Music without borders

Jul 17, 2002 at 12:00 am

In Detroit, we mark our time — especially our summertime — by clocking the free music on the river. In recent years, the summer has commenced at Hart Plaza with the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. For as long as anyone cares to remember, it’s wound down in style with the Detroit International Jazz Festival (Montreux/Ford). Not terribly far from the riverfront, there’s also the annual Dally in the Alley. But the Concert of Colors, a three-day celebration of world culture and musical diversity, marks the midpoint of our summer music smorgasbord along the straits.

The event is a chance to indulge in the kinds of hip-shaking, head-nodding, hand-clapping musics that often fall between the cracks as promoters cram busloads full of aging longhaired white dudes with guitars into the outdoors sheds of Summer Nostalgia Tour America.

The Concert of Colors couldn’t be further from the world of $7 beers and dirt fights in the lawn seats. And it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Concert of Colors is more important now than ever. What was, just last year, a celebration of cultural and musical diversity now takes on an added importance (even if the funky, fun nature of the performances belies the gravity underlying that importance).

The Main Stage performers this year cut a wide swath through the musical landscape — from soul to rai, techno to folk. The nominal headliner of the festival is Ray Charles, hitting the stage Sunday night at 8:30. Say what you will about Charles’ sometimes unfortunate forays into pop culture (for every Blues Brothers cameo, there was a cheez ’n’ chintz Pepsi commercial), but the man has made room for himself in every American musical form, then made each his own. Gospel, country, R&B — they’ve all fallen under his spell at one point or another. And while, at 72, he may not work the crowd into a testifying lather as he once could, he is still American music personified. Of course, this does mean Charles will be likely to trot out “America the Beautiful” in his own inimitable style, but baby, it’s all right.

While Sir Charles is the headliner, there are plenty of other reasons to get out in Chene Park’s summer sun. Saturday afternoon (3:30-4:30 p.m.), master percussionist Susie Ibarra lays to waste all doubters of the overwhelming power of rhythm. Ibarra —best known as an ensemble member in myriad brave free-jazz combos with such collaborators as Matthew Shipp, William Parker and Assif Tsahar — informs her percussion work with a mastery of world beats such as Javanese gamelan and Philippine kulintang. She brings it all together in a comely mix. Ibarra will also perform on the Rhythm Stage on Sunday at 7:15 p.m.

Friday’s Main Stage lineup builds from the quiet intensity of iconoclastic folk-rocker Buffy Sainte-Marie to Ozomatli’s heady brew of North American and South American beats and riffs. The eve’s capper, Afrobeat’s crown prince Femi Kuti, takes the stage at 9 p.m. Kuti isn’t merely a living, breathing cover artist of his father Fela’s fiery work; he’s also responsible for stretching Afrobeat’s boundaries such that they intersect with modern rock and dance club territory.

On Saturday night, Detroit electronic music luminaries Carl Craig and Kevin Saunderson pick up that vibe and run with it. Craig is no stranger to erasing boundaries between cultures and genres. (Evidence? Try getting your ears around his jazz-electro fusion work with Innerzone Orchestra). He’ll testify to that at 8 p.m with Saunderson taking the stage at 9 p.m.

It’s sweltering hot and the dog days are just around the corner — treat yourself to a little world travel this weekend by toodling over to the riverfront. Open ears for open boundaries — no passports required.

Concert of Colors will be held Friday, July 19-Sunday, July 21, 2002, at Detroit’s Chene Park. For information call 313-842-7010, or surf to

E-mail Chris Handyside at [email protected]