The Stars Still Have It

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Zulu Space Oddities: From Sun Ra to Lupe Fiasco

Love and Light Interested me so
That I dared to knock at the door of the cosmos
” – SUN RA Arkestra

There is music and there are artists that dare to throw caution to the wind, yet like a masterly boomerang wielder, ensure that whatever they throw windward returns exactly where they are. These artists are neither interested in trends, fashions, nor commercial interests, what they create is monumental beyond monuments, it is significant beyond their particular genre and draws humanity and the universe closer to the heart and to the meanings of Life. Sun Ra and Lupe Fiasco are just two of the ones we would like to shine a light on for now.
Of course there are many such phenoms, we can count at least 12 from the top of the head, but this is not a list of luminaries, it is about the serendipitous connections that visionary creators seem to have. In some cases there is a conscious effort to emulate each other but in some instances, it is just dividual morphism or happy coincidence and consequence.
Let us begin with a spontaneous poem I wrote while deeply engrossed in the music of the Hip Hop artist Lupe Fiasco and then we shall take a look at how both Fiasco and Ra come together in the cosmic balance of all things Black genius.

The Buddha is sage, impepho yabaNgoni
The sage Buddha devours everything
Esithebeni
Walking barefoot emisebeni
Yamalanga onke …
Bearing the terrible Black beauty of Kali
Black and Blue with the temperament of Krishna
Peaceable as Ausar the foremost of the West
The greensome 12 digital Lord is a maiden voyager
Lonely as a cloud of unknowing
Now contemplative under trees
Now a dervishly whirling wind under the sea

The Buddha is a sage
The Buddha is a black sage
Whose appetite is beyond eclectic
Grips nothing too firmly
And so it all, it all falls down
Mindless while mindful
Horsepower with no harness
No pressure, nor stress
No desire, no aversion
All risk so no risk
No test, nor failure …” – Menzi Maseko

Wikipedia has a serviceable description of who Sun Ra was if one is seeking a basic overview, but what we aim to illustrate here is how this artist has influenced generations of innovators far beyond his milieu, that is if anything was truly beyond the man from Saturn.
Here is an overview:

“Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, legal name Le Sony’r Ra;[2] May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, and poet known for his experimental music, “cosmic” philosophy, prolific output, and theatrical performances. For much of his career, Ra led “The Arkestra”, an ensemble with an ever-changing name and flexible line-up.

Born and raised in Alabama, Blount became involved in the Chicago jazz scene during the late 1940s. He soon abandoned his birth name, taking the name Le Sony’r Ra, shortened to Sun Ra (after Ra, the Egyptian God of the Sun). He developed a complex persona and an idiosyncratic, myth-based credo that would make him a pioneer of Afrofuturism.[3] He claimed to be an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace, and throughout his life he publicly denied ties to his prior identity.[4]

His widely eclectic and avant-garde music echoed the entire history of jazz, from ragtime and early New Orleans hot jazz, to swing music, bebop, free jazz and fusion. His compositions ranged from keyboard solos to works for big bands of over 30 musicians, along with electronic excursions, songs, chants, percussion pieces, and anthems. From the mid-1950s until his death, Ra led the musical collective The Arkestra (which featured artists such as Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and June Tyson throughout its various iterations). Its performances often included dancers and musicians dressed in elaborate, futuristic costumes inspired by ancient Egyptian attire and the Space Age. (Following Ra’s illness-forced retirement in 1992, the band remained active as The Sun Ra Arkestra, and, as of 2018, continues performing under the leadership of veteran Ra sideman Marshall Allen.)[5]

Though his mainstream success was limited, Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer, and remained both influential and controversial throughout his life for his music and persona.[6] He is now widely considered an innovator; among his distinctions are his pioneering work in free improvisation and modal jazz and his early use of electronic keyboards and synthesizers.[6][7] Over the course of his career, he recorded dozens of singles and over one hundred full-length albums, comprising well over 1000 songs, making him one of the most prolific recording artists of the 20th century.[8]”

Enter the prolific super MC/Rapper/Composer, Lupe Fiasco.
It would require a few more pages to describe the proficiency and scope of the prodigy called Lupe Fiasco, suffice to say that not since De La Soul or Digable Planets and Shabbaz Palaces, has there been a Rapper possessing such a heightened sense of cosmic balance. His music is simply larger than his genre, his lyrics are unparalleled and with the advent of his latest album Drogas Wave, he has simply gone beyond the level of musical world building and created an epic of gargantuan proportions. Drogas Light and Drogas Wave are an Afrocentric Science Fiction odyssey unheard of, except maybe since Deltron 3030 or Del The Funky Homosapien and Dan The Automators collaboration …( more on that later).
Here is a review ( I shall add mines in another post):

Mental Health, Creativity and Stigma

Mental health is a real challenge to our society, especially in the Black communities globally. It is also more prevalent within the Creative Arts communities, yet support is lacking. While we all grew up knowing someone who we called mad or crazy, and we would often tease them harshly, until it was in our own family, wherein we would joke about it but rarely ever took it as seriously as we should – it has only emerged recently that society really stands up and acknowledge its culpability in making life worst for the mentally challenged.

