Sun Ra and His Arkestra| Afrofuturism

Hello, my kids! Gather around and let me tell you another story about the Great Sun Ra!!

So, if you don’t remember where we left off in the last post, click here.

For four decades, from the early fifties until his death in 1993, Sun Ra and his Arkestra baffled, dazzled and aggravated jazz fans with an uncompromising and unpredictable musical style that wandered the spectrum from finger-popping bebop to the harshest of atonal free jazz (sometimes in the same piece), and a mythology that often kept audiences off-balance and guessing. Sun Ra didn’t sell many records in his lifetime, but along with the Arkestra, he nevertheless became the stuff of legend.

Angels and Demons at Play written by Jim Knipfel

Today, we will start roughly ten years from where we left off. In those ten years, Sun Ra was finding his footing.

He actually didn’t even change his name until October 20, 1952. It was apart of the movement where many black people were changing their names to something that wasn’t linked to slavery just like Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X. My dad even changed his name a few times.

During those ten years, he was doing a lot of soul searching. He devoted himself to his music and was trying to find his sound. He was drafted for the war and chose not to go and then was arrested.

After all that he finally packed up and moved to Chicago where he really found himself.

August 1946, he ended up in Club DeLisa working under a man named Fletcher Henderson who was a composer and bandleader, on his last creative dregs. When Sun Ra joined them, he was their pianist and tried to throw in his bebop spin on their sound but none of the members were having it.

The beginning of Sun Ra’s Arkestra all happened in the amazing Chicago but it took some time for things to settle in. He tried starting something with Tommy Hunter, drummer, and Pat Patrick, saxophonist. Both were very accomplished musicians and two of Sun Ra’s close friends.

Tommy Hunter, unfortunately, got drunk and had sex with a white woman after an impromptu party. Now if you know anything about American history, you’d know that these were some crazy segregated times. Black people were killed far more often and for stupid things like having sex or even whistling at white women (Emmett Till). Sun Ra made sure that he immediately got Hunter out of Chicago and to New York.

Pat Patrick moved to Florida with his new wife but eventually, he came back and joined the group. Patrick has been in and out of the group until his death.

Along with Pat Patrick, tenor saxophonist John Gilmore and Marshall Allen were constant members of the group.

By 1955, Sun Ra finally settled on the name Arkestra for his group. By them, dozens of musicians have come in and out of the group and Sun Ra was truly born. He was the embodiment of a Science Fiction tale. He spoke in riddles and got the other fellow musicians to follow the space sounds he had in his head.

Sun Ra would create the entire sound of his music and in his Documentaryone of his members even mentions not understanding what sound he needed until years after being in the Arkestra. (the link starts where he says that he didn’t get the sound. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch the hour-long documentary… unless you want to.)

“Somewhere in the other side of nowhere is a place in space beyond time where the Gods of mythology dwell,” Ra said. “These gods dwell in their mythocracies as opposed to your theocracies, democracies, and monocracies. They dwell in a magic world. These Gods can even offer you immortality.”- Sun Ra

Sun Ra and his Arkestra made their way to New York City in 1961 and with their intense sounding music, they mostly scared off their audiences. As my dad said in the last post, “people would leave his performance holding their ears, heads, whatever in fear because his sound was too much.” My dad even called his sound as “a dissonance and cacophony of sound”.

I love how wicked it is that I have actual people who went to see him perform and give a review and I’m living in their home!

At that time, they couldn’t really get a true audience because their music scared most people. People at that time were used to traditional jazz music and not the out of this world jazz that Sun Ra orchestrated.

The group traveled to Philidelphia in the late 60s which ended up being their base of operations. When they first arrived, their neighbors complained about their music but after some time, they became praised members of their community. They played for free for their neighbors, Danny Ray Thompson, saxophonist, owned and operated the Pharaoh’s Den, a convenience store in the neighborhood. They were friendly and drug-free and were great with the kids in the neighborhood.

Their home in Philidelphia was the home of the Arkestra until Sun Ra’s death.

The tour traveled all around the world, even to Egypt to perform.

