Friday, July 15, 2011

What Did Sun Ra Teach?

What did Sun Ra teach?

He taught the need for discipline in the artistic life, not freedom. He told me to stop teaching my actors freedom when discipline was needed. He demonstrated discipline by keeping his band together for over twenty years. When I got him to take a young actor of mine on European tour, he sent the very talented singer/musician home because he lacked discipline. He taught me not to be so moral, especially when I took a scene out of my musical with a sex scene. He was horrified that I had done so. He said, "Marvin you so right you wrong. That scene was the best one in the play. That's what people want, a little dirt. They don't want to truth, they want the low down dirty truth."

Most importantly, he taught the importance of mythology and ritual theatre, breaking down that fourth wall and merging with the audience, becoming one and indivisible, thus reaching the level of African communal theatre wherein there is no audience, only the community. His Arkestra, including poets, singers, dancers, and mixed media, expanded the potential of black theatre. It was a great experience performing with an Arkestra as opposed to simply reading solo or even with a small band. This is no doubt why I can only conceive of theatre as extravaganza in terms of performance, space and time.

Imagine being able to work with some of the greatest musicians in the world, aside from Sun Ra himself, there was John Gilmore, Danny Thompson, June Tyson, and Marshall Allen. See my DVD Live in Philly at Warmdaddy's, which I call 39 minutes of Jazz history. The set included Marshall Allen and Danny Thompson, along with bagpipe legend Rufus Harley and myself reading poetry. Also Elliott Bey, Ancestor Goldsky and Alexander El.

We can say that Sun Ra had a profound influence on the Black Arts Movement coast to coast. He was a founding member of Amiri Baraka's Black Arts Theatre in Harlem as well as a worker at my Black Educational Theatre in the Fillmore.
--Marvin X

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marvin X and his Chief Mentor, Sun Ra, 1972

Those who have a problem understanding the complexity of Marvin X, need only understand he was a student and colleague of Sun Ra, the bandleader of the Arkestra that Marvin X performed with on the east coast and west coast. Sun Ra worked with Marvin X at his Black Educational Thearte in the Fillmore, 1972. Sun Ra did the musical version of his play Flowers for the Trashaman, retitled Take Care of Business.

Sun Ra and Marvin X did a five hour production of Take Care of Business at the Harding Theatre on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, 1972. Sun Ra also told Marvin X he would be hired to lecture in the Black Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Marvin X doubted Sun Ra since Gov. Ronald Reagan had banned him from teaching at Fresno State College in 1969, the same year he banned Angela Davis from teaching at UCLA. Marvin X did indeed teach at UCB and his off campus class was at his Black Educational Theatre in the Fillmore. Sun Rn worked with him and the Harding Theatre concert was a five hour show without intermission, that consisted of a fifty member cast, including the Sun Ra Arkestra, the Ellendar Barnes dancers, along with the Raymond Saywer dancers and the Marvin X actors.

All Muslim Unity and Reunion Celebration (1950-2011)

As salaamu alaikum,

Prepare for a day of Fun &
Enjoying the presence of each other.

Please save the date of July 16, 2011. As this is a day that has been set aside for members of our Community to gather in Unity.

This is a POTLUCK event, so bring food to feed at least 5 people. Some food & drinks will be provided by the planning committee of this event.

We have a line of entertainment that will be provided at this event:
Spoken Word
Live Music

A day organized from 11am to 5pm
Location: Defremery Park
Street: 18th & Adeline Street
City/Town: Oakland, California
Phone: Khalid 510-927-8055; Qualaam 510-776-9199
Event Type: social, historical
Organized By: Unity "N" The Community Brotherhood

A day where we can revitalize, socialize, and revitalize our relationships through eating together, praying together and enjoying the presence of everyone.

A day starting at 11:00am. A Day called: MUSLIM UNITY;MEETING & REUNION

Inviting those contributing, living, and working From 1950-2011;But of course all are invited

Again Save the Date to join us as we:

* Recognize from our Ranks Pioneers
* Embrace The Diversity of our Communities
* Empower One Another through Social Bonding

Welcoming All:

1. Muslims from Different Communities
2. Pioneers from The Nation of Islam
3. Current Members of The Nation of Islam
4. All Faith Based People

Please come with your Families,your Friends your Blankets and chairs for your personal comfort or the comfort of others and be sure to bring your Table Spread (Food)

Beyond Religion, toward Spirituality


I was talking with my barber, a young man in search of his Lord, Jesus Christ. I know he is a baby spiritually, so I am gentle with him. Unless he asks, I don’t tell him anything, specially about religion--people can get real crazy about religion--fanatic is the word.

