What we did Friday night was DANCE! And dance and dance and dance. First we danced to the Irish Celtic band, Cherish The Ladies. Then we danced to Bembeya Jazz, the Afro-pop dance band from Guinea. And finally the Spanish Harlem Orchestra got us dancing the salsa until sweat was dripping from our brows. Folks were dancing in front of the stage, in their seats, in the aisles, and two couples even got up and danced on the stage. I was on my feet for hours, shakin' my bootie while holding onto my scooter handle or the seat in front of me. And I wasn't always dancing by myself either. First Dee Dee from Day House came up to dance with me, then Pat (a fellow I see dancing at EVERY Detroit music festival) left the stage area to come dance with me, and finally Miriam, an old friend and beautiful dancer, engaged me in wonderfully creative dance. She danced as I do--not moving her feet--but took my movements to a new level. Afterwards she made me smile by groaning and rubbing her thighs. She admitted that my way of dancing (without moving my feet) is WAY harder on the thigh muscles than her usual way of dancing. Terrific validation of my many hours spent working out at the gym doing leg squats! By the way, when I say my dancing partners came "up" to dance with me, I mean that literally. They climbed the stairs from the stage level up to the mid-level where my wheeled sisters and brothers and I park our chairs and scooters to watch the show. Now you know why I'm so grateful for the 6x zoom lens on my digital camera!
Besides dancing, it was like old home week. The Concert of Colors draws such a diverse crowd that, for me, it's like looking at a photo album of my almost-four decades in Detroit. I am always surprised and delighted at who I encounter here. Tonight it was Dee Dee, Julie, Miriam, Grisca and Janet from Day House, as well as my friend Pat and her daughter--my goddess daughter--Emily... Sarita from the old St. Agnes church on Rosa Parks Boulevard where I used to go in the '80s...two Raging Grannies--Judy Drylie (who sat with me) and Helen McDonald...Horacio Vargas of New Detroit who asked if I was going to write a journal of my exeriences as I've done in years past (in 2002 and 2003, New Detroit put up a link on their web site to my Concert of Colors photo-journals)...Judy Piazza, a marvelous drummer who coordinates the Rhythm Stage at this event...Veronica, a woman I've also drummed with over the years, who ten weeks ago gave birth to Zeke, her first child...Mike and Carmen from the Blue Triangle Network...Susan of MECAWI and Detroit CPR...a white-haired woman who said she remembered seeing me at the February 15, 2003 anti-war demo here in Detroit (I talked to her about possibly joining the Raging Grannies)...to name a few.
As I've said many, many times before, Detroit is family. A big city with a small town feeling. My favorite place to live.
Yes, the Concert of Colors is about music, but more than that, it's about people. People coming together from different backgrounds, different countries, different ethnicities, different political and religious beliefs, different economic and social strata, different experiences of life. And there we are--as we were last night--thousands of us standing and swaying to the same reggae beat, smiling, yelling "More! We want more!" when Burning Spear asked us what we wanted. One people together in pure delight. Makes you wonder what would happen if there were a law requiring world leaders to dance together before they decided to make war.
For me personally it was not just the collective experience of people but what happened one-on-one that made this day so special. It was the deep conversation about violence and racism that I had with Dan Aldridge, Jr. , the Director of Black Family Development, Inc. It was meeting Draython, Roberta and their 7 week-old daughter, Jasmine, who sat in front of me for the performance by Los Amigos Invisibles. It was seeing and talking with dozens of Ani DiFranco's fans, young lesbians I'll be seeing in a few weeks at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. It was speaking with mothers and fathers of the exceptionally talented girls who opened the Rhythm Stage by performing their traditional East Indian dances as members of the group Nadanta. It was reuniting with friends from the peace communities in Detroit, Windsor and Ann Arbor, some of whom I'd gotten to know during our 19 months of working for the release from jail of Rabih Haddad. It was running into Peggy, a teacher at the East Dearborn school where I volunteer, and then seeing her dance with her husband Ishmael Ahmed, the director of ACCESS and a key festival organizer. It was dancing with friends like Miriam, and having the opportunity to do more than dance with other festi-friends, like Pat, whom I discovered is a shift supervisor at a local children's psychiatric hospital. It was watching Ani Di Franco's performance with , and sharing conversation, a delicious East Indian dinner, and Ani DiFranco's fabulous performance with my beloved goddess daughter Emily. It was hearing from her that her mother, my dear friend Pat, had gone out today with Brad, the wonderful salsa dancer she'd met and danced with here at the Concert of Colors last night.
