PAAP |The Poetics of SUN RA: A Joyful Noise
Written by Lehlohonolo Ndlovu | Feature visual by Larah Fisher
In honour of Sun Ra and in his own words, before we begin “The first thing to do is to consider time officially ended…”
During America’s dark ages of Jim Crowe laws and the inhumane treatment of African Americans, a treatment that was birthed from the trauma that was slavery, emerged a distant and familiar star into our orbit. His name: Sun Ra.
In this age of abundant and overwhelming information it’s not rare that one finds oneself in new corners of the internet, listening to obscure and forgotten Black musicians who’ve fallen through the cracks of the mainstream mirage. Sun Ra is in fact one of these musicians, however he is one of the few who have managed to be more than just a passing phase. He promised something more to us, enticed us with new truths about our Black existence and fuelled the endless possibilities of our fruitful future.
Sun Ra offered an escape for Black people in pain, all over the world. This escape was more than just a sonic distraction – it was a healing, an injection of vibrations from another realm to wake Black people up to their true fates. Sun Ra is the seed that said it could, and sprouted into the ever-growing philosophy that is Afro-Futurism. Although most view this as a future of high-tech infrastructure and science spearheaded by Black people, the politics of it are often painted over with a single stroke idea of “Community and khumbaya”. However, if we were to truly transcend the oppressive matrix created by this world, an Afro-Futuristc reality would be free of these limitations and oppressions. Some say this is impossible, but this very same impossibility is the work of Ra, the work he wanted all of us humans to engage in. Sun Ra believed the way into this impossibility was through words…
It’s exceptionally difficult to try and make clear understandings of Sun Ra’s abstract world, he wasn’t even from this planet. His philosophies were of a different plane altogether, but one of the best ways in which to gain a glimpse at his genius is through his poetry. These are just some of our favourite unpoetic poems from Sun Ra’s book “The immeasurable equation”.
His legacy lives on today and permeates across the Atlantic to inspire a whole new generation of emerging South African artists, such as:
Jakinda (https://soundcloud.com/jakindx) ,
NDRZLA (https://www.instagram.com/ndrzla/) ,
Thulile Gamedze (https://www.thuligamedze.com/)
…just to name a few.
Everytime you listen to Sun Ra you’re teleported to another planet (Link: Manthe Ribane – Teleported) An encounter with the Ra is a spiritual one.
Sun Ra (with the help of many others) brought us to this point in our thinking. However it’s up to us to take this thinking further and beyond our own wildest imaginings. As he said himself in his Berkley lecture “The wisdom is scattered all over the world… everyone has a part of the wisdom” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfy2BpbkGe8). Although Sun Ra may not have spoken explicitly about ending gender based violence, addressing toxic masculinity and so forth. What he gave to us was a blueprint of a reality that’s yet to be, a hope and promise of leaving the oppressions of this planet to find a place called home, in outer space.
Today we’ll be meditating on a few key lessons we can learn from him. His philosophies are immeasurable and trying to capture of all of his genius in one article would simply not suffice. However, in true Ra fashion we have done the impossible and have compiled these lessons in beautiful chaos of his words, works, and beliefs:
Sun Ra was dismantling the white hegemony through words, sonics and vibrations. He was anti to the core. “I am looking for people to make judgement day a reality with, and realize neither God nor anybody else is going to judge humanity. They have to do the judging as to what is proper for them to survive.” – ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-DH4cDUVLo 2:35)
“I am paving the way for humanity to recognize the myth” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-DH4cDUVLo 3:03)
He intended to show us our failures as a species and ultimately become the bridge to manifesting a new hope (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-DH4cDUVLo)
Ra taught us to listen to our intuition, regardless of what others felt or believed. This was ones first step to reconnecting with the universe. He emphasized the importance of feelings and following those feelings, he understood how many of us had corrupted minds and the only way to make sense of the mess of this world was to feel. “If we lose feeling then we’re really dead and most people on this planet have no feeling anymore. They don’t even care about each other. They get into religion and philosophy thinking that will do it, but it hasn’t done it. “ (Sun Ra 1991 interview Toronto – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BslNucq9jXo)
He aimed to show just how ridiculous our existence was and made us question why we had so easily accepted it.
“ I am not a man, I am an angel. If i was a man I wouldn’t do anything cause man always fails, he’s so limited.”
Most would take this with a defeatist mindset and believe that Sun Ra was an anomaly of this planet and conquering impossibilities was only meant for a few like him, however this is the very same mindset that Ra was trying to free us from. Nothing in his life had made him extraordinary, instead he lead by example in the hopes that others would follow suit. That people would see that they too were angels, limitless and not of this world.
Our favourite scene from his documentary “A joyful noise” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDwn0lsxDGg
Sun Ra believed in the importance of building an ethnic structure and solid culture for various black communities, ultimately these structures are vehicles in which an oppressed people will be able to liberate themselves. However he felt that current black musicians were too engulfed in making money, this obsession with money was hindering their music as it lacked any real ability to shift people’s consciousness into a higher plane. “People have no music that is in coordination with their spirit because of this they’re out of tune with the universe” ( Sun Ra interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNgwzY0KzlM Detroit journal)
Sun Ra’s overarching message is for the people, especially Black people, to do something other than what they have been doing. Because all that we have achieved this far is the possible, and this is reflected in our day to day reality, a reality birthed by absolute things. Ra was pointing us towards the stars, to now conquer the impossibilities and free ourselves of the limitations of this planet. The bigger picture and beyond the picture is what Ra wanted us to see. The only truth was myth.
What shocked Ra the most was the way we lived, more so how we lived as if we were already dead. So it’s time to wake up to our reality and our reality is a myth.
More on Ra
Get your hands on Sun Ra’s Poetry, prose and philosophies https://books.google.co.jp/books/about/The_Immeasurable_Equation.html?id=tffvurF89-EC&redir_esc=y
Sun Ra’s movies: Space is the Place ; A joyful Noise