Cambrofuturism

Welsh UFOs, alien and futurists

[This article is a translation with a few additions of the original Welsh language article Cymruddyfodoliaeth. Also on Tumblr.]

Whilst rummaging around for images to use in a presentation on participatory culture and the Welsh language I came across the image below in a Welsh translation of the Usborne Guide To Computers.

Transl. : Central Processing Unit

This led to a conversation with Ifan Morgan Jones and this comment:

Transl. : Afrofuturism is interesting. We need a bit of celtofuturism which develops the same kind of anti-colonial themes ;)

And even though the wink at the tail end of the tweet noted that Ifan wasn’t entirely serious, I couldn’t keep a lid on my curiosity about the idea. Thanks to a further conversation with Carl Morris, and his introduction to the work of Kodwo Eshun I was encouraged to enquire further.

What are the roots of afrofuturism?

Is there any kind of new futurist aesthetic which is unified across Celtic cultures? A celtofuturism?

Who, if anybody, is out there imagining new futures with a Welsh slant? A Breton slant? Or a Gaelic slant?

If celtofuturism doesn’t hold water as a concept then is there any evidence, are there buried artifacts, or obvious themes which can be joined together under the concept of cambrofuturism, or cymruddyfodoliaeth, to coin a Welsh language term?

What of afrofuturism then?

How is afrofuturism described, and can the theory be transferred or transposed to Welsh culture or Welsh language culture?

Film-maker and author Ytasha Womack describes Afrofuturism as :

[…] the intersection between black culture, technology, liberation and the imagination, with some mysticism thrown in, too. It can be expressed through film; it can be expressed through art, literature and music. It’s a way of bridging the future and the past and essentially helping to reimagine the experience of people of colour.

Are there any Welsh works of art or culture which examine the same ideas of a need for freedom, escape from oppressive situations, and other-ness through futurist art and a foward-thrusting technologically-driven mindset? Are there examples of the same weaving of mysticism with sci-fi in the way that Janelle Monae has brought together Egyptian and Nubian mythologies, cyborgs from Blade Runner, Metropolis (Fritz Lang as well as Rintaro), and a touch of Stargate into a post-modern hotpot?

The documentary film The Last Angel of History by John Akomfrah from 1996 explores the concept of afrofuturism playfully and with broad scope, including contributions from George Clinton, Carl Craig and many more.

In his essay ‘Motion Capture’ Eshun talks about techno in Detroit and the synthesis of another form of black culture in America:

So Europe and whiteness generally take the place of the origin. And Black Americans are synthetic; the key in techno is literally to synthesize yourself into a new American alien.

Grabbing onto something that’s alien to your culture in order to create a unique mutation of that culture. Perhaps for cambrofuturism, that breaking away from claustrophobic, one-size-fits-all, traditional-focused Welshness is part of the drive to create new worlds, and the reason why technology plays a vital role in the synthesis. All tools possible must be utilised in the aim of mining a new seam of culture, occupying the future and making new traditions of old.

For some, this is an aim in and of itself — constantly creating anew in order to break out of the Welsh atmosphere into new space(s). But for others, it’s a way of working within the system in order to offer commentary on the present of Wales and the Welsh language with some kind of distance. The kind of distance which is hard to find in Cymru Fach or ‘small Wales’.

As the experimental electronic pop musician, Gwenno says on her track ‘Stwff’ (Things):

Pan fydda’i mhell o adref mae’r gwir i’w weld yn gliriach
alla i ond ymddiheuro am deimlo’r rhwystredigaeth
[When I’m far from home I see the truth more clearly
I can only apologize for feeling the frustration]

By making yourself estron, alien, sometimes it becomes easier to see what needs saying, and have the freedom to say it.

How appropriate is adapting afrofuturism to a Welsh context?

Many aspects of Welsh culture have been located and analysed within post-colonial theory (see e.g. Owain Llŷr ap Gareth’s thesis, 2009). How do we define ourselves in opposition to others, as other, especially so as other to England / Britishness and how can we see culture from a colonial viewpoint?

Or, as Kirsti Bohata describes in Postcolonialism Revisited :

There are countries whose early histories include conquest and colonization prior to the period traditionally addressed by postcolonialism, and whose subjugation or marginalization may indeed continue right through and beyond the eras of overseas mercantilism, colonization and imperialism. In these cases we find a long history of cultural assimilation and/or political co-option, yet also a persistent, self-defined sense of cultural difference and, later, of nationhood.