It was also hearing
about the generosity of the people of our city who, upon learning
that the Peking Acrobats had had the trailer with their equipment,
costumes and props--some of them irreplaceable--stolen here in
Detroit, passed a hat among the audience and collected $1500.
And it was later hearing that the Peking Acrobats had chosen not
to keep that money for themselves but to donate it to a local
I'm convinced that beauty begets beauty, and today that belief was validated.
When a hugely-anticipated act from Turkey--Mercan Dede and the Secret Tribe--announced after a lengthy delay and only one minute of trying to play their instruments onstage, that they could not continue due to irreparable problems with the Main Stage sound equipment, the audience sounded like a balloon that had had it's knot untied. Whoosh... The festival organizer Ishmael's body language told it all as he tried to explain to the audience what had happened and how everyone had worked so hard together to try to remedy the situation; he looked positively crushed. It was especially poignant when he told us that this group had traveled 18 hours by plane from Istanbul to be with us. What a sad moment. So when Ishmael came onstage a little later to announce that Hamsa Lila, a San Francisco-based group that blends "earthy trance" traditions with world music from North and West Africa, the Americas, India and the Caribbean, had invited Mercan Dede and the Secret Tribe, a sufi-inspired group of Turkish musicians and a Whirling Dervish, to share the stage with them at 8:45 PM on the much smaller Diversity Stage, I had a feeling something special was going to happen. What I didn't realize was that every person who chose to be in that place at that time, whether in the audience or onstage, was going to be touched by magic.
For me the magic started when I encountered the founder, Mercan Dede, as he walked by the Diversity Stage a little before 8 PM. He stopped and we talked for a few minutes, making what I could tell was a heart-to-heart connection. I then met my friend Carol Yamasaki during the concluding number by Universal Expression, the act before Hamsa Lila. Carol is a great favorite of mine--she's a Raging Granny, a community organizer, and a highly respected Tai Chi instructor in the metro Detroit area--and yet we rarely have time together. Tonight we sat and talked as we enjoyed a wonderful plate of East Indian food from the American Masala booth. As we turned to make our way back to the Diversity Stage, Carol pointed out that, in Detroit, even cement factories look beautiful in the late afternoon sun.
Once we got to the stage area--where I'd seen the Peking Acrobats earlier in the day--I was surprised to find a flood of people joining us. You see, we were missing the rock & roll legend, Little Richard, who had PACKED the Main State amphitheatre, so I hadn't expected to see so many people choosing a distinctly more spiritual form of "entertainment." But obviously Detroit has a diversity of tastes, as evidenced by this wonderful festival that celebrates that fact. As we waited for the performance to begin, I saw sitting in a chair off to the side of the audience area, a young woman whom I recognized as the Whirling Dervish who would be performing with Mercan Dede and the Secret Tribe. I scooted over to speak with her.
My conversation with Mira--a conversation soon shared with my dancing friend Miriam--dropped immediately to a deep place. Whenever I encounter an individual who is so authentically in touch with her "spirit self," conversation becomes like shared prayer. And so it was with Mira. She told us that she is the daughter of a man who started "whirling" years ago. Last night their group performed in Vancouver, Mira's home, and for the first time her father was able to see his daughter "whirl" onstage. Detroit is the second stop on Mercan Dede and the Secret Tribe's first North American tour. For the three younger musicians in their group--the magnificent horn-player being only 15 years old!--this is their first time out of Turkey. Mercan Dede, the founder of the group, was born in Turkey and is now based both there and in Montreal. We talked about how it feels for Mira to "perform" an act that is so spiritual in nature, and how difficult it was at first for her to come out of her trance and respond to the audience. Mira also shared an amazing "coincidence." It turns out that one of the three lead singers in Hamsa Lila had been her very best friend in grade five while growing up in Vancouver. They had not seen one another for years, and now they would be sharing the stage here in Detroit.
What happened during the next two hours between and among the individuals onstage and those in the audience cannot be reduced to words. Together we traveled to another sphere, a realm where all belong and no one feels left out. A place that has no name but each of us recognized as home. Not the home where we live day-to-day, but a home that calls to us in our dreams. A home where our spirits sing and our bodies dance; where there is no difference between the two.
The beauty of Hamsa
Lila's act of generosity in sharing the stage with Mercan Dede
and the Secret Tribe beget a Beauty that quite simply transformed