Asian American Studies

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The Planetary Sounds of Afro-Futurism | Sun Ra Arkestra

Event Type
Performance
Sponsor
Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory
Location
Virginia Theater, Champaign
Date
Apr 10, 2020   7:30 pm  
Views
57

Sun Ra was one of the earliest proponents of Afro-futurism, a speculative aesthetic movement that imagined possible future worlds through the lens of black diaspora culture. For much of his career, Sun Ra led the Arkestra—an ensemble with an ever-changing and flexible line-up. The legendary Sun Ra, born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama in 1914, was a jazz <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz>  composer and improvisor, bandleader, visionary piano and synthesizer <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthesizer>  player, performance artist and poet known for his cutting-edge sound, cosmic philosophy, and avant-garde theatrical performances. In his music, Sun Ra combined big-band swing with free jazz, the blues, electronics, and African musical and visual cultural practices, while also creating a performative style that combined Egyptian iconography and new futuristic worlds. An innovator of musical fusion and futuristic politics, Sun Ra introduced the synthesizer to big-band arrangements, led theatrical processions of dancers and artists on stage and in film, and claimed that he was neither human nor Earthling, bound by a different vision for a better world. One of the most prolific recording and experimental artists of our time, Sun Ra has released more than 100 albums, numerous singles, a film called Space is the Place (1974) where he shares both his music and Afro-futuristic philosophy, and has shifted and shaped the improvisational jazz scene. Sun Ra’s Arkestra currently tours around the globe yearly from NYC to Berlin to Philadelphia to Milano and London. The band has appeared on Saturday Night Live, and was voted Best Big Band in Downbeat’s Critic Polls five times. Marshall Allen now steers the Arkestra to realize new possibilities for the future with Sun Ra always in mind. From songs like “Medicine for a Nightmare” and “El Is a Sound of Joy” to “Astro Black” and “Enlightenment,” the Arkestra performances are a stunning experiment in sound, vision, and embodiment.

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