From Thornetta Davis to Michelle Shocked, from Sista Otis to Brave Combo, the Concert of Colors is a smorgasbord of delights (though there's bad news in the late cancellation of the Master Musicians of Joujouka). Below are some staff picks for "don't miss" musical moments.
Machito Orchestra 20-Year Reunion
Back in the '50s, when mambo was a national jazz craze, New York City's Palladium Ballroom was its hippest asylum. One of the genius-madmen in charge was the uni-named Machito. In fact, Machito and his band, the Afro-Cubans, are central to the whole story of Latin jazz's evolution from the 1940s on.
In 1988 — four years after his death, while on tour at age 75 — Detroiter Ozzie Rivera and then-Detroiter Francisco Mora rallied like-minded cultural activists here to give a giant his due. The first national tribute concert of its kind, "Machito in Paradise" — at Orchestra Hall — centered on the Machito Orchestra from New York as led by his son Mario Grillo. Such Latin jazz stalwarts as the Gonzalez brothers (Jerry and Andy) came from New York, joining the horn section (including, for this date, Marcus Belgrave) of the late Detroit jazz leader J.C. Heard. Swing era veteran Heard drummed with the orchestra for some tunes as well.
Twenty years on, in recognition of that historic night, Grillo brings his band back to Detroit for an anniversary descarga (that's Latin jazz talk for jam). —WKH
Saturday, 10 p.m., Chrysler Main Stage.
Buffy Sainte-Marie with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Some of us were surprised to discover that she's still performing — but in the late '60s and '70s, Buffy Sainte-Marie was one of the archetypal North American singer-songwriters (or "folk singers," as they used to term 'em in the days before James Taylor made the cover of Time magazine) and the original Native American activist pop star. If you're too young to remember her 17 amazing albums, you've undoubtedly heard some of her music along the way, most notably the beautiful "Until It's Time for You to Go," recorded by many but a hit single for Elvis Presley in the '70s, and "Up Where We Belong," the Oscar-winning song she co-wrote (with her ex-husband, the legendary Jack Nitzsche) that was immortalized by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes in the film An Officer and a Gentleman. You may, however, also remember her from her five-year stint on Sesame Street on which she and her son, Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild, educated children about Native American history and culture. To open the festival, Ms. Sainte-Marie will be performing some of her greatest tunes (recorded by such greats as Barbra Streisand, Janis Joplin and Roberta Flack) with the DSO. —BH
Thursday, 8 p.m., Chrysler Main Stage.
With the release of her first solo album on the Stax label in 1969, Mavis Staples more or less became the new focal point of the legendary Staple Singers (although her father — and guitarist extraordinaire — the late Pops Staples was and always will be the family patriarch). With her newfound solo fame, Staples also became a strong and crucial voice in the American civil rights movement, culminating last year with the release (on L.A.'s hip Anti- label) of We'll Never Turn Back, a concept album of songs from and about that struggle, produced by the great Ry Cooder. Sampled over the years by such hip-hop stars as Salt N Pepa, Ice Cube and Ludacris, Staples' other astounding musical collaborators have ranged from Ray Charles to George Jones, from Los Lobos and Dr. John to the Band and her longtime friend (and rumored former lover) Bob Dylan, with whom she shared a Grammy nod for their 2003 duet on Zimmy's "Gotta Change My Way of Thinking." In other words, Concert of Colors attendees can expect a virtual musical (and historical) smorgasbord from Ms. Staples' performance alone. —BH
Friday, 9:45 p.m., Chrysler Main Stage.
Rickie Lee Jones
What more can be said about Rickie Lee Jones? Her literate, narrative spikes and jazzy fronts can slay beasts within and soothe the soul much like great fiction. If "Skeletons" from her Pirates album doesn't make you cry, then you're one closed-off, shut-down digit.
Jones defined female hipster-dom with her self-titled debut — which is one of the best pop records of all time — back in 1979, long, long before goddamned lattes were served on every block. No shit. She's influenced legions of hacks and worthy imitators and greats (usually uncredited), and the lovely Jonesy's still the hottest chick making music on the planet — that's hot in terms of soul and heart (some things are sacred, no?).
Her latest, The Sermon from Exposition Boulevard, scaled critics lists last year, which, in short, saw her finding definitions of Jesus on street corners and in the broken and busted. Beautiful stuff, to be sure. —BS
Saturday, 6 p.m., Chrysler Main Stage.
Toots & the Maytals
The first time Toots & The Maytals played Michigan, it was opening for the Who at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1975 ... and they almost got booed off the stage. The Detroit rock mainstream wasn't yet ready for reggae, let alone a reggae cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," no matter how great it was. A sure case of too much, too soon. Since then, however, the Maytals have become internationally renowned and accepted as one of the greatest and most influential ska and reggae bands of all time, in the shadow of perhaps only the late, great Bob Marley. Having their "Pressure Drop" covered by the Clash and Guns N' Roses' Izzy Stradlin, as well as their great "Monkey Man" covered by the Specials, Reel Big Fish and Amy Winehouse hasn't hurt their cachet either. —BH
Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Chrysler Main Stage
Sudan United for Peace
They're from all over their troubled country, north and south, joining together to share stages to call for peace. Sadly, though, most, if not all, of the performers in Sudan United for Peace, are expatriates, many living in the United States. They no longer play at home, let alone share stages. Many fled the heavy hand of the Islamist regime in the '90s before the more recent genocide in the Dafur region. The fractious communities and leaders who most need to hear this message of reconciliation aren't likely to hear them. On the other hand, raising U.S. awareness of the plight of their homeland may finally lead to the kind of firm political action needed to end the killing. (Don Was is to produce a musical peace plea while they're in town.)
To American ears, this music of North Africa is far removed from better-known sub-Saharan styles, such as Afro-beat, soukous and juju. While the music is formed of diverse influences from Sudan's varied regions and abroad, a good bit of the music is tinged with the sound of horn sections that can evoke Ellington of Arabia. Vocals can seem poppy and peppy, so it makes sense when you read that Al Balabil — when they made their initial splash in the '70s — were called "Khartoum's answer to the Supremes." Singer-bandleader Abdel Gadir Salim, and vocalist Abu Araki are among the others assembled for this event. —WKH
Saturday, 6 p.m., Chrysler Main Stage.