The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, in West Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region. The Dogon are believed to be of Egyptian descent and their calendar goes back thousands of years to 3200 BC.
According to their oral traditions, the star Sirius has a companion star which is invisible to the human eye. This companion star has a 50-year elliptical orbit around the visible Sirius and is extremely heavy. It also rotates on its axis. The star, known now to modern astronomers as Sirius B, wasn't even photographed until it was discovered by a large telescope in 1970.
The Dogon claim they know of the twin star from the Nommos, a race of people from the Sirius star system that visited Earth thousands of years ago. The Nommos were amphibious beings that resembled mermen and mermaids. They also appear in Babylonian and Sumerian myths. The Egyptian Goddess Isis, who is sometimes depicted as a mermaid, is also linked with the star Sirius. According to the Dogon legend, the Nommos landed on Earth in an "ark," and they informed the Dogon of the existence of Sirius B, as well as the four major moons of Jupiter and Saturn's rings, discoveries not known to Westerners until Galileo invented the telescope. The Dogon also understood the heliocentric nature of the solar system.
But that's not the point. The point is that back in February 1972, the musician Julius Hemphill went into a recording session in St. Louis, Missouri and performed a composition called Dogon A.D. We used to listen to this song on the radio very late at night while studying or pulling all-nighters back in college. Forty five years later, we still consider the song to be one of the most thrilling, not to mention coolest, pieces of music ever performed. Props go out to Abdul Wadud's powerful cello on this piece as much as to Hemphill's brilliant alto and Baikida E.J. Carroll's trumpet.
We've seen Hemphill perform live several times over the years at various jazz festivals and concerts, usually with the World Saxophone Quartet, but although we were always hoping he'd break into Dogon, A.D., we never heard him perform the piece (we think you'd really need to have Wadud on board to perform it properly). Sadly, Hemphill reached the other shore back in 1995 at the age of 57.
In case you don't know how to listen to this kind of music, don't just play it in the background and then go on about your day (or night). Give it your full attention, and if you try to hum or sing or whatever along with the saxophone lines, you'll better understand the way Hemphill was expressing himself and who he was and what his spirit was like. And when you understand that, it will transform you, just like reading a novel by a brilliant author infuses your own consciousness and changes the way you are.
What we're trying to say (and here's our point) is that if you listen to this closely enough you'll hear some strange and wonderful things, and if you listen closely enough times, you may become someone strange and beautiful yourself.
Give it a chance.