City Slang: Hip-hop and poetry at the 5e Gallery

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There’s something happening, really happening, in a church basement on Cass Avenue in Detroit. Before you experience it, you have to find it and that’s part of the fun. It’s easy enough to find the address on line and then to find the church, but then you have to go around the back and figure out which door to enter via. By the time you’re in, it feels like you’re part of a secret society, and that’s a very cool feeling.

Usually, when I go out to review shows, I like to sit at the back and observe – keep myself to myself. I wasn’t given that opportunity here, which again turned out to be very pleasant. One person after another approached me, hand outstretched for a shake, to introduce themselves and inquire about who I am. The vibe was nothing but friendly, but the group that attends the 5E Gallery open mics is tight knit at this point, and they all want to meet any newcomers. Frankly, it was astonishing but perhaps it shouldn’t be. The unprompted human interaction (I gave no indication that I was from the MT) was refreshing.

One gentleman ushered me toward his table, where he was selling books about Malcolm X and Bach. I bought a couple of live DVDs from him, featuring performances by Sun Ra and Fela Kuti. I also wandered around the gallery exhibits and gazed upon an old Slum Village cassette tape and some Public Enemy dolls. That was how the night began.

Tuesday night is open mic night at the 5e (Five Elements) Gallery, and it’s hosted by Mahogany Jonz, a charismatic and fascinating women who manages to pull the evening together effortlessly. With DJ Sicari providing the beats, one poet, singer and rapper after another stood front and center and presented their latest thoughts. Oh, but first there was a dance circle. Jonz tried to pull me in with a cry of, “We can see you up there with the camera,” but, to be honest, I don’t have the moves for that sort of thing. Nobody needs to see my awkward British shuffling.

There’s much to love about 5e: the joy on display from the performers and non-performers alike, the talent, the welcoming atmosphere, and the feeling that you’re in the middle of something important.

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