01 September 2010
Sun Ra: Truly Hypnagogic
Have been digging out my Sun Ra albums and blasting them for days as I am absorbing the cosmic knowledge documented in John Sinclair's edited collections of interviews,reminiscences, musings and tributes of and on the man from Saturn. Years ago, I read the definitive biography on Ra by John F. Szwed, "Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra" and he has been a source of deep amazement and wonder. His music is neither past, present nor future but it can be all three at once, strangely. His big band pieces, fire music-like blasts, 1960s/1970s outer space keyboards adventures, disco tunes and groovy 1970s fuzak are all part of his repertoire. His albums inspired Merzbow to release literary hundreds of albums as Masami Akita, the man behind Merzbow, thought Sun Ra used to release thousands of albums(!).
But I want to focus on his indirect influence or rather similarities with today's underground scenes obsession with retro-futurism: Sun Ra is consistently re-visiting the past never lived and living through a present that is seldom static, while looking ahead into a future which is oddly deep with Black Astro-musicology. The theses put forward by Kodwo Eshun in his seminal text, "More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures In Sonic Fiction", published in the late 1990s, was one of the first to draw these hidden a-chronologies in the Black Sonic Arts of Sun Ra, Lee Scratch Perry, Miles Davis, Detroit Techno and beyond. Strictly non-linear but multi-versal in nature, the music, teachings and poetry of Ra is all of the above.
Hypnagogic before anyone else. Sun Ra's music is about looking back and re-imagining a better future for the Afro-Americans since the 1950s till the year he passed in 1993. His space-age visuals, costumes, album covers, chants, headgear, and lyrical themes are stuff beyond the shallow 1960s mainstream commercial white-boy psychedelia: he truly understood the history of the Blacks in the USA, the lost home of ancient Africa as well as the re-empowerment of Egyptology for his fellow black brethrens. And his music is both avant garde and pop: Hypnagogic pop.