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Sun Ra and Afrofuturism: The Cosmic Roots of a New Era of Beauty

Why was Sun Ra called Sun Ra?

Sun Ra, born Herman Poole Blount on May 22, 1914, was an influential jazz musician, composer, and bandleader known for his innovative music and Afrofuturist philosophy. He adopted the name Sun Ra in the early 1950s as part of his self-created mythology.

We don’t know the exact reason why he chose the name, but has often provided different explanations and narratives throughout his life on how it came to be:

1. Sun symbolism: Sun Ra had a fascination with ancient Egyptian culture and believed himself to be an extraterrestrial being from Saturn sent to Earth to spread knowledge and enlightenment through his music. The Sun played a significant role in his cosmology, symbolizing life, energy, and creative power. By adopting the name "Sun," he connected himself to this cosmic energy and associated himself with the Sun of Ra from Egyptian mythology Gods. He believed that his music was a means of communicating with other beings in the universe and that his name change reflected his cosmic mission. Sun Ra's identity as an otherworldly being was an important part of his own mythology and his music.

2. Egyptian mythology: Ra, the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, was a central figure in Egyptian religious beliefs. Sun Ra's interest in Egyptology and his belief in the connection between ancient Egypt and African heritage led him to adopt the name Ra as a way to embody the ancient wisdom and power he associated with the Egyptian deity.

3. Mystical and symbolic significance: Sun Ra viewed himself as a mystic and visionary, and he often used symbolism and mythology to communicate his ideas. The name Sun Ra allowed him to present himself as a figure with cosmic origins, conveying a sense of otherworldliness and transcendent wisdom through his discography and persona.
It's important to note that Sun Ra's adoption of the name Sun Ra was part of his artistic and philosophical expression. He saw himself as an artist exploring the boundaries of music, spirituality, and human consciousness, and the name change was an integral part of his creative identity.


Gods of the Sun

Different cultures throughout history have practiced sun worship and revered various deities associated with the sun. Here are a few examples:

1. Ra (Ancient Egypt): Ra was the ancient Egyptian sun god and one of the most important deities in their pantheon. He was often depicted as a man with the head of a falcon, crowned with a sun disk. Ra was believed to traverse the sky during the day, providing light and warmth to the world.

2. Surya (Hinduism): In Hindu mythology, Surya is the solar deity and the god of the sun. He is depicted as a radiant deity riding a chariot drawn by seven horses or one horse with seven heads. Surya is highly revered and worshipped as the giver of light, heat, and life.

3. Helios (Ancient Greece): Helios was the personification of the sun in Greek mythology. He was often depicted as a young man crowned with the sun, driving a golden chariot across the sky. Helios was believed to see and know everything happening on Earth during his daily journey.

4. Amaterasu (Shintoism): Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun and the most important deity in the Shinto religion of Japan. She is considered the ancestor of the Japanese imperial family and is believed to provide light, fertility, and life to the world. Amaterasu is often depicted as a radiant goddess or as a celestial being surrounded by a fiery halo.

5. Inti (Inca civilization): In Inca mythology, Inti was the sun god and a central figure in their religious beliefs. He was considered the ancestor of the Inca rulers and was worshipped as the giver of life and sustenance. Inti was represented as a radiant deity with a golden disc around his head.

The worship of the sun and the belief in its divine significance have been present in numerous civilizations throughout history, often associated with the life-giving and transformative power of the sun's rays.


What is afrofuturism?

Afrofuturism is a cultural movement that incorporates African cultural aesthetics and history. It explores the intersection of African diaspora culture with science fiction, fantasy, and technology. It imagines a future in which black people are liberated from racism and oppression and are free to express their culture and creativity.

Sun Ra's music was heavily influenced by this movement, and he saw himself as a prophet who was bringing a new vision of the future to the world. He believed that humans originated from outer space and that black people had a special connection to otherworldly beings. His music often featured themes of space travel, ancient civilizations, and the mysteries of the universe.

