Most diverse Concert of Colors kicks off Thursday

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

Colombian house music, Arab metal, Malaysian pop… This year’s Concert of Colors lineup might be its most diverse yet.

The annual music and culture festival, now in its 24th year, opens Thursday at the Arab American National Museum with a forum on community, culture and race, before unfolding across several Midtown venues Friday through Sunday with dozens of concerts. Calypso, Reggae, electronica, indie rock, folk, jazz and many more are in the mix this year.

Concert of Colors founder Ismael Ahmed says he started the festival not only to expose Detroiters to the greatest music from home and abroad, but also to further unite the community.

“Our mission is to bring people together,” Ahmed says, noting the paticipating artists have filled stadiums in Nigeria, India and Latin America. “There is a sense of urgency in Detroit that we really have to bring together the cultures and the communities.”

Featured performers this year include Japanese rock heroes Cibo Matto, Afro-pop pioneer King Sunny Ade, the Mighty Sparrow, who has been called “The Calypso King of the World,” and Eddie Palmieri, a hugely influential salsa and latin jazz pianist and bandleader.

Cibo Matto performs at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center.

Palmieri has earned the nicknames “The Piano Breaker Man” and “The Madman of Latin music,” and even at age 79 promises a fierce performance Sunday by his salsa orchestra.

“This band is one of the best bands I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s an incredible orchestra coming at you with structures that are designed to excite the dancer.”

He says his concerts are a diversion from the upheaval around the globe, as well a healing experience for the listener.

“After we finish playing everybody goes back to his struggle to exist, but when I play for them, I’m playing with my heart and with my soul, and with the best musicians, which means they’re getting quality,” he says.

Eddie Palmieri, 79, promises a fierce performance on Sunday with his salsa orchestra.

Saturday’s lineup includes performances by Malaysian pop artist Yuna. The 29-year-old hijabi Muslimah soprano singer is on the cusp of international fame, having already worked with Pharrell Williams and Usher. The singer-songwriter combines soul with dance floor beats. Later Saturday, the L.A.-based ensemble Palenke Soultribe will present its roof-raising blend of traditional Afro-Colombian rhythms and modern electronica.

On Sunday, the Detroit Arab American Sound Experience showcases three local underground Arab bands — Detroit Jammerz, Compact Deity and Mazaj — which range in style from electric folk to heavy metal.

The local acts scheduled include the Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue, Laith Al-Saadi, Martha Reeves, Mitch Ryder, Thornetta Davis and Danny Muggs.

The weekend schedule also includes Detroit-born multidisciplinary artist John Sims. On Saturday, Sims will present a listening session for his AfroDixieRemixes project, which reimagines the controversial Confederate anthem “Dixie” in over a dozen different African-American musical genres, including hip-hop, gospel and blues.

John Sims

Sims, who is now based in Florida, say he is excited to bring the 13-year project to Detroit. He says he hopes his presentation will help broaden the dialogue about diversity, as well as African-American history.

“It’s a way to create an emotional, intellectual, therapeutic place where folks can collide these various feelings and thoughts,” he says. “It’s a reorientation. Culture is fluid, it moves from one place to another place and back, and it comes back as you’ve never seen it before.”

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Concert of Colors


6:30-8:30 p.m. Thu., Forum on

Community, Culture & Race: “Artists Speak: Water is Life”

Arab American National Museum

13624 Michigan, Dearborn

6-11:30 p.m. Fri., Midtown venues

1-11 p.m. Sat.-Sun., Midtown venues

Charles H. Wright Museum

of African American History

315 E. Warren, Detroit

Detroit Institute of Arts

5200 Woodward, Detroit

Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher

Music Center

3711 Woodward, Detroit

Scarab Club

217 Farnsworth, Detroit


(313) 582-2266