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FRIDAY, JULY 19, 2002
Tonight's Concert of Colors was just as I'd imagined it would be! A glorious celebration of Detroit family. I saw so many friends, some of whom I know by name and some by sight. For instance, there was Marion and a man--both wonderful dancers whom I see at every Detroit music festival--up in the aisles moving to the music of Hassan Hukmoun from Marrakech. Actually, almost everyone was on their feet dancing before this night was done. You couldn't sit down if you tried...especially dancin' fools like me. I was up on my feet too, leaning against my scooter or holding onto her steering handle, for hours. Helped me realize that I won't need to swim to get exercise before going to the festival on Saturday and Sunday. I love to dance!
The evening was filled with one energetic band after another. Hassan Hukmoun started off. He was followed by Ozomatli, a very popular band from Los Angeles. I saw lots of Ozomatli T-shirts in the audience. They were fabulous! Ten young men of diverse ethnic backgrounds, utterly engaging and excellent musicians. When they came into the audience at the end of their set, the crowd went wild. And after them was a Detroit--and worldwide--favorite, Femi Kuti from Nigeria. The minute he, his band and dancers appeared on the stage, folks jumped to their feet and never sat down. It made it tough for photographers like me, but, heck, I didn't care. I was boogying down myself.
My friend Pat K. and I had gotten to Chene Park a half hour before the first act was scheduled to appear. We sat by the river and enjoyed the Middle Eastern food, Odwalla juices and blueberries I'd brought. The few food concessions at this festival are not particularly vegetarian-friendly and get very crowded, so we like to bring our own food. Soon we heard Hassan Hukmoun's set starting up on the Mainstage, so Pat took our picnic stuff back to the car--they don't allow you to bring food or drinks into the Mainstage area--and I scooted over to get us a good accessible spot.
This is an extraordinarily beautiful performance space, with the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario as backdrops. Imagine sitting in an amphitheater and watching lakers, tour boats and pleasure craft go by or anchor in front. Pure delight, especially on such a perfect summer evening. By the end of the night, there were few seats available in this 2-3000 seat space. I'm sure it will be crowded to the gills when Ray Charles appears on Sunday night!
And as always at this
festival, there was a wonderful variety of dress among the audience
members. I was fortunate enough to meet a daughter and her mother
from Nigeria, Karen
and Sarah in the parking lot after the show. They told us
that Sarah, who has been visiting Karen for five months, wanted
to see Femi Kuti. "When he walks down the street at home
everyone comes runninng out and starts to party!" Well, we
here in Detroit did the same thing as Nigerians...we partied!
SATURDAY, JULY 20, 2002
What a perfect festival day! Clear blue skies, inviting sun, no humidity and a refreshing breeze coming off the water. Pat K. (who had spent the night) and I got down to Chene Park at 2 PM, just in time for me to join the Samba Clinic with Eric "The Fish" Paton at the World Rhythm Stage. Drums, tambourines, cowbells and my Vietnamese wooden frog came together in jiving ways that made you want to get up and dance. It was a great warm-up for the Samba Party tonight.
After awhile I scooted over to the river side of the park where I hooked up with the two Pats, Pat K. and Pat N., and met an enchanting little girl named Alia. She and her mother, Avonda, were in town from New York visiting Carol, their grandmother and mother. Later in the day I took this portrait of the three generations. I've known Carol since she and Lori became partners a few years ago. Lori is the gifted drum facilitator that my women friends and I have worked with for years; I also see her at most women's music festivals.
Very soon our friends Sooz and Mary showed up. Today was a day for me to celebrate friends, old and new. While we were visiting, I saw a beautiful sight over by the World Rhythm Stage. It was a circle dance peopled by old and young, black, white and red, suburban, city and street folks; it was the world. And they were dancing to the drum beat created by a circle of drummers led by the Snake Island Singers.
By now it was time for us to head over to the Mainstage; we wanted to see the Philippine-American percussionist Susie Ibarra. I found Susie's music to be an original blend of Asian-inspired melodies, American jazz, funky fushion with her zen-like spirit infusing it all. She played several percussion instruments and sang as well. Pat K. later talked to a WDET-FM radio announcer who said he'd never heard of her singing before. It was haunting.
But Susie and her band were not the only ones in the public eye. There were two little girls who found the beat and never lost it. These fey creatures twisted, jumped, turned, crawled, skipped and danced through Susie's entire set, adding a dimension that seemed to complete the whole. To me, the entire performance was mesmerizing.
Outside the Mainstage area were dozens of booths with international clothing, textiles, jewelry and community information, including Revolutionary Books where I bought Michael Moore's Stupid White Men. While I was making my purchase, Pat N. was talking to a fellow named Justin whom she felt looked just like Stevie Wonder. Pat has never met a stranger.
