Tag Afro Supa Hero

Funk Upon A Time…

Over 34 years ago, back around 1980 I fell deep (and I mean knee deep) in love with P-Funk. I’m 14 years old and listening to Invicta, one of the few London pirate radio stations around at that time playing pure funk, soul and R’n’B music.

All of a sudden a track comes on that literally blows my mind. The track was called ‘Agony of De-feet’ by Parliament and it’s completely unique sound was to lead me into a whole new universe and lifelong fascination with ‘P-Funk’.

Jon_15

Cut to 2015 and I have just spent the last few months working with George Clinton / Parliament-Funkadelic team and Metropolis Studios on creating the artwork for a very special Album boxset that will be released next month on 18th April 2015.

I have devised the entire concept around it; creating the album name; all the accompanying design artwork and packaging; and the themes which have informed all the press and promotion to come.

The product is the culmination of a fantastic P-Funk weekender at Metropolis Studios, London last year which included a live performance of the band with special guest, Joss Stone; live to vinyl recording and a filmed Guardian Masterclass. The Box set comprises 2 x 12″ vinyl LP’s, 2 x CDs, 1 x DVD and special foldout poster featuring George Clinton in his ‘Uncle Jam’ guise (American MP’s uniform) and next to the “Houses of Parliament-Funkadelic”, wearing a rosette with archetypal P-Funk slogan, “Ain’t no party like a P-Funk party” and a badge with my self-penned slogan, “P-Funk Up Your Government”.

The concept and title for this deluxe box set is ‘CHOCOLATE CITY LONDON: P-FUNK LIVE AT METROPOLIS’. This concept is embellished 1) by the packaging which mirrors that of a luxury box of chocolates with dark, milk and white chocolate 12″ vinyl records and discs. And 2) by portraying London as a ‘Chocolate City; albeit filled with dark, milk and white chocolate citizens.

It has also been devised to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the release of Parliament’s original ‘Chocolate City’ album in 1975. A ground-breaking album where Clinton turned the notion of ‘white flight’ into ‘black takeover’ of America’s cities. Chocolate cities made up by the predominance of a black demographic, surrounded by the vanilla suburbs populated by the white middle and upper classes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_City_(album)

It is extremely relevant to the UK as it is an election year and will highlight the burgeoning political disillusionment and lack of diverse representation that pervades our society despite London being so richly ethnically diverse in its make-up.

Themes, which are best explored in the lyrics of the original album:

Uh, what’s happening, CC?
They still call it the White House
But that’s a temporary condition, too,
Can you dig it, CC?

And when they come to march on ya
Tell ’em to make sure they got
Their James Brown pass
And don’t be surprised
If Ali is in the White House

Reverend Ike, Secretary of the Treasure
Richard Pryor, Minister of Education
Stevie Wonder, Secretary of Fine Arts
And Miss Aretha Franklin, the First Lady

Are you out there, CC?
A chocolate city is no dream
It’s my piece of the rock and I dig you, CC
God bless Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs
Can y’all get to that?

I am supa proud to have been involved in such a momentous project, and humbled to have a small place in P-Funk history and discography, which has been both a deeply rewarding experience and a personal dream come true.

It’s been a mutha of a journey that could not have been possible without the unwavering support of my wife, Jane, my family and friends such as my lifelong P-Funk comrade and aficionado, Errol Donald aka Pride; two very special people in particular who made this dream a reality, the incredible Kofi Allen​ and Lois Acton​; and last but certainly not least, my inspirational foster godfather, Dr. Funkenstein aka George Clinton.

Thank you so much for making that 14 year old boy very, very happy.

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Salaam Malcolm: 50th Anniversary 1965-2015

1990. ‘Malcolm X Fever’ is at fever pitch.

There is a plethora of Malcolm X iconography inspired primarily through the music of legendary, afrocentric and conscious rap/hip hop groups such as, Public Enemy and the X-Clan who had just dropped their debut album, ‘To the East Blackwards’; the films and merchandising of Spike Lee through his newly opened store in Brooklyn, Spike’s Joint; and the bold, fresh and funky fashion of Cross Colours.

