We live in a time when divisiveness and fear of the unfamiliar seem to be at an all-time high. But there are those among us who still believe in art and music as forces for good, with the potential to bridge even the greatest of cultural divides. This year, the annual Concert of Colors will bring the many people of metro Detroit together for a much-needed affirmation of our interconnectedness, and continue their critically important work creating opportunities for cultural exchange.
The open-air mega-festival is now an almost mandatory part of everyone's summertime festivities, and there is one that caters to almost every taste and subculture. But with all the modern amenities and astronomical ticket prices, it is easy to forget that many famous music festivals of yesteryear bear little resemblance to the kind of events we attend today. In 1969, it cost $18 to attend three days at Woodstock, and the first tickets to Glastonbury in the U.K. were a mere £1 (they'll now set you back roughly £250, and climbing).
So if the gross commercialism of today's festival scene has deterred you from attending in recent years, Michigan's own Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) have come together with help from other like-minded organizations and artists to bring us something a little closer to the spirit of diversity, cooperation, and openness that inspired the original free festival movement of the 1960s and '70s. Since 1993, ACCESS and their community partners have delivered some of the best food, music, and performance art from around the globe, with admission free to the public, all under the banner of the Concert of Colors.
The Concert of Colors is a four-day event (July 14-17) celebrating the incredible diversity of people and cultures in metro Detroit. This year's festival not only features a lineup of internationally renowned artists and musicians, but rather appropriately, some of the best local acts from our own backyard. Fierce indie-pop trio Casual Sweetheart and raunch-blues greats the Howling Diablos will both represent Detroit's proud tradition of loud, guitar-driven garage rock, demonstrating just how broad and inclusive the style has become. Singer-songwriter Britney Stoney will also appear on this year's lineup, carrying the spirit of Motown forward with her own take on soul and R&B.
Turning our attention slightly outward, the festival will deliver on all cultural fronts. For its annual artists Forum on Culture, Community, and Race, the festival's organizers have chosen the theme of water and its impact on communities across the globe. And to lift your spirits afterward, check out Dos Santos Cumbia Dance Party (how fun does that sound?).
As if this wasn't enough to sell you on Concert of Colors, this year's festival features a number of can't-miss artists and events. Here are Metro Times' top seven reasons to hit the 2016 Concert of Colors. Check the festival site at concertofcolors.com for further and more up-to-date information. Admission is free.
Malaysia's growing music scene has received some pretty good press in recent years, encompassing a broad spectrum from punk and emo to techno and house. At the top of the country's talent pool is female singer-songwriter Yuna, who has garnered a lot of attention for wearing the hijab, and surprised much of the press and public by explaining to Vogue readers that the traditional headscarf is more a symbol of Malaysian culture than a sign of her religious devotion. Her catchy-yet-downtempo single "Crush" was released in February, and features guest vocals from a man you may have heard of named Usher. The pair both appear in the single's music video, which has so far generated over 8 million views on YouTube.
If "Crush" is your introduction to her music, you may initially think Yuna trades primarily in smooth R&B. But a deeper look at her career reveals remarkable development as an artist, and a willingness to explore all corners of neo-soul, folk, and indie. Her 2014 single "Live Your Life" was produced by Pharrell Williams, and should appeal to fans of alternative and R&B alike. Her latest single "Lanes" is not only a beautiful exhibition of her voice, but her abilities as a songwriter: watch for her in the charts. Yuna embarks on a European tour in September, so don't miss your chance to catch her stateside while you still can.
Yuna performs at 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 16 at the Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra
This year's Concert of Colors features some all-time greats from the worlds of African, Caribbean, and local Detroit music. Representing the rich and diverse landscape of Latin-American music is pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri, who, like his peers at this year's festival, has risen to the highest levels of achievement. With 10 Grammy Awards under his belt, it is hard to imagine a more accomplished musician or a more qualified bandleader than Palmieri.
Palmieri is the first-generation child of Puerto Rican immigrants, growing up in New York's Spanish Harlem in the 1950s. Throughout the decade, he honed his skills as a pianist, performing with a number of different musicians, including the likes of Tito Rodriguez. In the 1960s, he formed his own band, Conjuto La Perfecta, and along with his brother Charlie and other greats like Tito Puente, became a pioneer of a style known as "Latin jazz." As the leader of La Perfecta, he combined the Latin rhythms of mambo and Cuban music with Jazz, incorporating unorthodox scales and brass instrumentation. For a look at his skills as a pianist, listen to "Vamonos Pal Monte" from 2016's album 60 Anos del Maestro. Or for a taste of the music that made him such a favorite among critics, check out 1974's Grammy award-winning album The Sun of Latin Music.
Eddie Palmieri performs at 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 16 at the Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
If you haven't heard of Cibo Matto, then we normally would say you are missing out. That, however, would be a huge understatement. Translated from Italian, the band's name means "crazy food," and songs like "Birthday Cake," "Sugar Water," and "Beef Jerky" seem to indicate an overarching thematic component to their music. But Cibo Matto is no novelty act, and the composition and arrangement of many of their songs is often so grandiose it seems almost cinematic. Fans of Massive Attack, Blonde Redhead, and Gorillaz, take note.
