Panel Discussion, “Afrofuturism: Building Communities” at Crosstown Arts 

Nicole Mitchell doesn't identify as a beatmaker or an electronic artist, although she's begun to add more electronic elements to her solo performances. The genre-defying flutist and educator has roots in improv and experimental hip-hop, and branches that stretch toward jazz, classical, gospel, pop, and African percussion. Mitchell's a composer and the founder of Black Earth ensemble. She's regularly named Flutist of the Year by the jazz journal Downbeat Magazine. Threads of futurism and transcendentalism tie all the pieces together.

This week, Crosstown Arts and the electronic music podcast Sonosphere are teaming up to bring Mitchell to town to perform and lead a panel discussion titled Afrofuturism: Building Communities.

click to enlarge Afrofuturist flutist - Nicole Mitchell - KRISTI SUTTON ELAIS
  • Kristi Sutton Elais
  • Afrofuturist flutistNicole Mitchell

"A lot of my projects are inspired by science fiction," Mitchell says, describing her relationship to the idea of Afrofuturism, and naming groundbreaking author Octavia Butler as a direct influence on performances and recordings dating back to 2007. "Nobody knew what Afrofuturism was back then, but then the movie Black Panther came along," she says.

"Afrofuturism is about taking science fiction and using it as a tool to help us have a better or different understanding of the social issues we're dealing with right now," Mitchell explains. "But it's set more in a fantasy realm, so people are open enough to accept different points of view. Also, Afrofuturism places black folks in the center of the narrative, unlike traditional science fiction that omits black people most of the time."

Memphians joining Mitchell on the panel include James Dukes, Danian Jerry, Troy L. Wiggins, and Sharee Renée Thomas.

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