You might be asking yourself why HYFIN, a station that focuses on Black culture and music, is hosting an anime-themed event. The fact is that anime and Black culture have a long history together. I’ve been a fan of anime since I was in high school in the late ’80s, when I watched bootleg VHS tapes of series like “Lupin the Third and Robotech”.
Black artists and celebrities like Denzel Curry, Flying Lotus, Megan Thee Stallion, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael B. Jordan, Lil Uzi Vert and others are known fans of the genre, with Flying Lotus and Jackson being part of anime series like “Yasuke”and “Afro Samurai”. Even HYFIN artist Masego has a song called “Black Anime” from his latest self-titled album.
Black culture has been inspired by Asian culture since the 1970s, beginning with Chinese martial arts movies like 1972’s “Fist of Fury”. Famously, the 1978 classic “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” inspired RZA to create the Wu-Tang Clan and their 1993 debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”, which featured samples from the film. Anime even embraces Black music from Shows like “Samurai Champloo” incorporating hip hop production by Japanese producer Nujabes in its soundtrack to “Cowboy Bebop”’s incorporating jazz by Yoko Kanno throughout the series.
When Japan began to export anime to America, Black youth embraced it just like they did the martial-arts films. Series like “Dragon Ball Z”, “Naruto” and “One Piece” became staples in Black culture and still are to this day. Anime themes of overcoming obstacles and challenging the status quo resonated with Black people experiencing similar things in real life here in America.
I wanted to know more. So I reached out to Kofi Bazzell-Smith — a manga artist, graduate student at the University of Illinois pursuing a master of fine arts in new media, U.S.-Japan Bridging Scholar and a professional boxer — to learn more about the intersection of Black culture and anime.
Kofi’s goals are to publish in Japan, open avenues for more diverse representation in the form, bridge Black and Japanese cultures through art and language and pioneer teaching manga as a studio-based practice in western academia.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Elizabeth Eden Harris, known professionally as Cupcakke, is an American rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She is known for her hypersexualised, brazen, and often comical persona
Elizabeth Eden Harris, known professionally as Cupcakke, is an American rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She is known for her hypersexualised, brazen, and often comical persona and music although she has also made songs with themes supporting LGBTQ rights, female empowerment, and autism awareness.
Acclaimed GRAMMY-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello makes her Blue Note Records debut with the June 16 release of The Omnichord Real Book, a visionary
Acclaimed GRAMMY-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello makes her Blue Note Records debut with the June 16 release of The Omnichord Real Book, a visionary and deeply jazz-influenced album that marks the start of a new chapter in her trailblazing career. Following her 2018 covers album Ventriloquism, Meshell returns with an album of new original material that taps into a broad spectrum of her musical roots. The Omnichord Real Book was produced by Josh Johnson and features a wide range of guest artists including Jason Moran, Ambrose Akinmusire, Joel Ross, Jeff Parker, Brandee Younger, Julius Rodriguez, Mark Guiliana, Cory Henry, Joan As Police Woman, Thandiswa, and others.
The Omnichord Real Book is introduced today by the expansive lead single “Virgo,” the mind-altering 8-minute centerpiece of the album which features Meshell on vocals, key bass, and keyboards, Younger on harp, Rodriguez on Farfisa organ, Chris Bruce on guitar, Jebin Bruni on keyboards, drums by Abe Rounds, Deantoni Parks, and Andrya Ambro, and additional vocals by Kenita Miller and Marsha DeBoe. The Omnichord Real Book is available for pre-order now on Blue Note Store exclusive color vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and digital.
“It’s a little bit of all of me, my travels, my life,” says Meshell. “My first record I made at 22, and it’s over 30 years from then, so I have a lot of stored information to share.” Reflecting on the impact that the forced stillness of the pandemic lockdown had on her, she says “I must admit it was a beautiful time for me. I got to really sit and reacquaint myself with music. Music is a gift.”
“This album is about the way we see old things in new ways,” Meshell explains. “Everything moved so quickly when my parents died. Changed my view of everything and myself in the blink of an eye. As I sifted through the remains of their life together, I found my first Real Book, the one my father gave me. I took their records, the ones I grew up hearing, learning, remembering. My mother gifted me with her ache, I carry the melancholy that defined her experience and, in turn, my experience of this thing called life calls me to disappear into my imagination and to hear the music.”
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