Sun Ra

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Born on the planet Saturn, Sun Ra was a jazz composer of interplanetary significance, producing more than 200 albums throughout his illustrious career spanning six decades. As well as being a band leader of his Solar Myth Arkestra, which toured the world, including epic performances at The Pyramids, he also ran his own record label, and even starred in a film about his musical quest.

Sun Ra's unique musical vision paralleled his cosmic beliefs, that his mission on Earth was to liberate human kind through the healing powers of music. He incorporated African elements into his music, and taught black history and Egyptian mythology. His cosmic stage shows incorporated colourful processions of robed musicians chanting and drumming and playing frenzied, mesmeric solos amongst precisely notated orchestrations. Forever a musical pioneer, he was one of the first jazz musicians to experiment with electronic instruments, back in the 1950's long before the first synthesisers were commercially available.

After suffering a stroke, he departed this planet on 30th May 1993, aged eighty Earth years. I just noticed that "Sun T. Ra" is an anagram of "Saturn", if that helps, although I don't know what T would stand for, other than 'The'.

Sun Ra on 2

                People on
           this   planet  are
       always dealing with Number
     One. But 'one' represents  the
    past,  as  you  can  plainly see:
   "Once upon a time"  means something
  that  was, and         not   anything
 that  is.  So             therefore this
 planet would               have  to  stop
dealing with                 the word 'one'
& deal  with                 the word 'two',
                             because two is
                           Even time moves
                          in seconds, not
                         in  firsts, and
                        they do  say on
                       this    planet:
                     "Tomorrow never
                   comes",  and  I
                 say  again,  of
               course tomorrow
             never  comes to
           a world in love
         with the things
       of   yesterday.
     Everybody's waiting  for  Number  One
   to  return.  I'm Number Two. Number One
   is back there in "Once  upon  a  time".
   Number  One  will  not  be  back, ever.

[Words of Sun Ra, the legendary jazz composer from Saturn, typeset by Spock for the Good of The Universe]

Space Is The Place* film showing @ London's ICA 2004-05-03

Wow. Went to London's ICA to see a very far out Sun Ra film: Space Is The Place *. This film is so far from the boring contemporary Hollywooden trash that passes for cinema these days, that it is quite a shock to our 'modern' thinking. And what a great shock that is.

It begins on Saturn, birthplace of this great jazz master, who is seen walking around a glorious garden of Eden, dressed in flowing silver robes and a gold Egyptian sphinx-like headdress, as strange rotating objects float in the air. He introduces the story of his journey to Earth to awaken its misguided people with music...

Thus ensues a battle between Sun Ra's forces of Good with The Overseer, an evil pimp-Daddy/Mr. Big figure, dressed in sharp white suit and shoes, red socks (yeah!), carrying a long cane and smoking fat cigars, a nasty piece of work indeed. Sun Ra flies his yellow pulsating Moonship to Earth and lands (superbly low-fi special effects from 1975!) causing earthquakes and a wave of mass hysteria and interest in this silver-suited man with magical powers. NASA and the FBI try and thwart his plans and steal his secrets. But Ra is determined to touch the hearts of the young oppressed black people who have been kept down by The Man. He sets up an Outer Space Employment Agency to allow people to come and work on Saturn, but most of the Earthlings are too hung up with their own issues and worldly folly to ever achieve self-realisation. The film is full of hilarious parodies of blaxploitation movies and the characters are larger than life, their behaviour quite scandalous to our 'politically-correct' sensibilities. The sets are magnificent in a low-budget Seventies way and the costumes of Ra's entourage, the Solar Myth Arkestra, are stunning, as are lots of great shots of Ra's cosmic spacecraft interior, complete with Minimoog Model D at the flightdeck controlling the ship (he used a rare Model B and Farfisa Professional organ on stage). I had hoped there would be more footage of his cosmic music, but much of it was just Ra reciting over frantic percussion and brass onslaughts. Instead this film is more about mythology, black oppression and some goddamn freaky clothes.

Are you ready for your Altered Destiny?

* Now available on on DVD :-)

© copyright Malcolm Smith 2004-05-04 - last updated 2006-06-25 links verified 2006-06-25