I started losing my fun momentum. I think I sound like a wiki page so please go to Wikipedia for more information.

My next post will be all about the fun stuff. I really wanted to take you all along with my journey finding out all these amazing new things about this man.

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Sun Ra| Afrofuturism

Hello, Hello! We are back at it again!

This post is apart of a series I am doing on Afrofuturism. I will be posting something new every week!

While doing my research, I was so excited to learn that Afrofuturism began back in the ’50s with an artist named Sun Ra. I first heard of him in Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack and I went on a crazy google spree right after.

Sun Ra was born named Herman Poole Blount (I know, such a mundane name for such an amazing creator). He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914 and grew to be a Bandleader, composer, arranger, artist, and poet who played jazz, Bepop and Space Music. If you’re wondering what the hell Space Music is, don’t worry. So was I. We’ll be touching on that soon.

Herman Poole Blount let go of his past identity and created a persona named Sun Ra or Le Sony’r Ra. With this persona, he told everyone that he was an alien on a mission to preach peace.

During his four decades of popularity, most of Sun Ra’s past was a mystery. He encouraged this by spreading contradictory news about his life, claiming he was born between years 1910-1918 in order to confuse people and maintain his outer worldly persona.


It wasn’t until close to his death that writer John Szwed wrote Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, published in 1998. (A must read. The information below comes from sites written about the book.)


When he was young, Sun Ra taught himself how to read music and play the piano. All through his adolescence, he showed passion for music, he would memorize sheet music for his band practice in and he began composing music around 11 or 12. In school, he was an honor roll student who kept to himself.

In 1934, Sun Ra’s was offered a full-time musical position by his biology teacher, Ethel Harper who was a singer in the Ginger Snaps. He toured with Harper’s group across the U.S. Harper left the group mid-tour and Sun Ra took over until the tour. The tour accumulated a lot of fans but it ended when the tour stopped making a profit.

After the tour, Sun Ra worked as a musician in Birmington and studied at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University until he dropped out and began his journey preaching peace.

When Sun Ra dropped out, he knew that he was on a mission. He knew that the universe was calling him to do something better. In the book written by John Szwed, Sun Ra said:

My whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up… I wasn’t in human form… I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn… they teleported me and I was down on [a] stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools… the world was going into complete chaos… I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.[12]

Sun Ra seriously went out there to follow his dreams and so should you because LOOK AT THIS DUDE!!!

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HE CAME THROUGH KILLING THE GAME!!!!

He let all of his creative juices flow. He truly expressed himself in a world that did not openly express black men being THIS outrageous. His outfits were totally out there during the ’50s. First of all, I want to wear that outfit in that last pic. He looks amazing! I’m wearing it at AfroPunk.


My parents were around during Sun Ra’s prime time. They went to his shows and they both claim that he was pretty out there. My dad said that people would leave his performance holding their ears, heads, whatever in fear because his sound was too much.

I am listening to Astro Black as I write and I describe his music as offbeat but in the best possible way. His sound doesn’t conform to my expectations of what jazz or Bepop but it definitely sounds like it’s from out of space. It’s cosmic and epic. There are these wild sounding notes that must be played on a guitar or base but it is played in an out of this world kind of way.

My father describes his sound as “a dissonance and cacophony of sound”. He says that Sun Ra would play your typical jazz and then take you away with his space music and then bring you back to earth. His sound is an experience.

For my next post,  I will be discussing Sun Ra’s Arkestra. I am really looking forward to delving in.

If you have any more information about Sun Ra or any other Afrofuturism creators, please let me know!

Until next time!

Links
https://believermag.com/logger/angels-and-demons-at-play/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Ra#cite_note-12

http://www.sunraarkestra.com/1-main.html

Intro to Afrofuturism|Afrofuturism.

Hello and welcome!

I wanted to start a blog series discussing Afrofuturism because I’ve been writing my senior project as a literature major at SUNY Purchase. My initial plan was to write my project on the representation of people of color in Science Fiction literature. When I first started writing, I realized that writing about all people of color was too broad so I chose to write about black people, my people.

