Sun Ra & Elson Nascimento

An interview with Elson Nascimento of the Sun Ra Arkestra

The Sun Ra Arkestra celebrate their 60th year in music this year, and their 21st with maestro Marshall Allen at the helm. Ahead of their show at Band on the Wall on 15th April, we spoke to percussionist Elson Nascimento about his introduction to the Arkestra, the group under the direction of Marshall Allen and the vast back catalogue of Sun Ra and the Arkestra.

How were you first introduced to Sun Ra’s music? Was a knowledge of his music crucial when you were introduced to the Arkestra in 1988?
I was introduced to Sun Ra and his music by Teddy Thomas who was a performer with the band. At the time I was playing with a Brasilian band and Sun Ra’s music and philosophy was new to me.  Sun Ra invited me and a couple of other Brasilians to perform with him, and after that I got more involved.  Over time Sun Ra included me in carrying out some of the Arkestra’s responsibilities.

Was it a difficulty joining a group with established players like Marshall Allen, Charles Davis and others, who had played with some of the all-time greats, or did you find it easy to fit in with the longstanding Arkestra members?
Sun Ra had a history of including new people and ideas into the makeup of the band, and I was welcomed by some of the great musicians who made up the band at that time.

Looking back through the vast Sun Ra discography, do you have any favourite periods of work, or perhaps a favourite album?
Not really a favourite, the music has always been evolving, under Sunny and now under Maestro Marshall Allen.

Afrofuturism is a strong theme throughout Sun Ra’s work, and he is still referenced when the topic is discussed today. How did his philosophy inform the music the group made?
The theme of his music has always been relevant to the human condition.

Many members of the Arkestra have led the band over the years, and you have had an organisational role in the Arkestra. Would you one day like to assume the role of Arkestra leader, should the chance arise?
We have a very strong bandleader and positive direction under Marshall Allen’s leadership, and I hope to continue to play a role.