These were ‘X-citing’ times. But as with any popular cultural movement, it can reach its point of overload and for many people, like myself who were into Malcolm-X for more historical and political reasons, the seeming reduction of him to that of purely a fashion icon was a bridge too far.

That point of overload was to literally hit home to me, in my locale of East Sheen in south-west London, when suddenly I’d see all these white middle and upper class kids in the local high street, rocking their Malcolm X and Public Enemy t-shirts.

In hindsight, I wish I could maybe have viewed it less cynically and accepted it for what it was, which whatever the reasons, was a mainstream, multi-cultural adoption of Malcolm X, which would have been utterly inconceivable in his lifetime.

Instead, to be honest, I was more consumed with mixed feelings of cultural appropriation and a desire to push a more meaningful adoption of Malcolm X, his teachings, his politics and his philosophies.

However, these feelings inspired me to design one of my first ever t-shirt designs, which I created to recognise the 25th anniversary of Malcolm’s death in 1965.

Malcolm RIP XXV © Jon Daniel

I deliberately took a less populist approach, using his muslim name of ‘El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’. And a typographic rather than image-led visual treatment, using an excerpt from the eulogy read at Malcolm’s funeral by the Black actor and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis.

The design, which I initially sold on the street at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1990, and then afterwards at a few select stores around London, also proved to be a powerful creative catalyst.

It forged within me a new mindset to use design and creativity as a tool to promote the rich historical legacy of Black heroes and heroines from the African diaspora, and to take a progressive and pro-active stance to issues that affected the Black community.

As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

Introducing ‘AfroNOWism’: Five Funky Philosophies

I was that kid at school who was always restless.

‘Distracted’. ‘Boisterous’. ‘Excitable’. Just a few of the adjectives that were used to describe me in my school reports.

All this much is true, as I have always had a relentless energy and over-active mind and imagination.

I was, and still am a dreamer, and I know that I am not alone in these feelings.

I also have an abiding passion for ideas (both my own and others). And it is this passion that has driven me, to pursue a life as a creative professional in design and advertising, a collector and curator of Afro-pop culture, a columnist and more recently as an independent creative director and artist.

It has also led me on an internal quest to challenge myself and find an expression to encapsulate my creative approach.

A definition, that could underpin my ethics and help characterize some of my personality traits.

Traits, such as my insatiable appetite for thinking up ideas and putting them into action; my general impatience and high degree of self-gratification in wanting things done immediately; my refusal to wait for ‘opportunity’ and impulsiveness to just go out there and try to make things happen; my constant desire to challenge injustice, inequality, convention and the status quo.

I am what I am.

So in a humble bid to inspire and share with my fellow creatives, what I feel has been useful to me over the years, I offer you five principles that I try to live and design by, and which constitute my newly formed ‘AfroNOWism’ idea-ology:

AFRONOWISM_SQ

AfroNOWism © Jon Daniel

 

1. Seize The Time!

These words became one of the mantras of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as coined by co-founder Bobby Seale. Together with Huey P. Newton, they created a grass-roots movement that inspired generations of people all over the world to take action and fight for their human rights. Someone once told me, you’re more likely to regret the things in life that you don’t do, rather than the things that you do. So what’s stopping you? I’m not saying don’t look before you leap, just be intelligent about your actions. The key to selling a concept, dream, idea or ideal is all in the ARTiculation.

 2. If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home.

This P-Funk lyrical phrase, was coined by one of my greatest Afro Supa heroes and sources of inspiration. P-Funk is a complete and entire culture that manages to philosophically and aesthetically bind together a giant funk gumbo of; music and musicians; art and artists; and a plethora of super-cool funkativity masterminded by the most magnificent godfather of Funk, George Clinton. Fusing the greatest musicianship with black social commentary, psychedelia, sharp, satirical lyricism and general Afrofuturistic, cosmic creativity, it has informed my ‘through the line’ thinking and approach to branding and campaign communications on many an occasion and inspires me to bring my best game to all I do.

