"As a child, I used to think Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Nat 'King' Cole, Johnny Hodges, Frank Sinatra were living inside that gramophone," Hugh Masekela wrote in an essay on his life in music. "My uncle would wind it up and play it to me, and I used to say 'hello' to them all." And as a 13-year-old in South Africa in the early 1950s, he said, seeing Kirk Douglas playing the lead in Young Man with a Horn (based on the life of Bix Beiderbecke, with trumpet parts played by Harry James) made him to decide to likewise blow. Like more than a few of his fellow "world music" performers, Masekela grew up by circumstance at the crossroads of cultures; some others have placed themselves there by choice; either way, the results can be music that's captivating and new. And then there are those who stick to their roots, captivatingly old-school.
Masekela's triumphs include playing with Louis Armstrong, George Clinton, Paul Simon and Fela Kuti; writing a key song for the "Free Nelson Mandela" movement; and topping American pop charts with South African-tinged jazz with "Grazing in the Grass," nearly 40 years ago. Such experiences and his political engagement make him an ideal headliner and keynoter for the Concert of Colors extravaganza, which was founded 14 years ago by ACCESS and New Detroit. He'll speak to an invitation-only forum on "community, culture and race" during the day Friday and perform with his band at the main stage at 9:30 that night.
Among others at this 15th annual celebration of diversity:
Paybacks Three albums in and the chick-led Paybacks are a road-tested rock 'n' roll machine that should be huge. We've lauded them for years now, and for good reason: The band can out-riff Buckcherry and out-hellraise Against Me! And it's only three scrappy dudes and one loud chick from little old Detroit. Diversity Stage, 8 p.m., Friday.
Lola Morales Hers is equal parts sexual tension, contemporary funk and Latin soul, all filtered into a dance-pop template. It works well for either sweaty dance-club gyrations or some heady moonlit tryst on a sandy Isla Margarita beach. The corkscrew-haired, San Francisco-born Lola Morales is a already adored in Japan, has lived in the U.K. and Ecuador and, lately, Detroit, where's she's been taking in our nights, clubs and galleries while wrapping up her debut full-length the follow-up to her 2006 EP Nova Luna. The bilingual lovely sports huge crossover appeal with audiences all colors, and is our pick to rule the American mainstream with hit songs and sellout shows. See her while you can. Diversity Stage, 3:15 p.m., Saturday.
SambaSunda The Indonesian gamelan brought a new ostinato to Europe around the turn of the last century (helping set the stage for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring). Can a new generation of Indonesian musicians rock Detroit and set another stage for big things? Main Stage, 5 p.m., Saturday.
Eddie Palmieri His joint recording project with trumpeter Brian Lynch, Simpático, was a musical high point of 2006, Latin jazz at its best. He brings with him heavy hitters Nelson Gonzalez, Orlando Vega and Herman Olivera. Main stage, 8 p.m., Saturday.
XD Wei Few instruments give a sound as otherwordly as a skillfully played erhu, a traditional two-string Chinese fiddle. Played by classically trained Xiao Dong Wei, it's at the heart of this quartet of Detroiters with their eclectic repertoire. Diversity stage, 2 p.m., Sunday.
Hassan Hakmoun with Wendell Harrison & Rayse Biggs Hakmoun studied with Gnawa ethnic-religious group of North Africa, mastering their vocals and the sintir, a sort of North African bass guitar that makes a great bed for improvisers, in this case, two of Detroit's finest. Main stage, 5:45, Sunday.
Thoms Mapfumo A story goes that young Mapfumo showed up for a police lineup disrespectfully wearing the silver jacket from his American-style Top 40 act and got away with it. His music has evolved bringing in mbiras (think back-country marimbas) and jangly guitar lines that echo them, not to mention his own lyrics in Shona but the attitude remains. After singing for the guerilla movement that birthed modern Zimbabwe, he's fallen out with the Mugabe regime and now lives in Oregon. Diversity stage, 6:30 p.m., Sunday.
Steel Pulse When reggae (itself rooted in American R&B) fanned out across the world, one place it took was among black English youth who formed Steel Pulse in the '70s. While reggae has branched in a myriad directions, these guys stay rooted in a sort of politicized, hard-stepping, (now) old-school sound. Lead singer David Hinds is among the most engaging post-Marley vocalists. Main Stage, 9:30 p.m., Sunday.
The Concert of Colors runs Thursday through Sunday at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-576-5111. Thursday night's 8 p.m. opening performance is conducting is a Detroit Symphony Orchestra program celebrating the colorful rhythms and melodies found in the dance music of Spain and Latin America. See concertofcolors.com.
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