Most people are familiar with the concept of the tarot, but for many, it takes a lifetime to truly understand it. Through images, words, numbers, and sounds, 22 major arcana cards in the tarot such as the Fool, the Lovers, Strength, the Sun, and the World symbolically illuminate different paths in life. Until now, representations of these archetypes have mostly been white. With this in mind, VICE Records alum King Khan of the eponymous King Khan and the Shrines decided to collaborate with Chilean avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and Belfast-based designer Michael Eaton to create the Black Power Tarot. Each card is inspired by a real-life figure that King Khan believed was able to follow the path of enlightenment.
The Tarot de Marseille is the oldest mass-produced tarot deck, manufactured by printing press around 1500 CE. Figuratively, the Tarot de Marseille inspired the Black Power deck, which casts famous people in different roles.
"The figures in each card represents a likeness to 19 real African American musicians, two real African American magicians (Marie Laveau La Papesse and Black Herman the Magician) and one comedian, the Fool," King Khan says. "The Fool in my tarot is not a musician: what he holds above his head is a crack pipe, and the microphone is there to represent a comedian, not a musician. He was modeled after Richard Pryor, who was in many ways the ultimate fool."
Other famous figures include Billie Holiday as the Moon, designed by a jeweler in Geneva named La Brutte. Gospel singer and activist Sister Rosetta Tharpe is cast in the World card, and the Temperance card features Curtis Mayfield, famous for his falsetto voice. "You could say he sounded quite androgynous, but his music was also very much about balancing the love within. He is not supposed to be macho; au contraire, he is a sweet soul."
Before the Black Power Tarot first appeared on Dangerous Minds back in June, King Khan had the idea to create his deck through a series of dreams. While working on the soundtrack for the Invaders documentary, black power quickly became a theme. Meanwhile, the musician had been having his cards read by Jodorowsky and was amazed at the results, so he ran each card past his mentor, who provided guidance and support throughout the project.
"Jodo wanted me to make sure my ego wasn't interfering," King Khan says. "I originally had N.W.A. as the Judgement card with a blue-skinned Eazy-E rising from the grave, but this had nothing to do with what the card represents. The Judgement card shows the union of the masculine and feminine, and the creation of the perfect, balanced, androgynous child. So I decided to change it up and put Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu in the card. They definitely show the perfect balance of masculinity and femininity, to the point where they become a superior androgynous form that forces us to judge without color or sexuality."
Another card that Jodo "corrected" was Tina Turner as Strength. Originally, King Khan had her wrestling with Ike Turner, but Jodo was adamant that they keep the traditional lion in the card. "This card is not about her conquering a man, it's about her conquering a beast that is inside of her, which means much more," says King Khan.
Designer Michael Eaton believes he was lucky to have such detailed instructions from King Khan via Jodorowsky. "The thing that really helped was, King Khan was very specific about what he wanted and how everything should look. He had a big list of people who he had assigned to a certain card. I would look at reference images form the Tarot De Marseilles and incorporate a version of that person into the card."
In the end, King Khan believes the new deck of cards celebrates black power through the language of the tarot.
"I find it amazing how the path of the Fool getting illuminated and understanding the world has not changed since the 1300s," King Khan says. "The cards are a great to help navigate through life decisions; it's like having a divine mystic guidance. I can't tell you what the future holds, that would be a sham, but I can show you the path, and then you can decide better what decisions to make."
Check out the full Black Power Tarot deck here.