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Meshell Ndegeocello’s Red Hot & Ra: The Magic CityOut Apr 12, 2024


Red Hot + Ra - The Magic City from Meshell Ndegeocello is the third release in a series of tributes to Sun Ra. This is the 3rd time Meshell has been part of a Red Hot Org. release, the first two being Stolen Moments (1994) and Red Hot + Riot (2002).


The Red Hot + Ra series have future albums produced by Kronos Quartet, Om’Mas Keith and Madlib.


In a contemporary musical landscape increasingly shaped by the ideas of Sun Ra, the piano-playing composer, philosopher and band-leading autodidact from Birmingham, AL (on his birth certificate) and/or Saturn (in his mythology), Red Hot offers a different lens through which to hear Ra’s ideas in a modern setting. Red Hot + Ra: Magic City is a deeply personal musical conversation between the Grammy Award-winning bassist-composer-producer Meshell Ndegeocello, and Ra’s work. These are not cover songs but contemporary manifestations of spirit — no, seriously, these are all new compositions — created using Ra’s ideas, words and melodies, but also using original music and soundscapes, as played by Ndgeocello and a mighty multi-generational cast of community musicians fluent in Ra’s sounds and outlook.


Among the players appearing alongside Ndegeocello on Red Hot + Ra: Magic City are Marshall Allen, the 99 year-old leader of Ra’s legendary Arkestra, playing the saxophone and the EWI; Pink Siifu, the (also-) Birmingham-born hip-hop/punk-jazz vocalist and bandleader; jazz saxophonists, Immanuel Wilkins and Darius Jones; the vocalist-composer Justin Hicks, a key member of Meshell’s live band; the drummers Deantoni Parks and Kojo Roney, the 19 year-old son of saxophonist Antoine and nephew of the late trumpeter Wallace Roney; bassist Rashaan Carter, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Bogie, guitarist Christopher Bruce, violinist Eddy Kwon, keyboardists Daniel Mintseris and Jebin Bruni, and others.


Red Hot + Ra: Magic City was produced by Ndegeocello and Hector Castillo, who also designed the album’s numerous soundscapes, as well as mixed its disparate unstable elements (a multitude of original and sampled voices, synths and soundscapes, horns and reeds both cross-cutting and in-harmonyIn the hands and hearts of this band, Red Hot + Ra: Magic City recontextualizes the historically familiar, adds a layer of the original, then gives personal translations of Sun Ra’s work — devoid of the cliched mysticism it's often reduced to, and considerably brighter than the darkly beautiful forecasts of Red Hot’s previous Sun Ra-related offering, 2023’s Red Hot + Ra: Nuclear War. On tracks such as “#9 Venus The Living Myth” and “Yet Differently Not - Mars Hall (in),” easily recognizable elements of now canonical Ra compositions are given new settings and sonic juxtapositions, a feminine energy and (in Ndegecello’s words) “a choir of June Tysons,”performed by Kenita Miller, Jade Hicks, Nio Levon, Hanna Ben and times, Meshell (though she often appears only as producer/conductor).


Two separate Justin Hicks originals, “Bedlam Blues” and “Reproductive Manatees - Sunny Said Up!” utilize Ra quotes and teachings as lyrics that echo the perspective of the man whose views were once considered esoteric, but have entered the lexicon of listeners and thinkers trying to stay sane in a mad self-destructive world.


It’s what originally brought Ndegeocello to John Szwed’s autobiography of the man born Herman Poole Blount: Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra was first published in 1998 but received a timely reissue during the 2020 lockdown. Afterwards, Ndegeocello found that the way she listened to, and thought of Ra, had changed.

“I haven’t been the same since reading that book,” says Meshell. “I think it’s what inspired [2023’s great Grammy-winning album] The Omnichord Real Book, in the sense of, ‘what happens when you’re no longer driven by youth?’ Sun Ra’s music is a living organism, and once you immerse yourself in his work, his life, you recognize there’s a fork in the road — that you really have to make choices, because there’s so many other realms and dimensions to explore Musically.”


The choices made on Red Hot + Ra: Magic City are to honor the legacy but also to live in the moment, offering what Ndegeocello calls a “present-time experience,” a way towards self-actualization in the seeming despair of our society. “I want people to walk away [from listening to the album by] understanding that [life] is really of your own design,” Ndegeocello says. “The mind is the only part we really have control over, and do the best to live the life you want to live.”


Red Hot + Ra: The Magic City

1. Solipsistic Panacea (Black Antiques)

2. Departure Guide Of The 7 Sisters

3. Bedlam Blues

4. #9 Venus The Living Myth

5. El-Soul The Companion, Traveler

6. LQ1TY - 29 Years

7. Yet Differently Not- Mars Hall

8. Reproductive Manatees - Sunny Said Up!

9. The World Of Shadow





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