Afriqua: “Black Artists Are About to Stunt Hard on 2021”
Adam Longman Parker (AKA Afriqua) first entered the limelight after a series of well-received 12-inch singles in the early and mid-2010s. 2015’s “Chronic Cool” and 2016’s “Soul Correction,” in particular, were guaranteed destroyers on discerning dance floors, from Sunwaves to Freerotation. Both those records worked with minimal’s formal structure of stripped-down groove, but married it with sprinklings of analogue funk and, to keep things weird, just the right dosage of drug-speckled paranoia. And while this may have been Parker’s intro to the masses, Parker was by no stretch of the imagination a newcomer.
Born and raised on a coastal outcropping of Virginia known as Hampton Roads, a musical hotbed home to royalty like Missy Elliot and Timbaland, Parker’s education in hip-hop orthodoxy meant that he was producing and DJing while still an adolescent (managed, of course, by his business-savvy mom). The next step in his musical journey saw Parker developing his piano skills at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts during high school, before moving across the Atlantic for a stint at London’s Royal Academy of Music. It was during those London years, however, when weekend warrior antics at clubs like Fabric introduced Parker to the transtemporal hedonism of Ricardo Villalobos and crew.
Fast forward to the present and Parker now resides in Berlin, regularly playing in his adopted city at venues like Heideglühen while venturing back home to play for key promoters like ReSolute in NYC. Parker’s most recent musical offerings, however, veer away from the type of introspective and loopy house that fills the bags of everyone’s favorite Romanians. Parker’s 2019 debut LP on R&S, Colored, marked an evolution, if not a shift, in Parker’s sonic and political palette. The record was an explicit celebration and interpretation of various strands of the Black musical tradition. Showcasing his piano playing, and still chocked full of club-ready fare, the record is a kaleidoscope, moving from afterhours day-trip to AM funk to Clinton-psychedelia, sometimes in a single song.
In our conversation, we take up the political kitestrings of that record to discuss the state of dance music and race in 2020. It’s a forthright exchange that offers both a critique of the current industry while providing an outline for the next steps. When Parker highlights, for example, that not sharing IDs amounts to withholding (however incidentally) money from Black artists, it’s a pointed reminder that even within the music for music’s sake ethos of contemporary digging culture, there is an erasure of Black labor. Though he remains optimistic, arguing that COVID has provided space for both reflection and recalibration. And he feels certain that “Black artists are about to stunt hard on 2021.”
Thanks for taking the time to chat. Can you give me a quick update on what you have been up to during COVID-19?
Thanks for having me! It’s been an interesting year to say the least, but a very fertile time creatively. That beautiful Toni Morrison quote has come to mind often: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.”
Could you describe a bit of your thought process in making Colored and how you went about foregrounding the music’s relationship to a Black canon?
It’s a tricky balance to find creating such a thematic record. On the one hand, it’d be super wack to just make a bunch of basic dancefloor tracks and attach a profound press release and album title, but on the other hand, it was important to remember that I didn’t need to radically change my process to bring the “Blackness” of it into focus. That was the most profound realisation for me. I took it further by working exclusively with samples from the Black music canon, and collaborating with forward-thinking Black artists who are adding to it.
A lot of your early records were championed by people like Rhadoo and Raresh and some of your first seminal clubbing experiences were at fabric seeing people like Ricardo Villalobos. This “new minimal” scene is often seen as very white and European and I wonder what your relationship to that aesthetic and sound was? Were you invested in minimal’s explicitly Black and American roots?
“Minimal” as we now know it is definitely a Eurocentric phenomenon. That’s not a critique for me, just an observation. I had the privilege of studying in London and also partying there during the end of its nightlife golden age. My relationship with that aesthetic came from those experiences, and I’m grateful for it having shaped the early stage of my career. Since those guys were my entry point, I became as invested in the music’s Black roots as they were, and I feel they were great disseminators in that regard — especially at that time. They did it in the best way possible; by playing great records by Black artists super fucking well, and building on that lineage with their own approach. The Romanian thing has unfortunately become more musically inward looking as it’s become more internationally popular. But I’m nonetheless amazed that people who were still living under dictatorship while modern dance music was first emerging in our community have been so empowered by and contributed so much to it since then.
In terms of the Perlon crew, you’d be hard pressed to find European DJs who are better curators of house and techno records from the Chicago and Detroit OGs. The only thing I see that explicitly detracts from minimal’s Black roots is the recent phenomenon of non-Track ID sharing motherfuckers, who are often people who don’t make records themselves. You gotta wonder how many Black artists aren’t getting their due for the sake of creating a mystique around the idea of “digging.”
