Saul Williams and Moor Mother explore pasts, presents and futures of Black sound

At the Chan Centre on February 25 at 7 p.m., Black classical, jazz and R&B come together to form a cosmic space where the past, present, and future become one. The Black Futures concert will feature artist-musician-poets Saul Williams and Moor Mother, along with her jazz ensemble Irreversible Entanglements.

The concert title references Afrofutrism, an artistic movement rooted in science fiction that takes inspiration from multiple genres and mediums. Though Black liberation and the reclamation of stolen Black stories are often at the heart of this movement, it can be a loaded category for some Black artists.

Moor Mother, musical alias of Philadelphia spoken word musician Camae Ayewa, described it in an interview with The Ubyssey as “a white male’s term to describe what Black people are doing.”

Both Ayewa and Williams’ art plays with science fiction and physics, as well as Black history and identity, in ways that often garner the Afrofuturist label. However, they both have hesitated at points to characterize themselves as Afrofuturist artists.

“People got to go so far and stretch and find out what kind of name is this to describe what we’ve been doing since ancient times,” said Ayewa.

Both artists explore scientific themes and aesthetics — including algorithmic subversion and the environmental impacts of Big Data — to show how Black people have been and continue to be at the leading edge of music and technology.

As Ayewa put it, “There’s a lot of music that’s programmed to be easy in the world.” Hers is not.

She compares the goals of her music to Simone Leigh's sculptures — seemingly stuck in time but still possessing the ability to connect with the moment. Like Leigh’s work, her music is multipurpose: equal parts metaphysical and concrete. It has the ability to exist as one thing but can be reused, remixed or transformed.

Audiences should prepare themselves for experimental sounds, including punk-inflected beats as well as jazz and blues that draw from hundreds of years of Black artistry. The words and poetry of Moor Mother and Saul Williams are meant to open up pathways to which people can explore societal questions and tap into new ways of liberation.

Camae Ayewa and Saul Williams’ music are time capsules, stretching to the past as much as to the future. Their music pokes and prods at the essence of Black history and folk tradition. They carry the message of the artists that came before — such as Black classical, a musical movement that acknowledges the symphonic mastery of popular jazz artists like Nina Simone and Will Marion Cook.

“These people that are doing so much work for us, what happens when they pass away?” said Ayewa.

This is the question at the heart of both Moor Mother and Saul Williams’ music. How do we carry the legacies from our pasts into our futures?

While Moor Mother refrained from setting expectations for the audience, she said that she hopes to serve as an activator.

“Sometimes we feel so disconnected and it’s because we haven’t activated pathways that are showing you how deeply connected you are.”

As she delivers her message through sound, she hopes to create a safe space to allow people to reach within themselves, connect with the music and activate pulses of inspiration.

Tickets for the Black Futures concert can be purchased at the Chan Centre website.