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Sonic Futures: Felukah on Arabfuturism
© Bex / Noor Studios

Sonic Futures: Felukah on Arabfuturism

The Egyptian songstress invites PAM on her sailboat towards the future.

Sun Ra came from Saturn. An angel, keyboardist, composer, and poet, he made his mark on earth as one of the most prolific recording artists in history. Ra was among the first to incorporate electric bass and keyboards in jazz. He created his own synthesis of free-jazz by pioneering polyrhythms, modal scales, and solo and group improvisation. Alongside his otherworldly music and performances, his “equations”, a worldview encompassed of music, spirituality, and extraterrestriality, made him the father of Afrofuturism. Exploring space through Afrocentric culture, he helped develop an aesthetic and philosophy at the intersection of imagination, technology, and Black Liberation. Since their inception in the 1950s, Afrofuturist sounds have traveled the cosmos, commenting on modern life through fantasy and encouraging generations to conjure possible futures through a Black lens. In these endeavors, Egypt is a major source of inspiration; Ra himself (named after the ancient Egyptian Sun god) drew strongly on Egyptology and performed in Cairo several times throughout his career. While his legacy might be unknown to those who are not into experimental jazz, his influence continues to reverberate around the world through musicians like Grace Jones, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, and Felukah, the latest in a long lineage inspired by Baduizm. Rooted in Egypt and drawing from Afrofuturism, Felukah is putting Arabfuturism on the map, ushering in the next wave of sonic exploration and cultural reclamation. 

Stirring Arabfuturist waters

Felukah comes from Cairo and lives in New York City. As a writer and musician, she raises her voice to empower women from her region and beyond, and has established herself as one of the more enigmatic and unique emerging artists in the Egyptian music scene. Felukah traverses genres and mediums; her discography sounds like rap, hip hop, neo-soul, indie rock, samples of Arab greats, and electronic dance. Arabfuturist dreams are the cohesive essence that weaves itself through her music as she takes us to space, sings of planets, demons, and love, always love. She just released her third album, The Love Serum, a mystical soundtrack to tripping on Rahma Zinc, an imaginary drug she created which triggers a deep sense of empathy, compassion, and understanding.

Felukah inserted herself into nascent Arabfuturist conversations tweeting “lemme be the mother of arabfuturism, & 4ever the daughter of the vibe” in 2022. Her declaration was met with critique and accusations of erasure. But to underestimate the depth of Felukah’s commitment to worldbuilding and liberation is a grave mistake that might just make you miss out on a seat on her sailboat (felucca in Arabic) to the future. Raised in a westernized, Americanised context which had her speaking English in an African Arab country, Felukah’s upbringing and chosen home position her at the intersection of Arabfuturism and Afrofuturism. She discovered this while living in Harlem and studying Afrofuturism through Afro-Caribbean literature at Hunter College. “Applying that to Egypt was very empowering to me,” she remembers. “It changed my thought process about what I can create in the future based on a different past. Reimagine a not colonised Egypt? Reimagine a narrative of matriarchy of the past? Where we stand on that path and women are still in charge of everything.” Poetry gradually turned into music, and futuristic imaginations were always right there, connecting America and the homeland. “Erykah Badu is definitely a mentor, an intercultural, universal inspiration. She started a whole movement and welcomed so many women onto this path,” shares Felukah and continues, “A very futuristic sound has always been funk music. It’s made of fire. And everywhere you look it’s always Tutankhamun. Always tapping into ancient Egyptian imagery and philosophy.

Your baby mama Cairo

They sleeping on us

We the timezone rhinestones

“Neighborhood” – Felukah

I was really lucky to be born in this era, because all around me people are changing how we understand music and art. There’s a whole scene in Egypt and the region,” says Felukah with a smile. “I’m not trying to claim this as my own. My peers are my biggest inspiration.” Arabfuturism is an emergent cultural aesthetic and sound that she hears all around and across the cultural spectrum: from queer artists like London-based Egyptian musician Nxdia taking up space in a culture that’s not welcoming to the LGBTQ community, to Mahraganat as an essentially futurist genre, merging the sounds of the street with electronic beats. “El Waili and Molotof – they do sound like they’re coming from a different world. Then there’s Yasmine Hamdan, a Lebanese singer who’s definitely a pioneer in Arabfuturist music. Her music as well as her aesthetic as a woman not portraying herself as a hyper feminised sex icon. In Jordan, Zaid Khaled is creating futuristic sound and aesthetics in his own world, a world in the future. He has this androgynous, larger than life feel to music and art.” 

Banging on the door of ancient magic

The Love Serum’s cover art shows Felukah in space looking out into the universe. Its retro look is reminiscent of early Afrofuturist work and inspired by Lebanese icon Fairuz. “Universe is the keyword,” she says. “I’m not really nationalistic and patriotic like that. My land and my people are the people of the universe. I’m inspired by so many ideas and cultures to coin this space of understanding and empathy. All these values come from a deep source.” At the same time, Egypt is always in her backpack, her roots always near. “I know that’s my home, that’s my people, alhamdulillah. I’m trying to be a culturally hybrid artist.” It shows in her themes, her sound, and her use of samples. “Fruitseller samples an Arabic tune classic by Tamer Hosni. Sampling his song was a way to bring myself into this space and play around with music that men use in this male dominated industry.I got a choice/ I got a thesis/ I’ll raise my voice/ Use some telekinesis/ Fix up a fruit salad/ For you to eat it/ Serve you a metaphor/ Say you’ll receive it – It’s a metaphor for abundance. I wanted to write a song that celebrates the multitude of choices,” she explains. “As a woman of color I was never encouraged to dream big. But there really are a thousand opportunities. No matter what I choose, it’s gonna be beautiful and bountiful. It’s important to walk with this mentality when you’re told how to walk and breathe and live.” Restricting herself is no longer something she wants to do and her songs and message resonate with listeners willing to embrace all that is possible presently and forthcoming. “It keeps inspiring me to think ‘what could be a drastic space for women in 10 years that we don’t even have right now?’

There are plenty of futurisms, some formed from the experiences of the diaspora, others are rooted on the continent. Felukah’s Arabfuturism is a bi-lingual fusion of both. “Language is a cool space to explore when it comes to writing music,” she reflects. Does Arabic have to be the language of Arabfuturism? “That’s a difficult question, Arabic is not the only language in the region. It’s important to acknowledge subcultures and platform people who are historically marginalised. I think that’s how we create a vision or the future, in collaboration.” Away from linguistic colonial remnants, music is a language of its own liberation, conveying ideas and emotions to broad audiences. Most people’s first contact with Afrofuturism was through its sound; scholarship and literature followed thereafter. Felukah’s Arabfuturism follows this path. Feel the love first, then build a world around it. 

Felukah’s bridging of Afro- and Arabfuturism through her Egyptian roots reaches for a world of value-based communities and authentic connection. High on The Love Serum, she is taking off to everywhere and bringing anyone who really believes. “My best work is still inside of me”, she says with conviction. “A system based on love, that’s the kind of dream I want to explore in my music and offer as a space to my people. To honour relationships with people and animals and concepts and art. That’s what we’re here to hone, right now in this place.” Felukah thinks of this endeavour as literally and figuratively dancing into (the new) space. “The future is definitely connected to the past, but it’s not because of the past,” she smiles. “Understand that we’re doing something new.” At the intersection of Afro- and Arab, Arabfuturism is on the Egyptian horizon.

Listen to The Love Serum out now.