Edited by Azizi Powell
An "afro" (also known as "fro") is an African American term for a natural hairstyle that is worn or was worn by some Black females and Black males. For centuries people in some Black African nations, and Black people in other part of the world such as the Fiji Islands and Australia have been sporting what Americans would consider to be "afros". However, since the early 20th century, with the development & marketing of hair care products for Black people by Madame C. Walker and other Black hair care entrepreneurs, until the mid 1960s or so few African American adults-especially few African American women- would have even considered wearing their hair naturally out in public.
The emergence of the afro and other Black natural hairstyles in the United States during the 1960s was closely tied to the "Black is beautiful" movement. That Black pride movement was fueled by the large number of African nations that became politically independent from Europe rule in the 1960s. The hey day of afros for African Americans was in the 1970s. It appears to me that particularly in large urban US cities, more Black people-including teenage females & males-wore their hair in afros during the 1970s than in any previous time or to date. Check out this Soul Train television show video from the 1970s for an example of the different ways African American males & females wore their hair:
Soul Train Line Dance to Curtis Mayfield Get Down
Uploaded by bysolo65 on May 3, 2011
In the 1960 & the 1970s, the wider & bigger the afros the more they were highly valued by afro-centric (African cultural centered) Black folks. Indeed, because of the wide and also sometimes "wild" appearance of many afros, one vernacular nickname for the afro that Black folks used was "bush". Calling someone's fro a "bush" could be positive, negative, or neutral depending on who said it, and when & how it was said.
For many Black people, afros are just a hairstyle. I started wearing my hair in an afro in 1966 and I've consistently worn my hair in an afro style ever since then. For me, the afro is much more than a hair style - it's a statement of Black pride. I remember when some Black males and females started wearing their hair in afros, a lot of Black folks were incensed that we would show the world our "back to Africa" roots. And many non-Black folks thought that everyone wearing their hair in a fro was a radical who hated White people. That of course wasn't true then and it isn't true now. Furthermore, lots of people who didn't wear afros- including some Black people - thought and still think that people who wore/wear their hair in afros didn't wash or comb or style or nourish their afro hair. That is also untrue.
From the 1980s to the early 2000s, it seemed that very few African American adults chose to wear their hair in an afro. For example, during that time period the only women I saw wearing afros in my adopted city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were a few Black women over the age of 40. I purposely wrote "adults" because even in the 1960s and 1970s, and also today it seems to me that very few African American children under 18 years old wear their hair in afros-although this may be slightly changing now with the attention being paid to more natural hairstyles for Black folks such as cornrolls & dreads (dreadlocks).
Nowadays there appears to be more styles for afros than I remember in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the early 2000s or so, I've been seeing younger Black women wearing closely cropped (very short) afros, or moderatedly short but styled 'fros. And this year (2011), I've been seeing more young African American women (and African American men) sportin' large Angela Davis style afros. I think that there are many reasons, including the recyling of fashion trends, for the (still moderately)increase in Black folks wearing their hair in afros. In addition to the reasons I have already mentioned, some females who wear their hair in afros indicate that they do so because that style is easier to take care of than relaxed (straigtened) hairstyles and/or the belief (which I think is fact) that natural hairstyles are usually healthier for the hair.
"A natural" is another term for an "afro" and other hair styles (such as dreadlocks) for tightly curled* hair that are typical of people of Black African descent when that hair is not hot combed or chemically treated. Person who have natural hairstyles (i.e. afros, twists, locks etc) shampoo and condition their hair. Females or males may highlight their hair with colors and may put beads or cowrie shells in their twists or dreadlocks. Furthermore, afros may be texturized (chemical treatment may be added for a shorter time period)to loosen some of the hair's natural curl. If this happened in the 1960s - 1980s I didn't know about it. Also, females & males may choose to have their afros cut & styled in beauty parlors or barber shops. That said, there is a trend nowadays for some big afros to be worn seemingly unstyled - or maybe I should say that the seemingly unstyled wide afro is a current style.
I attended an event this week (August 2012) and saw a Black woman who was probably in her forties with a very short closely cropped afro that was probably texturized and also dyed blond. I also saw another Black woman around the same age who wore her natural hair (not a wig or hair pieces known as "extensions") in an unstyled wide afro. Her hair was dyed brown with red tinges. Those colors were almost certainly the result of a beauty parlor or barber shop treatment. Furthermore, her hair may have also been chemically treated as it wasn't tightly curled but somewhat straight. Instead of the hair in her afro being tightly curly and close to her head, and big (meaning touching her shoulders in length), her hair was away from her head and went every which way. But she (like me and other Black people) may have some portions of her hair that are naturally straighter than other hair portions, and therefore her wide somewhat straight afro might have been all natural except for the hair colors. Also, there are some Black people who have naturally brown hair or other non-black hair color but in that woman's case her afro hair colors probably weren't "natural". I should also note that these women were very attractive.