While doing research, I kept reading about the term Afrofuturism so I decided to pick up the book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack. I fell madly in love. I spoke to my teachers and advisors about this book and this genre and they were just as excited as I was. This is a genre that we didn’t know a lot about which was exciting because that meant I got to read more about black people and black culture.

My intention for this series is to educate myself and other people about this amazing genre and to connect with Afrofuturist creators and other people interested in the genre. I plan on going to events and reading books about this topic.

If anyone has any recommendations or information on this topic, please share it!

Okay, without further delay, let’s introduce ourselves to Afrofuturism!

“Afrofuturism is an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation,” says Ytasha L. Womack author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. “I generally define Afrofuturism as a way of imagining possible futures through a black cultural lens,” says Ingrid LaFleur, an art curator, and Afrofuturist.” (9)

The term was coined in 1993 by Mark Derry in his essay Black to the Future. An essay that I recommend you read because I will be reading it as well.

I first discovered  Afrofuturism while reading. I was surprised to find that the genre also appears in other forms of media such as art and music. One popular creator is Janelle Monae. Have you seen Dirty Computer? She created a short film based off of her album. The film was based in a dystopian future where people get penalized for their expression. Such a clear piece of Afrofuturism. In an interview with New York Times, she says, “The songs can be grouped into three loose categories: Reckoning, Celebration, and Reclamation. “The first songs deal with realizing that this is how society sees me,” she said. “This is how I’m viewed. I’m a ‘dirty computer,’ it’s clear. I’m going to be pushed to the margins, outside margins, of the world.” The beautiful Janelle Monae continues to put black people and black experiences into her art and I love it!


My favorite thing about the term Afrofuturist is that it’s science fiction but BLACK! It’s seeing us in the future as heroes instead of side characters. I’m a huge lover of Star Wars but how can we travel through time and space seeing aliens and androids but not see people of color? As if seeing us in the future would be more surprising than seeing someone move objects with the force!


Speaking of music and space, while doing my research, I was surprised to hear about an artist named Sun Ra born Herman Poole Blount. He was a jazz musician who forgo his past and created a persona named Sun Ra or Le Sony’r Ra. Sun Ra “…drew from Egyptology, black Freemasonry, Biblical exegesis, science and science fiction and most anything else that lay outside the traditional domains of scholarship.” says National Public Radio writer Patrick Jarenwattananon.

Sun Ra’s influences are the main focal points of an afrofuturist piece. Sun Ra was known for creating his beats with the sound of hard bops, claiming to be an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace. Throughout his career as a musician, he publicly denied ties to his prior identity. Most people would view his persona as a form of insanity but Sun Ra was before his time. He has a vision that would make his work and his style and icon of today.

Please do yourself a favor and listen to his music here. I plan on discussing the GREAT Sun Ra in a future post so please, prepare yourself!


 In Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, Ytasha L. Womack writes:

Whether through literature, visual arts, music, or grassroots organizing, Afrofuturists redefine culture and notions of blackness for today and the future. Both an artistic aesthetic and a framework for cultural theory, Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity,  and magical realism with non-western beliefs. In some cases, it’s a total re-envisioning of the past and speculation about the future rife with cultural critiques.

For example, Octavia Butler one of the first black science fiction writers, who wrote  Kindred, a story about a young girl who travels back in time and gets a first-hand experience in slavery. Butler granting her main character the ability to travel through time makes it such a timeless piece of Afrofuturism. Although the main character has no crazy technical time traveling device, her going back in time and seeing how her ancestors lived makes it science fiction.


On my journey discovery what Afrofuturism is, I’ve discovered so many interesting things and I am so excited to share them all with you. I’ve gained a connection within myself and my culture. When discovery Sun Ra, I had nights sitting on the couch with my parents as they relived their own experiences with such an outrageous artist. I’ve visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture and was able to see all that black people endured and how we are still thriving. I’m so excited to begin this series and I hope you enjoy it too.


Here are a few links to articles and information mentioned in this post:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Dery

Featured image is from Into the Spider-verse. It’s my boy Miles Morales