A friend of our just recently died, he had been living on and off the streets for the past year or so. While the erratic and sometimes violently volatile episodes happened sporadically in the earlier times, we were able to help him in various ways. But he eventually returned to the rural home of his estranged father, this is when matters became worse.  Last year a fellow artist took a picture of him on the streets of Durban/eThekwini, looking rather haggard, and carrying items such as plastic bags and pieces of writings including business proposals. It was a hard moment and many strangers poured their hearts out in sympathy. But real actual help was hard to come by. Some of us went out to search for him for a few hours each day and even during some nights. When one of us found him in one of the parks bordering a community arts centre we had all worked at for more than a decade, he was quite difficult to contain and he even refused to be helped. We would later find him posting ‘nonsense verse’ on social media, especially on Facebook. He had always been a very deep and cryptic Poet, but these latest words were borderline ‘freaky’, and very pessimistic. I would then inbox him assuming he is at some internet cafe’, but he would often not respond. The only time he responded he just insulted me and my brother Khaya but later apologized and commended me for starting a family. He seemed to be holding some grudges, but then he would also sound very conciliatory.

The moral of the story is that much of the depression associated with mental illness is not always due to schizophrenia, bipolar disease and any psychosomatic disease, but it is largely due to the state of our broken society. The capitalist system that places profits before Nature ( people, water, plants, the atmosphere etc) is really debilitating on a personal as well as community levels.

The stigma must end but it will not change significantly until humanity configures its ways of co-existence. Many indigenous communities in the so called Third-World had various effective ways to deal with outliers and those who were different in many ways, but the world we live in now is changing too rapidly and materialism seems to erode our core values even further.

I am sharing this post from a Black website to highlight the fact that many celebrities, who are actually our sisters and brothers anyway despite their extra-ordinary talents, also suffer from the same social ills, in spite of money and access to help. What should be transformed is humanity’s way of being.

https://face2faceafrica.com/article/6-black-celebs-who-suffer-from-mental-illness-but-thrive-nonetheless/7

the idea of the idea

“If we are to understand the future of a people, we must appreciate its past. For the way of life of a people in any time and place is built out of past customs adapted to present circumstances and needs. This way of life is what anthropologists call ‘culture’. As anthropologists use the term, all peoples have culture, for culture is their customary way of doing things. It includes all aspects of life; the way they make things, the way in which they organise their society, the way they look at the world about them, even attitudes and sentiments and feelings they share.” – Dr Walter Goldschmidt

While thinking about the way ideas proliferate and become ways of life, I found myself perambulating towards philosophical theories. How do specific thinkers and societies become synonymous with phrases such as ‘I think therefore I am’, or Biblical phrases, ‘As a man thinketh so he is’, or the Nguni become known for Ubuntu, or ‘Umuntu ungumuntu ngabanye abantu’/ A person is a person through other people?

Essentially we are concerned about the issue of thinking, thinking freely may sound simple enough but we live in a world where many are persecuted for even attempted to assertively think and act freely. Since a person is only fully self realized through interactions with others, Afrikans are among those people whose becoming has been curtailed by various levels of unfreedom …

 

Reposted from Higher Self website. Works in the Key of the Green Ankh ethos

http://higherselfcoaching.org/trena-bolden-fields-on-the-influence-of-artistic-leadership/

“By interviewing people from different walks of life and approaches, I am trying to show that leadership is just as richly layered, diverse and multidimensional as humanity itself. A very often overlooked aspect of leadership is artistic leadership or any type of leadership that does not emanate from traditional quarters like politics or business. The fact of the matter is, we are all leaders and we show leadership best in ways that feel authentic to us and the contribution we are trying to make to the world. Trena Bolden-Fields, based in Minnesota in the United States, is one such leader. As an actor, writer, and coach who works with artists to help them unleash their artistic dreams and forms of expression, Ms. Bolden-Fields shows that we all have an immense contribution to make whether we’re sportspeople, actors, musicians, fine artists, writers, fashion designers and so on. Trena and I unpacked this topic via virtual means from the Villa Moji at the Fairlawns.

There’s a monolithic view of “leadership” it seems: often male, authoritarian, distant and not so inclusive. How would you define “artistic leadership” and what does it look like to you?

Yes, I agree. Also, with artists, once they become leaders or are recognized, they have to think about their platform and how that can multiply and amplify their views and what matters most to them. Through having a platform that is seen, your message will reach more people and I believe in promoting positive, supportive and helpful messages that help humanity and our world.”