There are some who are dubious of placing the battles over the protection of Welsh language and culture in comparison with the experiences of the African diaspora in the West (or the Black Atlantic as Paul Gilroy describes it) and the fight for civil rights in the US. It is impossible to compare the cultural trauma of slavery and racism with English imperialism in Wales. That English imperialism, which included very many Welsh collaborators it must be said, was in many places culpable in slavery and racism. However, one has to recognise that the injustices and inequality which are a part of Welsh history, and the fight to rectify those inequalities, as well as the parallel practice of non-violent civil disobedience, were the reasons why many Welsh people in the language movement identified with the civil rights movement of the 1960s US.

“For Wales, see England”. The themes of being an outsider, being alien, being marginalised in an indifferent British (Anglo-American?) culture are strong within Welsh culture, especially so in regards to the Welsh language.

Wastod ar y tu fas (Always an outsider) — Y Trwynau Coch (The Red Noses)

Fydd y Chwyldro Ddim ar y Teledu Gyfaill (‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ ) — Gil Scott Heron cover by Llwybr Llaethog & Ifor ap Glyn

Y Lleiafrifol (The Minority) — Mr Phormula

And many more protest songs…

So, accepting that there are parallels, is there any reason why we can’t look at Welsh use of sci-fi or fantasy through the lens of afrofuturism, and see if it adds up to something like cymruddyfodoliaeth / cambrofuturism?

Here’s a provocation then. Off we go…

Music

Malcolm Neon

Where did the Welsh electronic music pioneer Malcolm Neon appear from? Space? No, Aberteifi, but he may as well have come from space. Synthesising a new Wales.

Data (1982)

Llwybr Llaethog

Their name, meaning Milky Way, denoted immediately that they were not of the rock heavy Welsh language music scene of 1980s Wales. Influenced by dub, hiphop and a slice of Kraftwerk they rapped, they sequenced, they sampled, they scratched. They have constantly adapted and mutated through countless collaborations. Their website is in space, and they steer their ships past Saturn’s rings blasting heavy dub. These are cambrofutrists.

Mega-Tidy (2005)

Johnny R

His defunct record label, R-Bennig, was a situationist dismantling and reassembly of any preconceptions you might have about music-making. Generally, if no one else in the vicinity was doing it, then Johnny would give it a go. He fed off and reacted against his contemporaries’ relative conservatism. — Adam Walton

Super Furry Animals (+ Pete Fowler)

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochynygofod (in space) EP

Out Spaced

Gwenno / Peski / Cam o’r Tywyllwch

Cam o’r Tywyllwch (A Step Out of the Darkness) is a radio show broadcast by the Peski record label which aims to give a platform to experimental and avant-garde music from Wales and beyond.

http://www.peski.co.uk/ https://soundcloud.com/cam-or-tywyllwch

Gwenno has recently released her first album on the Peski label, which is based on Welsh language sci-fi literature and dystopian politics.

http://peski.co.uk/cy/artist/305/gwenno

Estron / Electroneg / etc. (Geraint Ffrancon)

The electronic artist Geraint Ffrancon has recorded under a number of monikers. Estron (literally, Alien) is one; Ffranconstein, another.

Various Artists — Electroneg (Electronics) (2010)

Geraint Ffrancon — e1002 Three track Video EP (2010)

Estron — Y Crack Cymraeg (The Welsh Craic) (2005)

http://www.recordiau.co.uk/estron-y-crack-cymraeg/

Literature

Y Blaned Dirion (The Meek Planet) — Islwyn Ffowc Elis (1968)

The author coined a Welsh term for sci-fi — “gwyddonias” in this novel which was totally alien to Welsh language culture, and even seen as inappropriate for the Welsh language. Welsh fantasy and sci-fi fiction is still often misunderstood when it appears in national literary competitions such as the Eisteddfod.

Image from the Welsh sci-fi blog Gwyddonias

Y Dydd Olaf (The Last Day)— Owain Owain (1964)

A novel which forewarns of a dystopian future where the singularity has taken place and the machine destroys our individualism.

