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HYFINated Conversations

Anime, Art, Beats & Sake: The intersection of Black and Japanese culture

todayMay 23, 2023 1

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Kofi Bazzell-Smith

On May 27 at Sugar Maple, HYFIN will host “Artistic Anarchy, an evening of Anime, Art, Beats, and Sake.” The event will feature 13 diverse artists from Milwaukee showcasing their anime-inspired artists, as well as food and a cosplay contest. 

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.

Written by: Tarik Moody

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HYFIN is a media movement from Radio Milwaukee.

Milwaukee’s only Urban Alternative radio station features the full spectrum of Black music beyond R&B and Hip-Hop plus Milwaukee music. HYFIN connects the culture with the latest Black culture news, podcasts and more. Listen to best hip hop & R&B, dance, Afrobeats and more!


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Get your tickets now for just $10 in advance or $15 at the door and join us at 220 East Pittsburgh on May 10th.