Afriqua's 'Colored' Is a Celebration of Black Music Like You've Never Heard Before

Afriqua's 'Colored' Is a Celebration of Black Music Like You've Never Heard Before
Photo: Camille Blake
Afriqua, aka Adam Longman Parker, is a worldly man of music. Originally hailing from Virginia, he moved to Michigan in his teens to study piano before emigrating to London, UK and then on to Berlin, where he now lives and makes electronic music that's pretty damn anomalous. His debut, Colored, is about as fresh as it gets, and undoubtedly one of the most interesting albums we've heard all year. Even more than that, it's a record that has been carefully crafted from the cultural footprint of Parker's ancestors.
"To me, it [Colored] is a celebration of black music," Parker tells Exclaim! "Black music is the language of black culture, in some ways. When I think of the greatest cultural contributions that my country has made to the world, I think of the music. The soundtrack to all of the revolutionary development, and technological change, and everything we've experienced in the past century — I really see that as having started with the liberation of African-American people at the turn of the century. The art comes from that struggle and from the tension between those different cultures in America."
Listening to the album, it's incredibly difficult to pin down, stylistically. Yet, it can be linked to a simple concept: How do you know where you're going if you don't know where you came from?
"Knowing the origins of the music and understanding them are important parts of pushing the music forward," Parker explains. "On one hand, this record is a real look back and appreciation for my ancestors — and it's been a really cool journey in that regard: just thinking about myself as a black man, thinking about myself as a black artist, thinking about what that means. On the other hand, it's just advocating for what I think is the right perspective for taking this music in a positive direction. The further you get from the origins, and the further you get from the core, the less valuable the work is."
All of this might give you the impression that Colored is a black music history lesson, or perhaps a dance music album peppered with soul, funk and jazz, but it's neither — and more. True, the record nods, points and sometimes gestures wildly to the back-catalogue of bygone African-American music, but it doesn't actually sound like any of it. This is a new animal entirely.
"Space Dookie," for example, initially comes off as a disco, house, Funkadelic hybrid, but the further it drifts through the galaxy, the more you realize that it's far enough away from those descriptors to be its own thing. Similarly, "Dope" samples a reading of Amiri Baraka's poem of the same name, but instead of sounding like a Gil Scott-Heron-esque, funky wakeup call, like you might expect, it's an oddball blend of IDM percussion and muted subsonic gurgles. Colored is littered with surprises like these — familiar elements are torn from their stomping grounds and flung into an area that is decidedly unfamiliar.
"This is a distinctly non-nostalgic record, at least sonically," Parker says. "And I really wanted to do that. I don't like pastiche music. If I wanted a Detroit techno record, I would rather buy one than try to make one. It's not me. I didn't grow up there. I don't rep places that I'm not from. Sometimes there can be pressure to do that, especially for artists of colour. There's this expectation that there's a musical language or aesthetic language that you are expected to subscribe to, in order to pay dues. I've never been on that vibe and I can't get on that vibe, either.
"It's as much a question of philosophy as it is of capacity. I try to just exist in the space where I'm trying to accomplish something musically transcendental, even if it's just one or two steps past the thing that it's most similar too. And I think that's always been my M.O.
"The nice thing about this is that now I feel more confident saying, 'I make black music,'" Parker continues. "That was a cool realization for me with this record. At first I was thinking, 'What do I make? What's my proof of concept here? What's the essence of what I'm trying to do?' and that's what it is. I wanted to find a way to take this new tradition of dance music, this new branch of the black music tree, and just connect that with its roots."
Colored comes out October 4 on R&S Records.