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Musicians of color get to rock at Cosmic Slop festival

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

For Detroit musicians of color, rock can be a lonely genre to get into.

But the return of a briefly defunct Detroit music festival provides a showcase for those performers to crank up an amp and get in touch with their inner rockers. The Cosmic Slop Music Festival will hit the Tangent Gallery on Saturday with a lineup ranging from mariachi punk band Pancho Villa’s Skull to genre-bending funk guitarist Nadir to Scientific Sunshine’s lo-fi indie pop.

Cosmic Slop founder Deekah Wyatt says she conceived the idea for the festival while scrolling through her Facebook feed in 2010. Wyatt, who is an African-American, was struck by how many of her musical friends of color played “marketable” music on the weekends. They’d play gospel in churches or perform at weddings, but their real passion projects rocked a lot harder.

Deekah Wyatt says she started the festival in 2011 after realizing how many of her friends of color played “marketable” music on the weekends.

“There wasn’t really a scene for people of color who make rock ‘n’ roll,” Wyatt says. “You feel excluded in your community sometimes when you don’t go with the flow, and I wanted to make a place for us where we can all get together and be our weird selves.”

Jordan Sunshine of Scientific Sunshine says she wishes she’d had an outlet like Cosmic Slop when she was a teenager. The Keego Harbor-based musician, who is biracial, recalls hearing almost exclusively soul and R&B music when she was growing up. But as Sunshine hit her teen years, she developed a fascination with punk acts like Bikini Kill and indie rock groups like Eisley.

“It was always a little hard to be on the outside of the outside, on the fringe of the fringe, being multicultural and liking rock music or liking alternative music,” she says.

Festival organizer Cornelius Harris says the event also provides a welcoming atmosphere for audiences of any background to experience new music. He cites the legendary Detroit disc jockey the Electrifying Mojo, who held that music lovers’ tastes often transcended the racial stereotypes that radio formats and marketers imposed upon them.

Cornelius Harris, festival organizer, says the event provides a welcoming atmosphere for audiences of any background to experience new music.

“I think society kind of pushes these traditions,” Harris says. “If you’ve got this bigger society pushing for these divisions, it’s important for people to push back and insist on that kind of mix and that kind of blend.”

Wyatt founded Cosmic Slop in 2011, and attendance grew steadily from an inaugural crowd of 200 to 500 at the 2013 festival. But the festival took a hiatus for 2014 and 2015 while Wyatt and other organizers took time off to focus on individual projects.

Wyatt, who will perform this year with her bands Roxolydian and Soul Pepper, says she’s grown as an artist since the last festival.

“You’ve got to make yourself better if you’re going to give the best to your product,” she says.

In a particularly good omen for this year’s festival, the creator of its namesake will be in town. Funk legend George Clinton, whose 1973 album “Cosmic Slop” gives the festival its name, will play a show at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre the day after the festival. Wyatt extends an invite for Clinton to attend the festival and “see the funk that got left behind.”

“He did this to us,” she says. “We all feel like his illegitimate children…The freedom, the spirit of the Funkadelic, is in us and we would not have a Cosmic Slop Festival if he had not let us know that we could free our minds so our asses will follow.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Cosmic Slop Music Festival

1-11 p.m. Sat.

Tangent Gallery

715 E. Milwaukee, Detroit

Advance tickets $10 for adults ($15 at the door), $5 for teens ($7 at the door); children 13 and under free