Tag Archives: Sun Ra

Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism

In the 1990s the term Afrofuturism emerged to describe a vein of science fiction-inspired art that repositions black subjects in a purportedly race-free future that is nonetheless coded as white. While ostensibly about the future, Afrofuturism in fact works dialectically with an equally overwritten past to critique the reified distance between racialized fictions of black magic and white science.

Three successive concepts— the experimental jazz bandleader Sun Ra’s myth-science, the funk bandleader George Clinton’s P-Funk, and the hip hop artist Kool Keith’s robot voodoo power—track a historical continuity of collapsing fictions of both past and future in Afrofuturist music, reflecting strategic versions of what Paul Gilroy refers to as anti-anti-essentialism. The robot voodoo power thesis thus recognizes in Afrofuturism a dialectical third way out of the double binds and unproductive debates about racial essence and non-essence.

This according to “The robot voodoo power thesis: Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith” by J. Griffith Rollefson (Black music research journal XXVIII/1 [spring 2008] pp. 83–109).

Above, Sun Ra in the early 1970s; below, Earth people by Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon), one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Popular music

Sun Ra’s utopianism

Sun RaBrecon Jazz Festival  August 1990England

Sun Ra’s music and poetry can claim to create otherwise impossible utopian worlds; this contrasts with the European Romantic tradition in which compositions or poems seek to describe utopian worlds that remain unattainable.

Music and words in Sun Ra’s view of the arts—a view based on African aesthetics—both have a magical function: they do not portray impossibilities but strive to make them a reality.

This according to “Pictures of infinity: Sun Ras klangliche Umrahmungen der Grenzenlosigkeit” by Christian Zürner, an essay included in “Was du nicht hören kannst, Musik”: Zum Verhältnis von Musik und Philosophie im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1999, pp. 205–238).

Today is Sun Ra’s 100th birthday! Below, the Arkestra in 1976.

BONUS: Robert Mugge’s hour-long documentary, from 1980.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Jazz and blues