Monday, April 16, 2007

The Last Angel of History

Akomfrah’s documentary, Last Angel of History, opens with the story of Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the blues. Akomfrah uses this story to set up music and black culture as a “black technology.” This makes music the center of a relm of science fiction which embraces and celebrates black technology and history. The film then goes on to discuss the three major black sci-fi musicians, Sun Ra in jazz, Lee Scratch Perry in Reggae, and George Clinton in funk. The film uses George Clinton’s Mothership Connection as an important part of the Data Theif story line, saying that the phrase “Mothership Connection” is a key to a code that will reveal the future, and that the rest of the code is scattered throughout black history and music.

Kodwo Eshun also talks about these musicians in his essay Further Considerations on Afrofuturism. He says that “Afrofuturism studies the appeals that black artists, musicians, critics, and writers have made to the future, in moments where any future was made difficult for them to imagine.” It is these moments that the Data Thief is trying to find and use to unlock the secrets of the future.

In Last Angel of History, Eshun is interviewed and he claims that alien abduction has already taken place, in the form of slavery. This certainly sets up the argument that Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn is a neo-slave narrative, with the Oankali taking the place of white slave traders. In fact, in Dawn the biological exchange is referred to as trade, and the Oankali consider themselves traders. The character of Lilith is a science fiction look at a very traditional character- she is a black woman who starts out free but ends as a resentful black mistress, and the mother of mulatto children.

The Data thief is a gatherer of information. His job in assembling the code is to make a composite of all black history. The film Scratch presented DJs in a similar way-
Scratch music is a composite of all music history, shaped and presented through the artistic interpretations of the DJ. In Last Angel of History Greg Tate says that “sampling allows musicians to concentrate all eras of black music onto a chip.” There is also a discussion of “jungle” music, which uses technology to mimic the sounds of traditional drums and rhythms. The film points out that by using technology these musicians not on compile the past, they also embrace a cyborg identity- which becomes an allegory for blacks who need to prove their own humanity because of their color.

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