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Sun Ra's Journey To Moers

Greg Drusdow By

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Sun Ra contacted the cosmic coordinator in such cases and instructed the Arkestra to play an anti-rain chorus before going on stage to get the rain to stop...
This story first appeared in the 1996 Moers Jazz Festival program.

For those who attended the Moers Festival in 1979, they should remember the closing show of the last night as being one of the most exceptional events in the Moers Festival history—the night the Sun Ra Arkestra landed there.

Getting Sun Ra to bring the Arkestra was quite a challenge to festival organizer and impresario Burkhard Hennen, since at the Moers Festival in 1978 he told me that he had tried several times to contact Sun Ra to arrange for them to come. Each time he would talk with Sun Ra on the telephone, Ra talked of mathematical equations, interplanetary structures, cosmic alignments and other subjects that made the reality of organizing a performance quite difficult. This type of discussion was quite typical with Sun Ra, and since I had often experienced that type of dialog with him before, I promised Burkhard to try to convince him into coming to Moers.

Some months later, I was at the Squat Theater in the Chelsea district of New York City after a four hour set by the Arkestra during which Sun Ra was focusing heavily on the subject of discipline in the "cosmo drama" segments that made up that performance. I talked with Ra backstage where he was "holding court," as he would often do between sets, talking about all manner of subjects and issues to a group of people that gathered around him and listened to whatever direction the discussion would go.

I first reaffirmed to Ra my agreement that the lack of discipline was one of the major problems on Planet Earth. He then began a discourse of nearly 30 minutes on the subject touching on how he chose to live in the United States rather than Europe because there were more problems that he wanted to solve for the citizens of the USA even though it would be easier for him and the Arkestra to live and work in Europe. He talked about how he went to the United Nations and demanded to speak to the person in charge and found that there was no one who could speak on behalf of the planet—so he challenged how could they call themselves the United Nations, suggesting that possibly if they changed their name to United Governments, they would have a better chance of understanding what was needed to do to organize. He touched on how he was offered the job of Minister of Culture in France, but turned it down since there was so much work to do in straightening out the discipline problems in America.

I then suggested to Ra that America was not the only country with problems. I told him "You know Sun Ra, the Germans lack discipline." His animated response to this went on for nearly another half hour as he talked about how the social and political problems historically in Germany brought the planet to near destruction and how Berlin as a city under siege with a wall keeping people from escaping in any direction was an example for how we are earthbound due to the discipline problems. I then suggested to Ra that there was a place in Germany where he could communicate his ideas about discipline and the future to the German people, at a place (the Moers Festival) where key people gathered each year that would listen to and understand his message and perhaps do something to resolve these problems.

Sun Ra instantly agreed that this would be an important thing to do in light of the destiny of the planet, so the connection was made that led to Sun Ra not only agreeing to come to Moers, but seeing that as an important priority. There were, though, some unusual events that happened when the Arkestra arrived to communicate with the German people. In 1979, the festival was held on the same site as today, but without a tent. It began raining heavily one hour before the Arkestra was scheduled to perform and the audience was getting soaked. As the stage was being set up for the nearly 20 musicians, the rain showed no signs of stopping, which disturbed Ra greatly. "I want the people to be able to concentrate on what I have to say and understand this discipline message" were his words before he went to the musicians tent and had what he termed a "conversation with the fellas." This later was clarified by Ra to be a talk with the cosmic forces to get them to stop the rain. James Jackson, the bassoonist and African drummer in the band, remembers that Sun Ra contacted the cosmic coordinator in such cases and instructed the Arkestra to play an anti-rain chorus before going on stage to get the rain to stop during the performance.

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