Day 1: Themes / Lee “Scratch” Perry

Sun Ra

is a musician from Saturn, who is now known as one of the originators of Afrofuturism. He landed on this planet in 1914 and had dedicated himself to music till he left in 1993. He formed his own big band called the Arkestra and created more than 180 albums with them. His musical style on surface varies from time to time, from doo-wap to avant-garde, but was always his own. Sun Ra himself was an organic culture that changed its styles reacting creatively to situations as African-American music has changed its styles from work song to hip-hop, reflecting people’s lives.

Sun Ra is, however, still underestimated as a speaker of Afrofuturism compared to George Clinton of P-Funk. I understand. It’s maybe because of his sometimes too “out there” way of speaking or his mystique in general. Clinton has got much more lyrics in his music and seems to speak more clearly in public. But I surely feel Sun Ra’s philosophy is consistent and could be stronger than any other Afrofuturist’s. So, one of the themes of this blog is to try to clarify his philosophy as much as possible. 

The other theme of this blog is simply digging and introducing Afrofuturistic music, especially ones Sun Ra cannot or might not have known. Since the last year marked the 100th anniversary of Ra’s arrival on the Earth (21st of his departure), it is good time to see how much Afrofuturism has percolated in music, or how Afrofuturism is still alive in our lives. The scenes or artists I have in mind now include: Detroit Techno/House, Flying Lotus and the LA beat scene, Madlib, many funk/soul bands other than P-Funk (such as Earth, Wind and Fire), OutKast, Kool Keith, etc. I also hope I can systematize them to some extent under some shared characteristics. Since the first theme takes time to discuss, I’d like to begin this blog with introducing music. 

Lee “Scratch” Perry 

 I would like to put him in the first place though Sun Ra probably knew his existence. Lee “Scratch” Perry in Reggae is often counted as the three great figures in Afrofuturistic music, along with Sun Ra in Jazz and George Clinton in Funk. He is known as a pioneer of Dub, a production technique or subgenre in Reggae music, but also known for his use of mythological / cosmological images. As he wore spacesuit-like costumes and called himself the “sky computer”, he made as much cosmic sound with utilizing effects such as delay and reverb, mixing instruments in and out. We find Ra using the similar technique in his records such as Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (1965, recorded in 1961-62), much earlier than the emergence of Dub. Technology is obviously significant in Afrofuturism. By using technologies in the way other people do not, people are able to live in the future and make the future. I think that’s what Afrofuturists have been doing. His studio, “Black Ark”, looks as if it’s his spaceship. I sometimes see Perry fails to be mentioned in the context of Afrofuturism. It is probably because the discussions on Afrofuturism mainly take place in the United States and he is a Jamaican (and very “out there” like Sun Ra, too). That is also why I put him in the first place.

Black Ark Studio


Great short documentary about the LA beat scene. Worth a watch! If you love Flying Lotus and over beat makers in Los Angeles.