Sooz, Mary, Pat K. and I (Pat N. had to get back to Windsor) sat down near the river for a late lunch. Sooz had made delicious potato salad, Mary had brought blueberry cake-like treats and nuts/raisins, and I had a good supply of my usual Middle Eastern food and Odwalla juices with fresh blackberries for dessert. It was a feast of food and friendship.
While eating, we heard a roar from the Mainstage tent signalling the appearance of the South African musician Hugh Masekela. We finished up and headed over. What energy that man brings to the stage! As Mary said afterwards, he is as much preacher as musician. And the audience--a full house at 5 PM--adored him.
After Hugh's performance, I happened upon Glen Velez on the World Rhythm Stage. I've been hearing about this master drummer for years because he comes to Detroit regularly to give frame drum and tambourine workshops. I could not believe what I was hearing him do with his hands and his voice. It was like magic!
Sooz and Mary had taken off after Hugh Masekela, and by now Pat and I needed a nap. Dear Lori gave us a blanket and pillows and we rested comfortably on a grassy knoll overlooking the river. My new best pal, Alia, played in my scooter and happily chatted with me as I lay there. I fell in love with that little girl...so much so that after my rest, I invited her to sit in my lap and we took some spins around the paved area in my scooter. I'd never done that before; it was fun!
But before Alia and I went scooter riding, the Samba Party had begun. Even though the band was on the Rhythm Stage behind me, I had a front row seat to watch my favorite couple dance the samba. I've seen them at several music festivals here in Detroit and have always admired the fluidity of their movements; it's as though they read one another's minds. By the way, that link may take awhile to come up as it contains four small photos. I wanted to give you a sense of being there.
Pat and I decided to check out the electronic dance music over on the Mainstage. Carl Craig, a famous DJ, was performing and I guess that meant he had put together the music for folks to dance to. Well, it looked more like standing around than dancing, but the kids seemed to be having a ball. I must say this kind of music did not particularly appeal to us old fogies, so we didn't stick around too long.
Actually I was much happier
at the Samba Party where I saw a proud father named Larry
dancing the samba with his baby girl, Alexis. This party closed
down around 9:30 PM so I was home at a reasonable time, ready
for some sleep. Have to get rested for tomorrow!
SUNDAY, JULY 21, 2002
This was such a sacred day...and I don't use that word lightly.
It started with a glorious cloudburst that soaked our dry land with rich, deep moisture. I'd seen dark clouds to the northwest as I pulled out of my garage at 1:30 PM, but didn't let them stop me from heading down to the Concert of Colors. Huge raindrops began to splatter my windshield four blocks from Chene Park. Soon the drops became a river. I pulled into the parking lot--causing the attendant to get drenched as he took my $5--and parked in the handicapped/staff area near the entrance. Judy Piazza, the marvelous Detroit-area drummer who had booked all the talent for the World Rhythm Stage, was sitting in her car beside mine. We waved, and waited for the rains to stop or at least slow down. I'm happy to say we waited 40 minutes! That was a good rain.
I was by myself today so had need of finding helpers to unpack and assemble Ona my scooter from the car. After the rains diminished enough for me to get out of the car, it didn't take long before a friendly young Concert of Colors volunteer came by and did the job for me. I am grateful for her help.
I scooted right over to the World Rhythm Stage to experience Kalpulli Tekpatl, a group of young people and their teacher who dance in the Mexican Aztec tradition. They were accompanied by two men--one an elder--on handcarved drums that were made in Mexico from tree trunks. As both the elder and the teacher told us later, it is essential that we pass on our traditions and knowledge to the generations coming after us. "Our young people need this!" Well, so does our city and the world. That circle generated a deep healing.
There are three moments I will not forget. The first was when the dancers and drummers prayed to the four directions. The smell of sage, pulse beat of drums, shaking of rattles and the sound of conch shells being blown touched me deeply. The second was seeing how the elder (who was drumming) never took his eyes off the boy or girl who was given the privilege/responsibility to lead the beat and dancing. It was as if he were consciously willing the spirits of the ancestors to direct the minds, spirits and bodies of these young people in ways that would be pleasing to them. I expect this depth of attention is received with a mix of pride, discomfort and gratitude in these teenagers who are growing up here in Michigan with one foot in each world, the old and the new. The third moment I will remember came when those who were watching were invited to join the circle so that we might all dance together. When I scooted to the perimeter of the circle, the drummers motioned for me to join them in the center. It was like sitting within the beating heart of our spinning planet.
From there, I went to the small Acoustic Stage near the entrance to Chene Park. A woman at the Kalipulli Tekpatl performance had told me of a group of First Nations women singers from New Brunswick called Wabanu who were not to be missed. Was she ever right!