The band is primarily composed of founding members Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori. But their powers have attracted a rotating pool of equally talented bandmates, including Sean Lennon, who lent his multi-instrumental abilities to their Super Relax EP and 1999's full-length Stereo Type A. For listeners seeking a taste of the trio's insane chemistry in the studio, the song "Spoon" from Stereo. After a nearly 10-year hiatus, Honda and Hatori returned to collaborate with Lennon's mother Yoko Ono on the song "Know Your Chicken." And when Ono was selected as director of 2013's Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre in London — whose past curators have included David Bowie, Elvis Costello, and John Peel — Cibbo Matto were chosen to perform alongside the likes of the Stooges, Thurston Moore, and Peaches. Attendees of this year's Concert of Colors are lucky, to say the least.
Cibo Matto performs at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 16 at the Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
A truly great live music experience often lies at the intersection of multiple different variables — sound, atmosphere, and energy. Because summertime and the sounds of the Caribbean go together like nothing else in this world, the organizers of this year's Concert of Colors have booked the undisputed "Calypso King of the World." Mighty Sparrow earned his moniker for his energetic stage presence, darting around to the music's staccato rhythms like only a tiny bird can.
But Sparrow has sometimes used his platform as a vehicle for social commentary and satire, as well as feel-good Trinidadian sounds. For anyone tempted to overdo it at a festival this year, perhaps first listen to the cautionary tale of "Drunk and Disorderly." Or for a number that effortlessly blends uplifting percussion, futuristic sounds a la Lee "Scratch" Perry, and amusing commentary on the Cold War-era political order that will leave you with an ear-to-ear grin, check out "Dead or Alive."
Mighty Sparrow performs at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 16 at the Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
If the fundamental idea behind the Concert of Colors is to explore and appreciate the many cultures of Southeast Michigan and the world, then they could do no better in booking Kiran Ahluwalia, whose music seems to traverse the Indian subcontinent to the Saharas, then over to the Mississippi delta in a single measure. Her 2014 single "Hayat" opens with what sounds like a riff from a Black Keys song, before the appearance of Ahluwalia's Indo-Pakistani vocals, which like so much great music has the effect of being both pleasant and disorienting. The song's video presents an equally interesting juxtaposition of sounds and imagery from East and West, as Kiran floats down the river Ganga to her electric guitar soundtrack, belting out "Hayat" on a megaphone.
Some of the great rock 'n' roll acts of the 1960s drew upon Indian musical traditions in their work. This historic convergence is no more evident than in Ahluwalia's song "Mustt Mustt," with jangly opening guitar lines that will undoubtedly remind some of us of the Doors or Stones. Her ability to defy geographical and cultural distinctions has brought her wide critical acclaim, and in 2012 the Canadian [émigré] picked up a Juno Award for best world music album. Even within a south Asian context, Ahluwalia's music proves transcendent, using Hindi and Urdu as she pleases.
Kiran Ahluwalia performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 16 at the Comerica Diversity Stage (Music Box); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Don Was plays Detroit's 100 greatest songs
Only a handful of individuals stand out for their immeasurable contribution to the rich musical history of Detroit. Among them, even fewer have rose to the towering heights of fame and accomplishment, and come to be regarded as true greats on the global stage. Of these select few, legendary producer Don Was has done it all and received much-deserved recognition. His career spans an incredible range, from 1988's guilty pleasure "Walk the Dinosaur" as part of his work with Was (Not Was), to his work as producer on Bonnie Raitt's heart-wrenching "I Can't Make You Love Me."
As a producer and music director, Was has demonstrated a remarkable ear for fine-tuning great music. He served as president of the great jazz label Blue Note Records, and has worked with the Rolling Stones on most of their later stuff, as well as the reissues of timeless albums like Exile on Main Street and Some Girls. Rather appropriately, every year Was acts as a sort of ambassador for the city's musical past when he presents his Detroit All Star Revue. This is his ninth year at the Concert of Colors, and for this installment of the Revue, he and his band will be performing a set of the 10 best songs in Detroit's history, compiled by a poll of Detroit Free Press readers. The top-secret list will be released the night of the show.
The Don Was Detroit All Star Revue performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 15 at the Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
King Sunny Ade
OK, you get it. The lineup of artists at this year's Concert of Colors is pretty stellar. But wait, there's one more! King Sunny Ade has been making music for more than 50 years, and he is one of the main reasons that events like the Concert of Colors exist in the first place. Like fellow Nigerian Fela Kuti (who will also share a place at the festival, when the film Finding Fela screens at the Detroit Film Theatre on Friday), Ade helped introduce African and world music to a global audience in the 1970s and '80s. Born into Nigerian royalty, Ade shunned his regal heritage to pursue a career playing local Juju music, and had found success in his home country by the late 1960s. By the late '70s, the warm improvisational hum and percussive complexity of his large ensemble had piqued the interest of forward-thinking musicians like David Byrne. Since then he has inspired countless other artists, and performed for audiences around the world. But his most important and enduring legacy will perhaps be in elevating the music beyond the realm of mere entertainment, and creating the foundations for a truly global community.
King Sunny Ade performs at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 15 at the Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall); 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.