Once he asked my advice on women since he was having problems with his girlfriend.
I told him not to worry, stay on the straight path and eventually his woman would do the right thing. I laid in out for him in stages or as we say in theatre, in acts: act one, two and three. I even broke it down to him in scenes, telling him what would happen in Act Three, Scene One. Of course he didn’t believe anything I said, but weeks later when I saw him, he smiled and told me things happened exactly as I had told him, from Act One through Act Three. His woman stopped messing with the other dude and reconciled with Johnny, and eventually they had a baby daughter and she joined church with him. Johnny often recalls the dramatic structure I laid out for him. I’ve said all this to say Johnny has confidence in me as a teacher.

So when he asked me about religion, I told him how I see it.
Johnny, religion is one thing, God is another. Never confuse the two. There are many religious, but one Supreme Being, One Universal Force or Higher Power that is in all things: man, animals, nature, the universe. Johnny, religion is a way to God, laws, rules, a path to God, a roadmap up the mountain where God awaits at the mountaintop. Now you may have budding God consciousness as you make your way up the mountain to have intercourse with God, but it is only when you reach the top that intercourse happens, let’s say that is when you climax, before that is the chase, the ordeal by fire, then the joy of completion--it is a lifelong journey. Now people in these various religions attempt to go through the degrees to reach ultimate God consciousness, but few make it up the mountain. They are like Sisyphus, the man in the Greek myth who was doomed to fall back down the mountain holding a rock for eternity. Most people start the climb but fall back down and must begin again until they get it right, but only a chosen few are able to make it to the top to receive the Divine blessing of light, truth and love.

Many of these religious people can be seen going up the mountain fighting, hating, even killing along the path, thus they fall down and must begin anew. They wonder why they never make it to the top. Sometimes their fists are balled up so when they reach a station on their path, they cannot reach into their pocket to pay the toll and cannot continue. They are stuck and cannot go farther. They may wail, shout, get the holy ghost, but they will not reach their destination. Some lack direction, discipline, understanding, so again like Sisyphus, they slip and fall to the bottom. At this point they may become disillusioned and give up, falling into the ditch of illusions, addictions worse than their spiritual blindness caused by dogmatism, sectarianism and narrow-mindedness. They were overly concerned about what the others were doing on their paths, so they lost their focus, concentration. And one cannot reach the mountaintop with ignorance, no matter what religion, whether monotheism, polytheism; whether Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or traditional African religions.

Of course by their very nature, religions breed ignorance and dogmatism. Every religion claims absolute truth based on holy words or books, thus if one is not the member of a certain faith or sect, one is doomed to hell, and of course only devils live in hell, so the non-believers can be stoned, burned, lynched, or killed, then sent to hell properly.

All the while, these religions teach and preach love, but it is a strange love, especially when one does not have a membership card in the Club of Heavenly Faith or the Holy Ghost Muslim Word.

There are interfaith and ecumenical movements attempting to spread toleration and understanding, but they are a small voice in movement toward spiritual enlightenment. Such enlightenment seems reserved for those with mystical inclination, such as the Sufi and others seeking spiritual consciousness that transcends sectarianism.

We say with a surety that ultimate spirituality can only be achieved when the believer is totally without prejudice in matters of Divine, when it is immaterial whether a person is of this or that religion, sect, cult or denomination, no matter what is said in various scriptures. The Sufi says, “The only religion is the religion of the heart.”

It is of no matter what is in books or in the heads of believers when there is no sincere love in their hearts. The heart is the acid test of spirituality. When God is alive in the hearts of men and women, it matters not what is in books or in their heads, for if we followed the books, this discussion would be unnecessary, and if we followed our natural intelligence it would be unnecessary. Thus, we must close the books, jump out of our heads and dwell in the region of the heart in order to arrive at radical spirituality.

