A Brief History of Music’s Most Epic Afros

By
Share:

The new Mars Volta album is out this week, and while we’ve not always been able to digest the band’s multi-part prog opuses, we’ve always admired them for at least one reason: their hair. We don’t want to be overly superficial here, but core Mars Volta duo Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López have sported two of the best Afros in music over the last decade or so, and the duo’s hair has inspired serious Afro envy in irredeemably white and boringly straight-haired music journalists like us. So to celebrate the release of Noctourniquet, we thought we’d have a light-hearted look at some of the other glorious ‘fros that have bedizened the world of music over the years. Who did we miss?

The Mars Volta

So, yes, the best thing about the Mars Volta — before Cedric Bixler-Zavala cut his hair, anyway — was the distinct personality of the Afros that adorned the band’s key personnel. Omar Rodríguez-López rocked the freeform, growing-in-all-directions version, while Bixler-Zavala went for the more tightly-wound helmet style. It’s amazing how much you can tell about a person from their ‘fro, eh?

Phil Lynott

The Thin Lizzy frontman’s mixed-race heritage — his mother was white and his father from Guyana — made for a particularly rough childhood in Dublin, especially as he grew up in a neighborhood that was a) rough and b) pretty much exclusively white. But Lynott wore his history proudly, and nothing spoke more of his heritage than his glorious, luxurious Afro. It became his trademark, and one of the most iconic hairstyles of the ‘fro-heavy ’70s. Sadly, the campaign by an extreme-right group against the statue of Lynott that was erected in Dublin in 2004 shows that for a certain idiot minority, nothing’s changed.

Jimi Hendrix

Speaking of iconic ’70s Afros, there were few more well-known than that sported by the man pretty much universally acclaimed as the best guitarist of all time. The Afro became a potent symbol of black pride and the civil rights movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, and Hendrix’s was the most famous of the lot.

The MC5

Wayne Kramer’s giant white-boy Afro was a kind of follicular manifesto, a hairstyle that proclaimed the band’s extreme-left politics and Black Panther affiliations just as much as their raucous sound and rabble-rousing lyrics. These days, the band’s Afros are nowhere to be seen, but they remain an inspiration for ’60s- and ’70s-styled white boys everywhere (cf. Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother, for instance).

Questlove

With other latter-day ‘fro advocates having moved away from the style — Andre 3000 shaved his off, Kobe Bryant started going bald, and Lauryn Hill disappeared — it’s been left to The Roots’ drummer to act as the de facto poster boy for post-millennial Afrodom. He’s done a fine job of flying the flag for the ‘fro over the years, so much so that he in fact holds the world record for fitting the most Afro picks into one head of hair. No, we had no idea that there was a record for such a thing either.

Buzz Osborne

The Carlos Valderrama of eardrum-imploding sludge metal, The Melvins’ frontman has been rocking one of the most distinctive hairdos in music for nearly 30 years. The fact that his epic freeform ‘fro is almost entirely gray these days only makes it all the more unmistakeable.

Betty Davis

We waxed lyrical recently about the frankly terrifying Betty Davis and her turquoise chain, and she cut a remarkable figure on the cover of her self-titled 1973 debut — knee-high silver boots, tiny jean shorts, and massive, exuberant Afro. She maintained the style over the course of three killer records, never quite gaining the recognition she deserved, so we’re thoroughly chuffed to see that there’s been a resurgence of interest in her work over the last few years.

Kelis

Meanwhile, the 2000s’ heir to Davis’s man-eating persona also adopted Betty’s hairstyle, and added a twist — not only did Kelis sport a triumphant Afro, it was triumphant multi-colored Afro to boot. It’s no wonder that men everywhere quailed at the sight of this technicolor banshee howling “I hate you so much right now!” out of their televisions.

Adam Clayton

No, really — in the years before white flags and Live Aid and image consultants and stylists and general global megastardom, U2’s bassist had the most outrageous of Napoleon Dynamite-style white ‘fros. It reached its apotheosis on the cover of October — shortly afterward, Martin Gore sued Clayton decided that a change of style might be the way forward.

Michael Jackson

Poor Michael. It’s hard to believe this is the same person who was buried in 2009, isn’t it? RIP.

The cover of Maggot Brain

Suitably iconic cover art for a record that contains one of the single greatest pieces of music that anyone’s ever recorded (viz. the title track). And the poor lady buried up to her neck in the ground has one of the most recognizable musical Afros ever — so does anyone know who she is? Answers on a postcard, please!

Phil Spector

We’re not really sure what to say about this, except to note that it was perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the entirely macabre theater of weirdness that was Spector’s murder trial. And, strangest of all, Spector apparently adopted the ‘do as a tribute to Detroit Pistons defensive stalwart Ben Wallace. We’re sure Big Ben was, um, thrilled.