It’s impossible to look back on the literary and cultural aesthetic dubbed, “Afrofuturism,” without this sonic piece of film/music history blasting into perspective. Sun Ra’s “Space Is the Place” is the epitome of this unprecedented style. It’s the perfect combination of sci-fi, historical fiction, fantasy, and Afrocentrism for your eyeballs.
While this film is among several cult classics in Sun Ra’s portfolio, it also represents a synthesis of some of the most important 60’s movements, communicating key components as an authoritative statement of liberation. A statement that, after 43 years, is still hailed as so much more than just another sci-fi movie.
“I am the living myth,” says Sun Ra, introducing himself in the film. While the surface of the movie is a fantastical experience of vibrant sound and color, the plot is clarified through the lens of Sun Ra’s personal mythology. And as the plot thickens, it becomes clear that freedom, futurism and pure musical expression were Ra’s path to enlightenment.
“Music is a plane of wisdom, because music is a universal language, it is a language of honor, it is a noble precept, a gift of the Airy Kingdom, music is air, a universal existence … common to all the living.”
Though his works in all forms have escaped the societal mainstream, Sun Ra is a Goliath in twentieth century contemporary music. He consistently pushed the envelope of the music industry: from his mystical philosophies to his band’s dress. Both of which, were an outer space vision of Egyptian costume and black culture.
Over the course of his life, Sun Ra explored the vast possibilities of music with exotic instrumentation and composition. From vaudeville to big band and bop, his music was labeled “free jazz” which was being explored by musicians like Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. Always a maverick, however, Ra did not like the use of the term “free.” He claimed his music was in fact very structured and composed. Sun Ra also embraced new technologies within the construct and performance of his music. He became one of the ﬁrst jazz musicians to incorporate the Moog synthesizer into his work, which produced the uncanny impression…of being in space.
“The earth cannot move without music. The earth moves in a certain rhythm, a certain sound, a certain note. When the music stops the earth will stop and everything upon it will die.”
The “Space is the Place” film is the delta that binds black power, free jazz, new wave, and sci-fi into Sun Ra’s personal narrative. After traveling through space in a ship propelled by music, Sun Ra discovers a planet he believes could be a new home for the black race. Returning to earth, he lands in Oakland, California circa 1972. There, he has to fight “The Overseer,” played by Ray Johnson, a super-villain who pimps out the black race. Before the subsequent destruction of Earth, Sun Ra offers those who would follow him an “alter-destiny.” However the Overseer, the FBI, and NASA are all after Sun Ra’s Black Space Program; ultimately forcing him to return to space.
“I never wanted to be a part of planet Earth, but I am compelled to be here, so anything I do for this planet is because the Master-Creator of the Universe is making me do it. I am of another dimension. I am on this planet because people need me.”
The obscure and mysterious works of Sun Ra have relevance that still resonates to this day–43 years later. His liberated creative narrative is a powerful, lasting thing; and the art of “Space is the Place” more than holds up to modern cinema. Although this prolific thinker passed away in 1993, Sun Ra remains a creative inspiration. He was an exceptional jazz composer, bandleader, instrument player, writer and film subject who immortalized his philosophies through his art. You can still catch the Sun Ra Arkestra, as they have released some of their first tour dates for 2017. The list includes performances in Belgium, The Netherlands, UK and Italy.