I first encountered Sun Ra by way of the writings of the incredible Kodwo Eshun, who's seminal tome "More Brilliant That The Sun" remains an exceptional (and often times confounding) primer on Afro Futurism - tracing the "song lines" and political history of Black Music in a manner which has profoundly changed the way I have experiened my own musical tradition.
Actually *edit* - the above statement is not entirely true...
I actually first encountered Sun Ra most unintentionally, in 1992, by way of a copy of The Grid's "456" album - purchased on cassette. Sun is sampled in the track "Face The Sun", and something about his voice in this track had me absolutely smitten. Who knew? For years (and arguably still to this day), I've had his refrain looping somewhere in my liver, my bowel, my Anetrior Temporal Lobe:
"I'm dealing with sound... not just what you call music. You know, you have a 'sound' party, a 'sound' doctrine...... you need to have a 'sound' music... so I'm dealing with sound. I'm talking about the cosmos. I'm talking about Universes, I'm talking about Omniverses...I'm talking about this Planet will have to cooperate with other worlds now, instead of just being isolated the way they have been - and that's what it is..."
For any interested, even marginally, in the African Diaspora's fearsome musical Grace, I can only suggest spending some time with Sun might just be life changing. In the light of 'the future' sounding increasingly like the past, Sun Ra (RIP) remains far beyond the space time continuum.
He remains, for me, beyond time. An exceptional jazz musician, but moreover an artist from the eternal tomorrow. Ra's ethos is at the heart of the electronic pulse for me.
I'm playing dark history. It's beyond black. I'm dealing with the dark things of the cosmos
- Sun Ra
I can only bow.
For further reading, I can highly recommend John Szwed's biography, "Space Is The Place"