Traditional religions are of no value in the global village of today. We need only look at the nightly news to see the strife and killing being done in the name of various religions.
We need the wisdom of Solomon to see our way to the mountaintop: religion is vanity and vexation of spirit. Let not our fate be the same as Sisyphus: to eternally approach the Divine, yet slip and fall as we near intercourse with the Eternal Light.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Sun Ra

Happy Birthday Sun Ra
"America, the Devil don't even want you--you not even suitable for hell!"--Sun Ra

Happy Birthday Sun Ra

Herman Poole Blount was born on May 22, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama, Planet Earth. Sun Ra was interested in music from an early age and by the time he was eleven he was able to sight read and compose music on piano. Growing up in Birmingham allowed him to catch famous Jazz musicians traveling through including Flecther Henderson, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller. In his teens Sun Ra was able to listen to a big band perform and go home and write full transcriptions of the performance by ear and also began playing professionally as a teen. At the age of ten Sun Ra joined the Knights of Pythias and would remain with the group through high school. This Masonic Lodge provided him to unlimited access to books and their books on Freemasonry and other subjects of the like influenced him heavily. In high school Ra studied with music teacher John T "Fess" Whatley who had a reputation for producing many great musicians. In 1934 Sun Ra began playing professionally full time with a former teacher named Ethel Harper and after she left the group Sun took over and called it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. In 1936 Ra was awarded a scholarship to attend Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University and studied music for one year before having an experience that would change the course of his life.

In 1937 during deep meditation Sun Ra briefly left this planet and traveled to Saturn and received important information about his path. In his own words, "… my whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn't in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn … they teleported me and I was down on [a] stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That's what they told me." Following this experience Sun Ra returned to Birmingham and worked frantically within music and reformed the Sonny Blount Orchestra which was well received in the area. In the early 1940s Sun Ra was drafted in U.S. Military but was very much against war and killing which led to him being placed in jail for his beliefs. After being released in 1943 Ra returned home before moving north to Chicago.

In Chicago Ra began working with singer Wynonie Harris and made his recording debut in 1946 on the singles 'Dig This Boogie/Lightning Struck the Poorhouse' and 'My Baby's Barrelhouse/Drinking By Myself'. In 1946 Ra was hired by Fletcher Henderson to play piano and arrange music for the band and in 1948 performed in a trio with Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith. Living in Chicago also influenced Ra and he was very interested in the city's many Egyptian style buildings and continued educating himself with books like "Stolen Legacy" written by George G.M. James. In 1952 Sun Ra formed the Space Trio with Tommy Hunter and Pat Patrick and also legally changed him name to Le Sony'r Ra. Soon John Gilmore and Marshall Allen would join the band and some other members during this period in Chicago would include James Spaulding, Von Freeman and Julian Priester. Also in the 1950s Ra met Alton Abraham who would become his good friend, business manager and shared similar interests and beliefs as Ra. Sun Ra and Abraham also printed pamphlets and would hand them on the street about their beliefs and many of these can be read in the book "The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets" published in 2006. Some of the Arkestra's recordings from the 1950s include 'Sound Sun Pleasure', 'Sun Song', 'Sound of Joy', 'Angels and Demons at Play' and 'We Travel the Spaceways'.

In 1961 the Arkestra moved to New York City and was able to find a regular gig at Slug's Saloon. This helped spread Sun Ra's popularity and for the most part he was well received. Though Ra would still experience hecklers from time but did receive support and encouragement from some very notable Jazz musicians including Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. The building the band lived in New York was sold in 1968 and a result they relocated to the Germantown section of Philadelphia and that would be their home base till the end and were known as very good neighbors due to their friendliness and drug free living. Also in '68 Sun Ra toured the West Coast for the first time and even followers of the Greatful Dead would have altering experiences listening to Sun Ra. This tour led to Ra being featured on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in 1969. The Arkestra began touring Europe in 1970 and was very well received and in 1971 Ra fulfilled one of his dreams by performing with his band at the pyramids in Egypt. Also in 1971 Sun Ra was hired became the artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley and taught a course called "The Black Man In the Cosmos." Some of the required reading for this course included the Book of the Dead, Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons and The Book of Oahspe and the works of Madame Blavatsky and Henry Dumas. In the mid and late '70s the Arkestra would perform locally in Philadelphia giving free concerts in a local park on the weekends and also had a stint as the house band at the Squat Theater in New York City in 1979.