Nothing like this book has been seen before either in our language or in any other language. We should rejoice that such brilliance exists in Welsh writing.
— Pennar Davies
Image from the Welsh sci-fi blog Gwyddonias

Cadwgan y Llygoden o’r Lleuad (Cadwgan the Moon Mouse) — Elwyn Ioan (1980)

Cadwgan the moon mouse comes to Wales to visit his cousin Siôn who takes him on a journey across Wales whilst also taking him on journeys into Welsh mythology with stories of Cantre'r Gwaelod (The Lowland Hundred) and the Mabinogion.

The Moon — Aberystwyth

Art

Hefin Jones — The Welsh Space Campaign

I aim to reveal that Wales has the capacity to explore space, and to show that off-world culturalisation can be achieved through a collective communitarian effort; as a way to allow the people involved to reconsider their role and skill in relation to these cosmic contexts. — Hefin Jones

The Welsh Space Campaign

Image by Dan Burn-Forti for Wired Magazine UK.

The Welsh Space Agency

[No relation to the above campaign]

WASA Website.

Cerrigydrudion to Callisto
The Welsh Space Agency was set up in 1985 with the intention of exploring new frontiers and retrieve mineral wealth from earth’s near neighbour planets and moons. Three days later, and completely unfettered by the constraints of budgets and proper engineering excellence, we sent our first manned craft to the dark side of the moon.
Since then we have sent many fine Welsh astronauts (cymrunauts) to certain death in our pursuit of space wealth beyond our wildest dreams.

WASA video of the first Welshman in space:

[side note…] Joe Tanner speaks Welsh in space

And the first Welsh language words to be uttered in space <a href=”http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/amazing-story-joe-tanner---7010035">were apparently “Bore Da”</a> (good morning).

Ffilm a Theledu

Separado!

A film by Gruff Rhys a Dylan Goch

Odyssey to a Parallel Universe…
Star Trek meets Buena Vista Social Club in this psychedelic western musical as Welsh pop legend GRUFF RHYS (Super Furry Animals) takes us on a pan continental road trip in search of his long lost Patagonian uncle, the poncho wearing guitarist RENE GRIFFITHS.

http://www.separado.co.uk

Superted

No Welsh flag on his space station but this Welsh-born cartoon character normalised the idea that bears, spacemen, motherly sorceresses, and spotty aliens spoke Welsh. The cartoon series was a flagship programme in launching the national Welsh language broadcaster S4C in 1982.

Superted in Space

Ymadawiad Arthur (Arthur’s Departure)

[no images or videos available] / IMDb

A film by Marc Evans where he imagines Wales in 2096 where everybody speaks Welsh but who, due to some crisis, need to travel back in time to re-awaken King Arthur, but instead of King Arthur they travel back to ‘present day’ Wales, and bring back Dai “King” Arthur, a legendary rugby player.

Radio

Saunders Ffors Wych (Saunders Force Ace)

A comedy sci-fi series by Rolant Tomos, about the journey of Welsh space ship The Saunders Ffors Wych. The name Saunders, refers to Saunders Lewis, Welsh language poet, dramatist and key figure in the establishment of Plaid Cymru, The Party of Wales, the Welsh pro-independence nationalist political party.

See also: Han Saunders, a Star Wars / Saunders mashup from the Saundersify tumblr

http://saundersify.tumblr.com/

Internet Culture

Maes-e / “Y Rhithfro”

Maes-e.com is a Welsh language message board and “Rhithfro” is a term coined to describe the virtual Welsh (language) land. At the time the names conjured up an idea of a separate, new place what another Welsh culture could exist and become something new. Were they establishing a colony, a new Wales like the passengers of the Mimosa who established the Welsh colony in Patagonia? Or planting a flag on the moon? It certainly had none of the overt colonial nature of either, merely finding another part of Wales where one could exist as an alien within your own culture, anonymous and free.

Y Wladfa Newydd (Culture Colony)

http://www.culturecolony.com/

Similarly and more clearly, this site for Welsh artists uses the imagery of Welsh settlers in Patagonia as a direct analogy for their abandoning of traditional media, in order to create their own space on a new frontier.

How about it then?

There’s something about all of the above. They’re all either aliens within their own culture, creating alien versions of culture, or portraying themselves as alien. The sci-fi/fantasy/futurist/technology elements are another weapon which gives shape to their creativity, forming new spaces for it to blossom, and where they are free to say what they wish about who they are, and how they fit in the world, and off it.

They are Cambrofuturists; Cymruddyfodolwyr.