5/31/14

Sun Ra Arkestra


Sun Ra (1914-1993). Photo: Andrew Putler/Redferns
"Planet earth can't even be sufficient without the rain. It doesn't produce the rain though. Sunshine. It doesn't produce the sun. The wind. It doesn't produce the wind. All planet earth produces is the dead bodies of humanity. That's its only creation. Everything else comes from outer space. From unknown regions. Humanity's life depends upon the unknown. Knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being."
-Sun Ra
I was introduced to Sun Ra proper at a musicology course a few years back called "Perspectives on African-American Music". Sun Ra stood out as a rather monumental figure in the history of African-american music and not least in the afrofuturism movement.

Sun Ra came to earth as Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914, which was maybe the most racially segregated city ever. Later he destroyed all evidence of being born as Herman Blount and changed his name to Sun Ra and claimed to be of an angel race from Saturn. He didn't do drugs or alcohol and didn't have sexual relations. As it's said in the Brother From Another Planet documentary embedded below he was "a musician 24-7".

In terms of clothing and visual representation Sun Ra is very much a forebear to figures like George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic and musically he's related to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane etc. but still Sun Ra and the Arkestra represent something totally unique. A deeply fascinating story about self-transformation and transcendence with some cosmic grooves to go along with it.

I have a few of his albums incl. the 1957 debut Sun Song but the discography is so vast it takes time to grasp the full output. I've only begun scratching the surface. We're seeing the Sun Ra Arkestra live at Jazzhouse next week. Looking forward to that! Sun Ra left earth in 1993 but the Arkestra goes on under leadership of 90 year old (!) Marshall Allen.

The above quote is from Robert Mugge's 1980 film on Sun Ra, A Joyful Noise:


Highly recommendable is Don Lett's 2005 documentary Sun Ra - Brother From Another Planet which incorporates some of Mugge's material, while also including additional interviews:


This article is also a good introduction. I recommended the article on Twitter and Dave Davis from the Sun Ra Arkestra favorited my tweet. That's pretty cool :)
Dave Davis of the Sun Ra Arkestra favorites my tweet.
Sun Ra Arkestra feat. Marshall Allen

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