Sun Ra and his Arkestra continued playing and recording in the 1980s and 1990s and Ra was well known as a part of Philadelphia by this time. He would often be a guest on local radio and give lectures locally as well. In 1990 Ra suffered a stroke but still continued to compose and perform until leaving this planet in 1993. Sun Ra leaves a legacy on this planet as a visionary artist dedicated beyond all else to convince mankind to face the fact they need to change their destructive and greedy ways as well as repair the self worth of African-Americans after the unimaginable abuse they have been through. Musically, Ra pushed any boundaries into oblivion as his musical imagination could not fit into any type of category or box. Sun Ra was one of the first in Jazz to use electronics and introduce the idea of collective free form improvisation. Ra's music and mythology has inspired so many people to not only develop themselves mentally and physically, but to explore the unknown and evolve spiritually.

Click Here to watch Sun Ra's full length film "Space Is The Place" made in 1974.

"It's better to deal with the people who have intuition now. You see, they don't know what they're doing. The ones who do know what they're doing, haven't proven anything."

"Because everything that's unknown is part of the myth. And I'm sure that the myth can do more for humanity than anything they ever dreamed possible." - Sun Ra

The Differences
Sometimes in the amazing ignorance
I hear things and see things
I never knew I saw and heard before
Sometimes in the ignorance
I feel the meaning
Invincible invisible wisdom,
And I commune with intuitive instinct
With the force that made life be
And since it made life be
It is greater than life
And since it let extinction be
It is greater than extinction.
I commune with feelings more than
For there is nothing else to ask for
That companionship is
And it is superior to any other is.
Sometimes in my amazing ignorance
Others see me only as they care to see
I am to them as they think
According the standard I should not be
And that is the difference between I and them
Because I see them as they are to is
And not the seeming isness of the was.
Sun Ra

Marvin X on Sun Ra

Happy earth day, Sun Ra, no matter where you are in the spirit world of the universe.
You are the Supreme Prophet of our First Poet's Church. RA! RA! RA! We forever love you and praise you for teaching us how to submit to leadership or what is also known as discipline. This is the most crucial lesson for North American Africans, learning to submit and thus respect leadership. But of course the leader must be highly disciplined himself, above his carnal nature and focused on his/her spiritual mission, in service of the Creator God.

All artists, poets, writers, musicians, theatre persons, must learn the Sun Ra method of creative discipline, a holistic approach to life in the arts, how to bring all the genres together into a whole mythological order through creative ritual. And this includes a melting of art and audience, what we called Ritual Theatre. Sun Ra taught us all how to ritualize theatre by breaking down that wall and destroying the comfort of the audience, yet making them one with the myth/ritual moment in time and space.

Sun Ra demonstrated the eternity of time, beyond the finite into the everlastingness of it all. And so we are indeed the Latter Day Egyptian Revisionists, updating our ancestors for the present time and eternity.
--Marvin X
Prime Minister
First Poet's Church of the Latter Day Egyptian Revisionists

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Poem Every African Must Know

For My People

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs
     repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues
     and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an
     unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an
     unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the
    gone years and the now years and the maybe years,
    washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending
    hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching
    dragging along never gaining never reaping never
    knowing and never understanding;

For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama
    backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor
    and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking
    and playhouse and concert and store and hair and
    Miss Choomby and company;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
    to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
    people who and the places where and the days when, in
    memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we
    were black and poor and small and different and nobody
    cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to
    be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and
    play and drink their wine and religion and success, to
    marry their playmates and bear children and then die
    of consumption and anemia and lynching;

For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox
    Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New
    Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy
    people filling the cabarets and taverns and other
    people’s pockets and needing bread and shoes and milk and
    land and money and something—something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time
     being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when
     burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled
     and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures
     who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;

For my people blundering and groping and floundering in
     the dark of churches and schools and clubs
     and societies, associations and councils and committees and
     conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and
     devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches,
     preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by
     false prophet and holy believer;

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
    from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
    trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
    all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
    in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
    be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
    rise and take control.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ancestor Poet Reginald Lockett

Poet Reginald Lockett is one of our Saints. Reggie

participated in the West Coast Black Arts Movement at Black House, San Francisco, 1967. One of his last performances is with Marvin X at Anna's Jazz Island, Berkeley, backed by Brother Ghasem's band. See Youtube What If. We love you and miss you Reggie.