 3. Under-promise. Over-deliver.

When working with clients, one of the key virtues I’ve found is always to be attentive. As in life and friendships, listening is key. Be intuitive, and above all be honest. If you are confident and skilled at what you do, then you shouldn’t need to over-sell yourself. It’s far better to create a relationship based on honesty and mutuality, rather than one based purely on expectation and exploitation. Prepare both yourself and your client for whatever can happen and you’ll come back with ideas and designs that are resonant, robust and therefore deserving of reward and recognition.

4. Form Follows Funk.

In design, there is an old adage that ‘Form Follows Function’. It’s a principle that I also believe in and adhere to often. But in freeing myself more and more of the constraints of working primarily with commercial and corporate clients and now adopting a more personal artistic approach I’ve also found the joy in creating things fuelled much more by instinct than instruction. Designers tend to be quite anal. Well “free your ass and your mind will follow”. Now I trust myself that the wealth of experience that I’ve gained, will translate instinctively in anything I do. I question myself less and just let things flow. If it looks right, and it feels right (to me), it can’t be wrong.

5. Box outside the think.

Be Brave. Be Bold. Believe in yourself and fight for your ideas. Keep your eyes on the prize by constantly moving, bobbing, weaving and learning how to create and build momentum by exploiting the gaps between the question and the answer. You’ll triumph in the end.

 

 

 

A Super Hero Identity Crisis

poster-supermanreveal

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about ‘superheroism’. Partly, because of my Afro Supa Hero exhibition currently on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood, that is centered around my personal collection of African diaspora pop cultural action figures and comics; but also because I see it as a theme that is gradually becoming more visible in society. A trend, I believe is primarily due to the phenomenal rise of gaming across all different platforms and devices. Virtual worlds offering momentary escapes from our real lives through new identities, avatars and alter egos. Sophisticated pursuits that are no longer purely the preserve of children, but also taken through to adulthood.

Although, I am not a big ‘gamer’ myself, I find this whole subject fascinating, especially when I relate it to the African-Caribbean experience in the UK and how many people of my generation; the 1960s first generation Britons, born of Caribbean parents; spent years searching for their own identity.

Even though a sense of displacement was something we shared with our ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Caribbean and the US, I believe our experience in Britain was quite unique. The patriotism, they showed for their respective countries, was a feeling that was often completely alien to me and many of my peers.

Here, we were a group of citizens who felt no more at home in the country of our birth, than we did in the homeland of our parents. In Barbados I was called a ‘Little Englander’ yet in Britain I was seen as a ‘bloody foreigner’. It was an identity crisis that took me years to come to terms with, and even to this day, I still tend to identify more with being a Londoner first and foremost, than being British.

It is experiences like these that have pushed me throughout the course of my life, starting in my early teens, to explore and embrace African Diaspora history and its legions of super heroes and heroines. It fuels my belief that uncovering the truth in ‘History’ is the great equalizer that can help address many of the negative perceptions that surround race, religion, sexuality and gender.

It also informed the approach that I took in creating my Afro Supa Star Twins™ that adorn my exhibition branding and merchandise.  From the outset, I wanted my characters to be accessible to everyone. I was deliberate in making them twins, one male and one female because of my belief in harmony and the equality of the sexes.

In terms of the Afro style, on one hand, and purely for selfish reasons, it embraces the main phase of my childhood; but on the other it was also a dynamic time of ‘Black self-pride’ and ‘Afro-consciousness’ as the formality of the 1960s civil rights and counter-culture movements, paved the way for the free form funkiness of the 1970s.

Although certain strides have been made in the depiction of black cultural heroes and heroines, one issue that still continues to linger is the assumption that a white super hero is for everyone, yet a black super hero is only for black people.  Actually, the ultimate global super hero right now should be from the Han Chinese community, if we are to take our cue from the latest global population statistics.

If we are to go by history, and embrace the scientific facts that suggest all life on the planet came out of Africa, then a super hero of African origin is an entirely fitting concept to be embraced by all.

I have no doubt, the continued portrayal of the white super hero savior of humanity is down to the historical legacy of racism and the continued white male dominated power structure within the worlds of media, television and film. Maybe once they are finally able to accept the ancient African roots of their identity, the world will be a better place for us all.