How can I tell you what it was like to be taught, soothed, stirred up, challenged, nurtured and treated like family by this gathering of women singers/dancers? The matriarch (to the right in this picture) is one of those wise women you read about, the ones whose every word is like a loving sword that cuts to the heart of things. She told a story about the loss of the First Nations' culture and how it was held for them by the whales. Then the whales sent porpoises close to the shore to see what the humans were doing. The porpoises saw that the human family was beginning to remember, to sing their songs, to beat their drums, to dance their dances, to feast again. The porpoises gleefully swam out to the deep seas to tell the whales the good news. Whereupon the whales told the porpoises to tell the humans not to worry, that they (the whales) were the storehouses of their knowledge and would teach them everything they needed to know. That was just one story. In addition to the singing and storytelling was dancing. A young woman joined one of the singers in several dances, and a young man also danced to some of the songs. At one point all the women in the audience were invited to come forward and join the dancers in the Pine Needle dance.
As far as I was concerned, they could have gone on forever, but I guess events like this have to keep to some kind of schedule (which the rain had messed up anyway). After they left the stage I scooted over to meet them. I just had to connect personally with these women. Then I got some of their story. They are mostly members of a family who originally lived in New Brunswick. The mother now lives in Maine, one daughter in Ontario, another daughter outside Cleveland, and the other singer--I don't know how or if she's related to the others--still lives in New Brunswick. The young dancers are children of the daughters. I asked what tribes they are from and they wrote down three names: Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac. There was an official Concert of Colors photographer who posed them for a portrait, so I used that opportunity to take my own Wabanu portrait.
Next to the Acoustic Stage was a tent housing a fabulous henna tattoo painter whose artistry I'd admired yesterday on Avonda's arm and Alia's ankle. She was available, so I sat down--oh, that's right. I already was seated!-- put my foot in her lap and asked her to paint an anklet using any design she pleased. Hanifah painted a lyrical design with black henna paste and only charged $12. Makes me want a real tattoo. Now that's dangerous!
By now my tummy was rumbling. It was 5:30 PM and I'd yet to eat. I set up beside the river and enjoyed my usual Middle Eastern fare washed down by an Odwalla juice. I even had enough to share with David who lives at Chene Park in the summer and in a shelter in the winter. He was very much a part of the festival all weekend but I never saw him ask anyone for anything. A man with a great deal of dignity.
While eating, I heard a terrific band start its set at the World Rhythm Stage behind me. So when I'd finished, I scooted over there. It was Detroit's own Uprizin' Steel Pan Band and they were fabulous! Like bees to honey, more and more folks kept gathering until we had a real hot happening going on. I was particularly tickled to see a woman playing with their group; apparently she and the man in my picture are from Trinidad and Tobago. We need to see way more women instrumentalists!
When their set was done, I looked at my watch and saw it was 7 PM, time for me to scoot over to the Mainstage. In an hour and a half Ray Charles was scheduled to perform and I wanted to get a good spot. Good thing I went early. Not only was the amphitheater filling fast, but there was a lively Caribbean band onstage. Square One had folks on their feet, waving their arms, singing to the music, clapping their hands, dancing, jumping and just having a high old time. Ray Charles couldn't have asked for a better warm-up act!
By 8:30 PM there was not an empty seat in this tented performance space that must seat 2-3000 people. As Detroit's Mayor said, "Where else but in Dee-troit can you see Ray Charles for free!!" Although Kwame Kilpatrick's appearance felt pretty political, he shared the stage with the real people who made this wonderful Concert of Colors happen, representatives from ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), New Detroit (the Coalition), and Daimler Chrysler, a major corporate sponsor. And then the show began.
We heard two numbers from
the Ray Charles Big Band, but when Ray Charles appeared offstage
right, the crowd went bonkers. Folks jumped to their feet and
started screaming. By the time he was announced and took the stage,
the roar was like a plane taking off or a giant lion. Amazing!
And this was from the most diverse crowd of people imaginable:
men and women in African garb, scarved Muslim women with their
husbands and children, teens with dreadlocks, assorted tattoos
and piercings, suburban Caucasian and African American families,
old hippies and flower children, men in turbans and women in long
flowing gowns, elders of all races/cultures, babies in arms, toddlers
and schoolage kids, disabled folks in wheelchairs, scooters or
walking with canes. I can't begin to describe in words everyone
who was there. But as Ray
Charles sat at his keyboard, smiling his radiant smile, singing
new and old songs, I thought to myself, "This is who we are.
This is who we really are!" One family, one world,
one people, each with a unique heritage and culture, each with
special gifts to offer. And isn't that what this Concert of Colors,
the festival that celebrates Detroit's diversity, is all about?
© 2002 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.