingent laborer at my institution, part of the growing academic “gig-economy”–I wanted to try to organize some kind of event bringing her to in Cleveland.

Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa), image by UV Lucas

Meanwhile, the Cleveland collective Mourning [A] BLKstar (MAB) had started collaborating with Lonnie Holley and Lee Bains, acting as a kind of backing band and even doing a European tour late in 2022. Chatting about this with MAB founder RA Washington one afternoon, he described Holley as a “celestial being,” a vital, important artist. I couldn’t agree more. Moreover, Holley had been collaborating with Moor Mother on live projects and guesting on one another’s recordings.

Mourning [A] BLKstar, image by Jenn Kidd

Sure enough, my employment at CWRU has continued this academic year and I decided to try and make some kind of event a reality. I’ll try to briefly explain here why the idea of bringing these folks all together in Cleveland is important to me.

Lonnie Holley, image by Tamir Kalifa

Lee Bains, image by Joe Steinhardt

The work of all of these artists is characterized by an urgency. Among other things, their invites the listener into a conversation about ongoing injustices related to white-supremacy, patriarchy, racial capitalism, and the carceral state. More than making beautiful music – which they most certainly do – something is at stake in the work of these artists that confronts the listener with an ethical “ask”: How do you choose to respond to the injustices of the world you’ve inherited? What might you risk for a better world? I’m reminded of a great line I recently encountered from Maxine Greene:

“…the arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings that might change the world.”

Maxine Greene

I haven’t been able to track down the source of this quote yet, but the logic of its argument rhymes with many insights from artists, scholars, and critical and political theorists I’ve encountered in my training these last decades – all of whom insist on the vitality of engagements with challenging art. This, of course, is borne out in my own experience as a listener and performer wherein my own life has been changed over and and over by my engagements with music. My understanding of the world and my place in it continues to be challenged and repeatedly refigured, encounters with the aesthetic felt in my body and turned over in my mind pointing beyond themselves, pointing toward what I believe about myself, other people, the world. Naturally, these experiences inform my personal and professional investments as a scholar. 

 So, professionally and personally, this event is motivated by the following investments:

1) The Department of Music at CWRU (where I teach) has been working to locate and support initiatives that center/promote non-Western Art Music in the interest of divesting from Euro-centric white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy in music study. Institutional gears move slowly and this event evidences a small move toward those goals that I could make happen – at least for this academic year. I hope to see a greater good-faith material moves in those directions on the part of the institution in addition to rhetoric.

2) I am personally and professionally interested in engaging in ways to connect the often gate-kept institution where I work with the greater community, promoting local artists with the various modes of capital available through the institution. I love Mourning [A] BLKstar – the people and communities related to it – and hope this event helps them reach an even greater audience.

3) More selfishly, I deeply admire these world-class artists and wanted to hear them all together on one stage. Don’t you? Moreover, these artists represent the spirit of the kind of musical community I want to invest in and be part of.

Long story short: a million emails, phone calls, the benefit of the good will and generosity of a bunch of folks in the Cleveland arts community, and a grant later, it’s all gotten funded and organized. Here’s the more formal writeup for the concert:

For her first appearance in Cleveland, the iconoclast Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) joins visionary artists Lonnie Holley, Lee Bains, and Mourning [A] BLKstar for a collaborative performance in CMA’s Gartner Auditorium. While not a concert of the music of Sun Ra, its title is inspired by his words: “Calling planet Earth…I am a different order of being…I represent a different kind of horizon…”

* In this spirit of challenge, these artists come together to create new music that wagers the comfort of the known for the promise of a speculative horizon, daring the listener to follow toward a new way of being.

Indelibly American artists informed by the Black radical tradition, the musics of Moor Mother, Lonnie Holley, Lee Bains, and Mourning [A] BLKstar encompass elements of free jazz, hip hop, gospel, and more. Their poetry, improvisation, and cutting-edge musical production techniques are deployed in service of embracing plurality, liberation, reparative justice, and joy. Respondent to, but not mired in the inequities of the past, this is music to challenge and inspire us all. 

This concert has been loosely organized around the idea of Afrofuturism; that logic, aesthetic, and mythos that animated so much of Sun Ra’s otherworldly vision. This attitude casts the world into a strange loop where the past and future are put in dialogue to refigure the horizon of the present. In this moment in the US, characterized by polarizing narratives that often work in bad faith to mis-represent the past, weaponize identity politics, and promote anti-democratic policies that keep people divided, we are urgently in need of such a model for visionary dialogue.

An Afrofuturist musical attitude, theorist Kodwo Eshun tells us, does not emerge from history but instead “arrives from the future” as a guide for imagining what might be.* As such, this improvisational music functions as a time and a space of the “as if” for imagined futures, a poetic topography of the “not yet.” This music is a liberation technology that helps us respond to our realities and to speculate futures–but it also makes demands. To answer its call is to be changed. Let us follow it together toward a different kind of horizon.

– AJ Kluth

I’m excited and hope you can make it on March 24.

“Toward a Different Kind of Horizon” is organized by AJ Kluth, PhD, a music lover and lecturer in CWRU Department of Music. It is presented free to the public through the generous contributions of:

  • The Department of Music | Case Western Reserve University
  • The Center for Popular Music Studies | Case Western Reserve University
  • The Baker-Nord Center for Humanities | Case Western Reserve University
  • The Writers House & the Department of English | Case Western Reserve University
  • The African & African American Studies Program | Case Western Reserve University
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Oberlin College and Conservatory

* Mugge, Robert, dir. Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise. 1980; New York, NY: Winstar Home Entertainment, 1998. DVD.

* Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet Books, 1998 (pg -005).

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