Many of us can relate to the experience of having certain sensory details instantly transport us to memories of home and formative moments in our lives. As Antoine Haywood, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate at Annenberg, writes in a new autoethnographic essay, such associations—in his case, through listening to and collecting vinyl records—can serve as potent and profound linkages to one’s cultural and familial roots.
The essay, “A Reflection on Afrofuturistic Album Covers, Funk Music, and Black American Identity Formation”, appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies. In the piece, Haywood reflects on his musical lineage, coming-of-age experiences, and understanding of Black American identity in the context of his family’s extensive vinyl collection and his subsequent interest in continuing to build upon it with records of his own.
The initial inspirational spark for the article came about in Fall 2020, during Associate Professor Sarah J. Jackson’s course, The Black Public Sphere, from Freedoms Journal to Black Lives Matter.
“We got to a section of the class where we started to talk about Afrofuturism, and I asked if I could show my records that have all of these great Afrofuturistic images,” Haywood recalls. “As I was showing the records and talking about what they mean to me and why I find them fascinating, I started reflecting on my connection to them, why I collect records, and looking at those records as a kid and how they floated my imagination.”
In the essay, Haywood self-identifies as a “vinyl junkie” who owns over 1,600 albums. Citing artists including Earth, Wind & Fire and Sun Ra, Haywood describes the R&B, funk, and hip-hop records he heard growing up as “portals” that tether him to his family’s legacy and African diasporic ancestry.
“As we entertained each other, popular funk music provided a unifying groove that bonded our familial community. ‘Let’s Groove’ is a song that always takes me back to our pool parties filled with raspy smokers’ laughter, juicy adult gossip, spicy hot takes, and folks singing Philip Bailey’s ‘all-right’ falsetto part in unison,” Haywood writes.
Haywood collaborated with a DJ friend, T-Wheels of Funky Corners, on an Afrofuturistic playlist that serves as a companion piece to the essay. Haywood, who performs locally as a musician and DJ, created the soundtrack under his DJ moniker, Kid Charlemagne (a nod to the musical group Steely Dan).
Much of Haywood’s current scholarly work focuses on storytelling and the social effects of community engagement among BIPOC communities in nonprofit community media centers such as Philadelphia’s own PhillyCAM, where Haywood previously served as a community engagement director.
“With experimental ethnography, you’re able to explore things that are deeply personal, but that lived experience also affords you a critical frame to look at other things in the world,” he says.
This story is by Alina Ladyzhensky. Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.