Afrofuturism is an artistic and cultural movement that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and African diasporic culture to envision a future where black people are empowered, liberated, and at the forefront of technological and cultural advancements.
One of the most prominent figures in Afrofuturism is the enigmatic jazz composer and bandleader, Sun Ra.
Through his music, philosophy, and visual aesthetics, Sun Ra crafted a unique Afrofuturist narrative that drew inspiration from Egyptian Kemetic Spirituality, blending it with futuristic visions of outer space.
Sun Ra: An Afrofuturist Visionary
Sun Ra, born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914, was a prolific jazz musician, composer, and bandleader. He adopted the name Sun Ra, claiming to be from Saturn, and throughout his career, he developed a complex mythology surrounding his origins and mission.
Sun Ra and his Arkestra, a constantly evolving group of musicians and performers, created a musical style known as “cosmic jazz.”
Their performances were characterized by a blend of improvisation, avant-garde experimentation, and cosmic themes.
Cosmic Mythology and Egyptian Kemetic Spirituality
Central to Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist narrative was his cosmic mythology, which drew heavily from Egyptian Kemetic Spirituality.
Sun Ra believed in the existence of otherworldly beings, cosmic travel, and a connection to ancient Egyptian deities. He considered himself to be a “cosmic messenger” sent to enlighten humanity about its higher purpose and potential.
In Egyptian Kemetic Spirituality, the concept of the afterlife and cosmic journey was deeply ingrained. Ra, the Sun God, played a crucial role as the giver of life and sustenance to all living beings.
Space Is the Place: The Film
In 1974, Sun Ra and his Arkestra starred in the film “Space Is the Place,” a cinematic exploration of his Afrofuturist philosophy. Directed by John Coney, the film served as a visual representation of Sun Ra’s cosmic vision and a powerful commentary on racial issues in America.
The movie opens with Sun Ra arriving on Earth in his spaceship after being exiled for several years. He travels across the United States, spreading his message of enlightenment and offering black people a chance to escape the oppressive realities of their current existence by joining him on a journey to a new world in outer space. The film presents a dichotomy between the past, represented by scenes of slavery and segregation, and the future, symbolized by Sun Ra’s cosmic utopia.
Music as a Vehicle for Afrofuturism
Sun Ra’s music was the heartbeat of his Afrofuturist movement. He used jazz as a vehicle to transport listeners to other dimensions, challenging conventional musical norms and transporting them to a realm of cosmic imagination. His compositions often featured otherworldly sounds, avant-garde harmonies, and interstellar themes that mirrored his cosmic mythology.
One of Sun Ra’s most iconic albums, “Space Is the Place,” released in 1973, served as a precursor to the film of the same name.
The album was a vibrant tapestry of sound, combining elements of free jazz, funk, and electronic experimentation. It featured tracks like “Outer Spaceways Incorporated,” “Rocket Number Nine,” and the title track “Space Is the Place.” Each piece was a journey through space and time, inviting listeners to escape the confines of reality and embrace the boundless possibilities of the cosmos.
The Influence of Egyptian Symbols
Throughout his career, Sun Ra incorporated Egyptian symbols into his performances, album artwork, and costumes. The use of Egyptian iconography was not only an aesthetic choice but also a deliberate attempt to connect with the powerful symbolism of the past and project it into the future.
The Ankh, a symbol of life and immortality in ancient Egypt, frequently appeared in Sun Ra’s visual representations.
He often adorned himself and his band members with elaborate costumes and headdresses inspired by ancient Egyptian attire, further reinforcing his connection to the cosmic mythology he created.
Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism remains a significant influence on contemporary artists and thinkers. Through his cosmic jazz, mythology, and references to Egyptian Kemetic Spirituality, he created a visionary narrative that encouraged black empowerment, liberation, and the embrace of African heritage.
“Space Is the Place” served as a cinematic and musical manifestation of Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist vision, challenging societal norms and imagining a future where black people could transcend the limitations of the present and journey towards cosmic enlightenment.
Sun Ra’s legacy lives on as an inspiration for future generations of musicians, writers, and artists to explore their roots, embrace their cultural heritage, and envision a future where the possibilities are as limitless as the cosmos itself.
His music and philosophy continue to remind us that through creativity and imagination, we can shape our destinies and chart a path towards a more equitable and inclusive future for all.