*"tightly curled" is the term I prefer for various textures of hair that is considered typical of the hair texture for people of Black African descent although it isn't hair textures of all Black people and isn't hair textures which are exclusive to Black people. I say "textures" because there are a range of tightly curled hair textures. Other terms for "tightly curled" hair such as kinky, nappy, frizzy, coarse, wooly often have negative connotations and can therefore lead to negative consequences by those who use them.
This post showcases several music videos of Black women wearing their hair in an afro. Videos are presented of featured vocalists from four African nations and from the United States. I've also included a video from the Fiji islands to show examples of what Americans would consider to be afros in that Melanesian nation.
Each featured video is presented with my subjective description of the length and style of the afro given in parenthesis*. By no means is this a comprehensive presentation of the ways that Black women wear afros or the nations of the world where females wear afros.
*I'm not a beautician. My apologies if these descriptions of afros are subjective and simplistic.
Without further comment, here are the featured videos of female afro styles from very closely cropped to very wide:
Angelique Kidjo –“Mallaikka” (Benin, West Africa)
Uploaded by equinoxrox on Apr 28, 2007
African singer Angelique Kidjo from Benin sings love song ballad in Swahil at the Africa Rollback Malaria Concert. English subtitles. On March 12 and 13 in 2005, some of Africa's greatest musical talents got together to play for two nights in downtown Dakar while trying to spread the message about combating malaria.
[a very closely cropped afro which has been dyed blond; Since about the 1990s, a small number of African American women also began to dye their straightened hair blond and dye their (usually) closely cropped or relatively short afro blond.]
Laura Mvula -"She"- (In South Africa) - by Damian Weilers
Laura Mvula, Published on Nov 17, 2012
Shot by South African director Damian Weilers in Montagu, Western Cape.
'She' is taken from Laura Mvula's debut EP available now
Vocalist Laura Mvula was born in South Africa but grew up in the United Kingdom. Her hair is worn in a closely cropped afro.
Hat tip to http://afroeurope.blogspot.com/2012/11/new-video-new-sound-of-laura-mvula-she.html for alerting me to this video.
Cesaria Evora - "Mar de Canal" (Cape Verde, West Africa)
Uploaded by alcom34 on Jun 8, 2007
Voz d'Amor - 2003
[a short afro which appears to be "texturized" (slightly chemically treated?)]
Odetta - "Waterboy" (United States)
Uploaded by elisabethbmw on Jun 5, 2010
This clip is taken from Bob Dylan's 'No Direction Home.'
[a moderately short afro]
Aretha Franklin – “Rock Steady” (1971) (United States)
Uploaded by DAVIDEMME on Dec 17, 2008
[Aretha Franklin's afro is in a style I would call a moderately large "box" (an afro which is high on the top and narrow on the sides); Note the middle background singer with moderately short afro, and the background singer with afro puffsl
Rebecca Malope - “Hamba Lenquola” (South Africa)
Uploaded by MAURA MACIVER on Apr 13, 2008
[moderately short, styled afro]
Aretha Franklin - Jump (Soul Train 70's) (United States)
MyRhythm NSoulTV, Published on Apr 10, 2014
[moderately big/wide afro dyed light brown]
Fiji Music (Fiji)
Alexey Bekmuratov on Nov 18, 2009
Vinaka Vakaniu Collection-2
[moderatively big afros]
Also, click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1vrUNfTTBY&feature=related for other photographs of Fijian females and males with what Americans would all "afros".
Ethiopian Music Kassahun Taye (sora ye wello bahlawi)
[long style with partially braided hair on top; Americans would call this look a natural hairstyle which if worn out might be called "afros". That said, Ethiopians are unlikely to consider this style an afro.]
Natalie Cole - This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) 1975 (United States)
Uploaded by jondbee56 on Aug 8, 2010
[very big/wide afro]
Esperanza Spalding BLACK GOLD- OFFICIAL (credits) (United States)
Uploaded by montunoartists on Feb 5, 2012
Official Site: http://www.esperanzaspalding.com
...This song is singing to our African American heritage before slavery. Over the decades, so much of the strength in the African American community has seeded from resistance and endurance. I wanted to address the part of our heritage spanning back to pre-colonial Africa and the elements of Black pride that draw from our connection to our ancestors in their own land. I particularly wanted to create something that spoke to young boys.
[very big/wide afro]
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/06/videos-of-african-american-males-music.html "Videos of African American Males (Music & Natural Hairstyles), Part 1"
That post presents videos of afro hair styles worn by various African American non-religious music performers (from 1969 - 2002). That post also includes an essay that I wrote on "The Psycho-Social Implications For African Americans of Natural Hair Styles".
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