Sun Ra's vision of the future was free from the constraints of race, class, and gender. He believed that the future would be a place where people were free to express themselves creatively and explore new ideas. Similar to the hippie movement that embraces alternative lifestyles and free-thinking, Afrofuturism introduces and celebrates aspects of black art coupled with sci-fi.


When did Afrofuturism start?

This movement emerged in the 1950s and 60s. Sun Ra intended to merge technology and science to create a better world, but he was also aware and believed that it is up to us to use these tools to create and enhance the future. The power behind afro indigenous culture and technology is so distinct that the inspiration flows into music, clothing, and cosmetics.

Afrofuturism Aesthetic

The afro futuristic aesthetic is often represented as bright, and bold colors with futuristic designs. Sun Ra’s influence on the beauty community can also be seen in the work of contemporary makeup artists and fashion designers like David Bowie and Grace Jones with their bold and innovative work. The aesthetic embodies the metaphysical and captures the image of the otherworldly. The most powerful and influential were his elaborate stage shows and costumes on the avant-garde fashion and makeup styles of the 1960s and 70s.

The wisdom of Sun Ra was mostly shown through his music and channeling a hippie, uptown funk, and jazz style. His vision has also inspired music artists like Janelle Monae and Outkast. Screaming with authenticity and rooted in retrofuturism, the energy of his music is designed to make room for more positive vibes and inclusivity. One of Sun Ra’s most notable works is his album “Space is the Place”, which is a fusion of jazz, funk, and electronic music. The album is accompanied by a film of the same name that featured Sun Ra as an interstellar traveler who arrives on Earth to free black people from oppression and establish a new world in outer space.

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Afrofuturism in Black Panther

The movie "Black Panther" (2018) incorporates several elements of Afrofuturism, a cultural and artistic movement that combines African aesthetics, history, and futurism. Here are a few examples of Afrofuturism in "Black Panther":

1. Wakanda: The entire set of "Black Panther" is centered around the fictional African nation of Wakanda. It is portrayed as an advanced and technologically sophisticated society, blending traditional African elements with futuristic technologies. This portrayal envisions an African nation that was never colonized and has thrived independently, embracing its rich cultural heritage while embracing innovative advancements.

2. Vibranium: In the film, Wakanda's technological superiority is attributed to vibranium, a fictional rare and powerful metal found only in Wakanda. This element is used to create highly advanced technology and weapons, symbolizing the fusion of traditional African roots with futuristic advancements.

3. Afrocentric Fashion and Design: The costumes and designs in "Black Panther" showcase a fusion of futuristic aesthetics with African cultural elements. The costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, drew inspiration from various African tribes, textiles, and patterns to create a unique and visually striking Afrofuturistic look for the characters.

4. Shuri's Technological Innovations: Shuri, the sister of T'Challa (Black Panther), serves as the chief scientist and innovator of Wakanda. Her character represents the intersection of technology and African excellence. Shuri's lab and inventions demonstrate the imaginative and advanced technological capabilities of Wakanda, blending futuristic elements with traditional African craftsmanship.

5. Cultural Representation: "Black Panther" celebrates and showcases diverse African cultures, traditions, and languages. The film emphasizes the importance of embracing and preserving African heritage while simultaneously imagining a future where African people and their culture thrive.

By incorporating these elements, "Black Panther" embraces the spirit of Afrofuturism, creating a powerful and visually captivating portrayal of an African nation that blends tradition and futuristic vision. It offers a unique perspective on black excellence, cultural pride, and the possibilities of a future where Africa and its diaspora are at the forefront of technological and cultural advancements.

In conclusion, Sun Ra was a visionary musician and thinker who had a profound influence on both the world of music and the broader cultural landscape. His embrace of Afrofuturism and his interest in creating a new vision of the future continues to inspire artists and thinkers today, and his impact on the beauty community is a testament to the lasting legacy of his ideas and vision.

Afrofuturism is a cultural and artistic movement that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and Afrocentricity to explore the experiences of people of African descent. The movement emerged in the 1950s and 1960s alongside the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the United States and has since spread globally. Afrofuturism is marked by a focus on the intersection of technology, race, and identity, often exploring themes such as alienation, liberation, and the role of African cultures in shaping the future.

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