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By Lindsay Barrett

-A Book Report

Some people live lives of such unusual dimensions that the idea of ever finding a biographer either qualified or dedicated enough to do justice to their story might appear to be impossible.

The remarkably esoteric and original African/American band­leader Sun Ra was one such individual. While his origins as an instrumentalist and arranger/ composer evolved from conventional traditions of musical enlightenment and training, he set his sights on expanding the boundaries of musical expression very early in his career.

 As Tam Fiofori makes very clear in this extraordinarily investigative narrative, Sun Ra’s objective from the very beginning of his professional life was a devotion to searching for an elusive truth. He decided that he would exploit sounds that reflected the concerns of communal experience as an intuitive experience rather than as reflection of glamorous popular emotions, and became especially adept at convincing expert musicians to collaborate with him.

When Fiofori, an extraordinary poet and essayist, fell into partnership with Sun Ra and his collective known as the Arkestra in the mid-1960s in the USA it was a period of extraordinary cultural ferment. Their collaboration turned out to be a source of spiritual enrichment for both of them and this book provides remarkable evidence of the adventurous friendship that developed between the African scholar and the African/American innovator.

The first chapters of the book are profoundly historical as Fiofori lays the groundwork for a comprehensive understanding of the psychological and socio-cultural background of Sun Ra’s musical conceptualization, by explaining how he viewed the role and position of the black American community in American society.

However, the work becomes more complex as it progresses and its revelatory boundaries grow increasingly universal in theme and purpose as it becomes clear that Sun Ra’s musical vision was not sociological but profoundly spiritual in both form and objective.

Fiofori shared a life with Sun Ra and although he does not say so, the later sections of this argosy indicate that he was deeply influenced by the lessons of moral conduct imparted by the older man, Sun Ra’s career was an exemplary construct as he stood firmly by the principles of originality and honesty of purpose that he advocated all his life and Fiofori’s book is an impressive record of his life and work.

This book will reverberate in the annals of African and African-American studies with deeper meaning not only in terms of musical history but also with unprecedented sociological relevance for a long time to come.

Lindsay Barrett

Abuja, 2022

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