Oct 20, 2023, 6:30pm

Sun Ra Arkestra + KESSWA


On the occasion of Mike Kelley: Ghost and Spirit, a new travelling retrospective devoted to one of America’s most influential artists of the late twentieth-early twenty-first centuries at the Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection, Paris, Blank Forms presents a series of concerts reflecting the importance of music in the work of Kelley's work. 

Founded in the mid-1950s, the Sun Ra Arkestra became the primary conduit through which polymath jazz composer, bandleader, pianist, poet, and philosopher Sun Ra expressed his visionary perspective: a mythology that transposes the forced dislocation of the African diaspora from slave ship to spaceship, wielding technology and music as an instrument for utopian Black interplanetary migration. When Sun Ra left planet Earth in 1993, his role as leader of the Arkestra was taken by John Gilmore before the latter’s ascension in 1995, when Marshall Allen took the helm. An alto saxophonist, flutist, and electronic valve instrument player who joined the group in 1958, Allen has lived, rehearsed, toured, and recorded with Sun Ra almost exclusively throughout his musical career. Allen, now age 99, and the other members of the Arkestra continue to live at the Sun Ra residence in Philadelphia, the group’s communal base of drug-, alcohol-, and sex-free operations since 1968. There, Allen writes fresh arrangements of Sun Ra’s tunes and composes new music for the Arkestra, committed to a life of discipline centered on the further development of Sun Ra’s musical precepts. With a massive, joyous songbook that encompasses spiritual grooves, sing-along chants, and ecstatic fire music, the Arkestra continues to traverse their namesake’s spaceways.

A native of Detroit’s east side, Kesiena Wanogho aka KESSWA is an interdisciplinary artist, vocalist, producer, and filmmaker whose ethereal, pulsating sound-worlds channel her hometown’s distinct musical legacy. Freely intermingling and transmogrifying the Motor City’s rich contributions to the histories of spiritual jazz, electronic funk, house, and techno, her work typically foregrounds lively, interlocking vocals set against lush soundscapes that call back to each of the aforementioned idioms, as well as neo-soul, dub, and trip-hop. A hoist of other interests work their way in: traditional Nigerian drum music, Afro-surrealism, virtual reality and 360° video technologies, and Nichiren Buddhism all feed into her highly syncretic, often uncategorizable sonic practice. KESSWA was a 2022 Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow and has toured Germany as Musicboard Berlin and Detroit–Berlin Connection’s premier artist-in-residence. Most recently, she is featured as an artist and producer on Theo Parrish’s DJ-Kicks compilation. 

See also, Dick Slessig Combo and Sun Ra Arkestra + KESSWA