Philosophy::Sun Ra


Music::arkestra    Blount::category    First::szwed    Title::black    Years::their    Chicago::often

Philosophy Sun Ra's world view was often described as a philosophy, but he rejected this term, describing his own manner as an "equation" – he claimed that while philosophy was based on theories and abstract reasoning, his method was based on logic and pragmatism. Many of the Arkestra cite Sun Ra's teachings as pivotal and for inspiring such long-term devotion to the music that they knew would never make them much money. His equation was rarely (if ever) explained as a whole; instead, it was related in bits and pieces over many years, leading some to doubt that he had a coherent message. However, Martinelli argues that, when considered as a whole, one can discern a unified world view that draws upon many sources, but is also unique to Sun Ra, writing:

Sun Ra presents a unified conception, incorporating music, myth, and performance into his multi-leveled equations. Every aspect of the Sun Ra experience, from business practices like Saturn Records to published collections of poetry to his 35-year career in music, is a manifestation of his equations. Sun Ra seeks to elevate humanity beyond their current earthbound state, tied to outmoded conceptions of life and death when the potential future of immortality awaits them. As Hall has put it, "In this era of 'practical' things men ridicule even the existence of God. They scoff at goodness while they ponder with befuddled minds the phantasmagoria of materiality. They have forgotten the path which leads beyond the stars."<ref name=martinelli />

He drew on sources as diverse as the Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, channeling, numerology, Freemasonry, Ancient Egyptian Mysticism, and black nationalism. Sun Ra's system had distinct Gnostic leanings,<ref>Szwed (1998), p. 297.</ref> arguing that the god of most monotheistic religions was not the creator god, not the ultimate god, but a lesser, evil being. Sun Ra was wary of the Bible, knowing that it had been used to justify slavery. He often re-arranged and re-worded Biblical passages (and re-worked many other words, names, or phrases) in an attempt to uncover "hidden" meanings. The most obvious evidence of this system was Ra's practice of renaming many of the musicians who played with him.

Bassoonist/multireedist James Jacson had studied Zen Buddhism before joining Sun Ra and identified strong similarities between Zen teachings and practices (particularly Zen koans) and Ra's use of non sequiturs and seemingly absurd replies to questions.<ref>Szwed (1998), p. 385.</ref> Drummer Art Jenkins admitted that Sun Ra's "nonsense" sometimes troubled his thoughts for days until inspiring a sort of paradigm shift, or profound change in outlook.<ref>Szwed (1998), p. 387.</ref> Drummer Andrew Cyrille said Sun Ra's comments were "very interesting stuff... whether you believed it or not. And a lot of times it was humorous, and a lot of times it was ridiculous, and a lot of times it was right on the money."<ref>Szwed (1998), pp. 386–87.</ref>

Some of Sun Ra's songs with words featured lyrics that although simple, were inspirational and philosophical. The most famous example was "Space Is the Place!" Another example was the song that went, "You made a mistake. You did something wrong. Make another mistake, and do something right!" Sometimes (typically at the end of a set) the entire Arkestra snaked out through the audience, playing and chanting something like this.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

Sun Ra and black culture

According to Szwed,<ref>Szwed (1998), p. 311.</ref> Sun Ra's view of his relationship to black people and black cultures "changed drastically" over time. Initially, Sun Ra identified closely with broader struggles for black power, black political influence, and black identity, and saw his own music as a key element in educating and liberating blacks. But by the heyday of Black Power radicalism in the 1960s, Sun Ra was expressing disillusionment with these aims. He denied feeling closely connected to any race. In 1970 he said:

I couldn't approach black people with the truth because they like lies. They live lies... At one time I felt that white people were to blame for everything, but then I found out that they were just puppets and pawns of some greater force, which has been using them... Some force is having a good time [manipulating black and white people] and looking, enjoying itself up in a reserved seat, wondering, "I wonder when they're going to wake up."<ref>Szwed (1998), p. 313.</ref>

Sun Ra is considered to be an early pioneer of the Afrofuturist movement due to his music, writings and other works.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref>

The influence of Sun Ra can be seen throughout many aspects of black music. He grounded the practice of afrofuturism in a musical tradition of performing blackness that remains relevant today. Sun Ra lived out his beliefs of afrofuturism in his daily life by embodying the movement not only in his music, but also in his clothes and actions. This embodiment of the narrative allowed him to demonstrate black nationalism as a counter narrative to the present culture. It was in Chicago, as well, in the mid-fifties, that Ra began experimenting with extraterrestriality in his stage show, sometimes playing regular cocktail lounges dressed in space suits. By placing his band and performances in space and extraterrestrial environments Sun Ra built a world that was his own view of how the African diaspora connected.<ref>Corbett, John. "Brothers From Another Planet." Extended Play: Sounding off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein. Durham: Duke UP, 1994. N. pag. Print.</ref>

Influence and legacy

Many of Sun Ra's innovations remain important and groundbreaking. Ra was one of the first jazz leaders to use two double basses, to employ the electric bass, to play electronic keyboards, to use extensive percussion and polyrhythms, to explore modal music and to pioneer solo and group freeform improvisations. In addition, he made his mark in the wider cultural context: he proclaimed the African origins of jazz, reaffirmed pride in black history and reasserted the spiritual and mystical dimensions of music, all important factors in the black cultural/political renaissance of the 1960s.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

George Clinton of P-funk drew inspiration from Sun Ra; see P-Funk mythology. He once declared in an interview, "Yeah, Sun Ra's out to lunch... same place I eat at!"<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref>

Detroit's MC5 played a handful of shows with Sun Ra and were influenced by his works immensely. One of their songs from their premiere album Kick Out the Jams featured a track called Starship, which was based on a poem by Ra.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

Filmmaker and visual artist Cauleen Smith has heavily researched the life and legacy of Sun Ra. Her 2013 exhibition "17" "arises out of [her] research into the legacy of Sun Ra, who was himself a student of numerology and achieved a kind of cultural immortality the number 17 might be said to refer to." <ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Her project "The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band" includes several components related to Sun Ra. "One component (2010) of the project is the production of five flash mob street performances involving a marching band inspired by Sun Ra's Arkestra. The second component of the project... is a full-length video that chronicles the urban legends of Sun Ra’s time in Chicago as well as the contemporary artists who live and work in this city."<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

The Sun Ra Repatriation Project was started in 2008 with the aim of using interplanetry communication with a view to facilitating SUn Ra's return to Plante Earth.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

Sun Ra sections
Intro  Biography  The Arkestra  Music  Philosophy  Filmography  Bibliography  Discography  Notes  References  External links  

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