You mention in a Facebook video that, “over time I felt like my project needed to become more of a vehicle to express that [Black] musical tradition.” I’m curious if you feel this plays out in terms of an aesthetic shift?
My life is organized around my practice, and my personal and artistic development are one and the same for me. It’s not like I didn’t realize I was Black before I made an album about it. I just grew up. I went through the natural process of reconciling the previously disparate seeming threads of my identity and interests, and most importantly got better enough at my craft to pull it all together.
Following-up on that, has there been a change in the way you’ve approached production and/or DJing in the past two years?
Definitely. In the same spirit of personal reconciliation, I’ve turned back into my childhood approach to DJing and production, which is not to ever take this shit too seriously. When you’re 18 and just coming into everything, it’s easy to be fooled by the “seriousness” of the “underground,” but in the end, as artistic as we may be, we’re still just out here trying to help people get laid. It’s pop music.
In your ongoing critiques of music journalism, you suggest that a lot of organizations only “pay the minimum necessary dues to Black music’s origins” before moving on. I’m wondering if there is a way in which this fixation on origins also means that Black dance music is seen as historical rather than innovative and/or contemporary?
I think that’s absolutely been the case, and we’re already seeing what a wide musical range of Black artists were lurking beneath the surface now that every publication is scrambling for that chocolate sauce. Don’t get me wrong, the OGs deserve all the love they get, but they also deserve some competition! We forget that what made those dudes legendary was how forward-thinking they were. It’s not that they used 909s, 303s, and samples. It’s that they did that shit in a way so unprecedented that it entirely shifted global culture. So it’s misguided that Black artists have come to be expected to be standard-bearers and not visionaries. Compare our scene to hip-hop for the counterfactual.
You identify a tension between editorial support and economic support for Black artists. What would it look like for publications (including this one) to actually build an infrastructure that empowers Black artists at an economic level?
That’s one part of that video where I wish I used different words. What I meant by “editorial” in that case would have been more clearly expressed as “rhetorical”. What I took issue with was the idea that changing the rhetoric on the subject was going to foster an environment in which Black artists were taking a bigger slice of this multibillion dollar business built on Black creativity. Word capitalization is not the issue here. Publications absolutely should editorially support Black artists insofar as building consistent narratives around their careers. That doesn’t mean they should consistently big up their work, especially if it’s trash, but that they should give Black artists the same chances to compete for the public’s ears by giving their music more publicity.
To follow-up on that, I am curious if or when it’s possible for editorial support to lead to economic enfranchisement?
We know who the “darlings” are. It’s artists who are covered from their first record to their last. Their work is acknowledged in its earliest stages as being something to be contended with, whether favorably or not. There are inevitably haters to accompany the entire process, but the compounding effect over subsequent releases is that said artists have more exposure, fans, and, most importantly, more leverage to negotiate better deals. It’s star treatment and more Black artists should be getting it.
I don’t want you to have to pretend to have a crystal ball, but do you think that these twinned moments of reckoning (COVID and structural racism) present an opportunity to rethink the future of clubland?
It’s not pretend. Black artists are about to stunt hard on 2021. We’ve got the public’s attention and have been ready for it. The COVID situation, for all of its tragedy, has also been something of a blessing in giving everyone the time to reflect. In an industry as competitive and nonstop as dance music, I’m not sure the racial revelations would have had a chance to be meaningfully implemented under normal circumstances. I’m excited to see what comes of it all.
You mentioned in a recent interview that you felt like the fixation on calling out microaggressions often comes at the expense of devoting coverage to Black artists. Is there a way to balance these two things: on the one hand, holding people accountable while also still finding productive ways to cover Black musicians?
Calling people out for micro-aggressions is already the lowest form of journalism, but it’s even sadder in the context of music criticism. The most powerful thing that can be done for Black musicians is for their music to be engaged with. The rest takes care of itself. In our clickbait culture, it’s much less of economic risk to put out a hit piece about someone’s questionable behavior than it is to attempt to curate and explain the nuanced work of unknown talent, especially when they look different. This has particular significance for Black artists at this juncture, but no matter what motivates rising standards, every artist, executive, and fan in this industry will benefit equally. There’s never been anything brave or productive about talking shit on the internet. We all deserve better.
What’s next for you? Can we expect more Corona Cookin’ videos?
It’s been loads of fun showing my studio process with the Corona Cookin’ videos, and I’ll definitely continue that project. On top of that, I just finished a new remix of “Life on Planets” for Soul Clap which will drop soon. Also got a new EP on the way, stay posted!