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Detroit's 1975 Afro-american Ethnic Festival

Detroit's 1975 Afro-american Ethnic Festival image Detroit's 1975 Afro-american Ethnic Festival image
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One thing is certain - next year's Afro-American Ethnic Festival should not be held at the Detroit Riverfront facility again. Especially not if Strata Productions, Inc., and Rainbow Productions have anything to do with the entertainment lineup. The event, was, in one way, too successful. Tens of thousands of people jammed the relatively small outdoor facility for three solid days and niglits, July 18-20, and it was no small problem locating oneself comfortably relative to both the visual and musical action onstage. This isn't to say that good vibes didn't prevail. Indeed, though circulation often thickened to an icy slowness, a remarkable feeling of peacefulness and cooperation was sustained throughout the weekend. It must have been the strength, beauty, and evenness oí' the music - actually an unofficial Detroit Blues, Jazz and Soul Festival - that made for all that mellowness. The series of Ethnic Festivals, of which the Afro-American is only one (if by far the best-attended) is a direct outgrowth of the riots that rocked Detroit in the summer of 1967. As Joyce Garrett, of the Detroit Ethnic Festival Community Office, pointed out, "The American idea of a 'melting pot' obviously wasn't working." So the city government of the time decided that one way to begin to heal the city in the aftermath of The Rebellion was to créate an ongoing event which would give each of the numerous significant ethnic communities that comprise the Detroit área a chance to display the artifacts and traditions of their particular culture in the hopes that other citizens would attend and begin to understand where, literally, that community was coming from. The first Afro-American Festivals were put together by the Afro-American Cultural Development Foundation, an independent Black organization funded by the New Detroit Committee. When the A-A.C.D.F. folded in 1972 the Metro Arts Complex, conceived and implemented by Amelita Bridges, was asked to run the Festival. They do so to this day. The 1975 edition of the Festival was distinguished from its predecessors by the thoroughness of its cultural presentation. Strata Productions, Inc. was chosen by Amelita to select and coordínate all the entertainment programming for this year's event. Strata, in cooperation with the Allied Artists Association of America, Inc., Rainbow Productions and WDET-FM, did an impeccable job and it was no accident. Charles Moore, Strata head, has declared that "Music is a serious matter. It's a living component of Afro-American culture, central to it, in fact" and Strata and the others presented a wide, vibrant slice of the contemporary sound of Detroit as laid down by its current creators. Indeed, one of the unique attractions of the musical presentation was that it was a rare opportunity for lots of local talent, who might otherwise go unnoticed, to perform and be appreciated. In fact, almost all of the musicians arraigned acquitted themselves with vitality and professionalism. Six major concerts were scheduled over the continued on pages 8-9 of KULCHUR section Afro-Festival continued from cover of KULCHUR section three day period including three segments of "JAZZ: America's Heartbeat," and a segment apiece on Detroit Blues, Motor City Gospel and the Soul of Detroit, a contemporary black music concert. The 17-piece Sound of Detroit orchestra was specially-commissioned to compose and perform for the event music that would evoke the spectacularly rich musical past of Detroit and represent its demonstrably thriving present. They kicked things off in a raucous fashion Friday night with an original tune called "The Roadrunner" and later did a heil of a job backing ascendant soul vocalist Carolyn Crawford. Almost all of the Orchestra's players have had long experience at countless Motown sessions and it was an undiluted thrill to hear that patented sound reproduced live. Featured soloists included Miller Brisker, tenor sax;Teddy Harris, piano; Marvin Marshall, guitar; Louis Smith, flugelhorn; Will Austin, bass;and director Richard "Pistol" Allen, drums. Ms. Crawford, responsible for several modest Motown hits during the sixties and for a current chart-climbing 45 on the Philadelphia International label, "It Takes Two To Make One," immediately established a warm, easy rapport with the audience. She smoked her way through versions of a number of contemporary soul tunes including Rufus' 'Tm A Woman," the Isley Brothers' inspirational "Fight The Power," and her own latest effort. The Griot GaJaxy opened Saturday afternoon's show. They were graceful, fiery representatives of the energy music pioneered during the sixties by genius Afro-American composers performers such as John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler. Saxophonist Sam Sanders played a flowing, melodie set on soprano sax with particularly noteworthy support from Maruga, percussion and bassist Ed Pickens. The Jimmy Wilkins Orchestra, a long-time musical landmark in Detroit (tlicy played at Mayor Coleman Young's Inaugaral Ball) contributed an enthusiastic set featuring several compositions by Jimmy 's brother Ernie, the internationally known composerarranger, as well as tunes associated with Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Indeed, one thoroughly biased observer commented, "It 's like having Basie's band in town!" Marcus Belgrave and the Gratiot Avenue Youth Band are a group of young musiuans also based in that big band tradition. Marcus, of course, has been on the scène for years, having spent time in Charles Mingus' and Ray Charles' bands. He plays today as part of Tribe and soloed brilliantly continued on opposite side of this page Saturday. Many of his proteges soloed with a sophistication far beyond their years and all contributed to a tight ensemble sound. Betty Lavette with Rudy Robinson and his Hungry Five (no shit) opened the Saturday evening "Soul of Detroit" show. Betty, a child star ("My Man" for Atlantic in 1961 ) hasaudibly matured quite a bit since then and did a job on various ehoice r&b material. Strata recording artists Fito burned through a salsa-rock version of the Ohio Players' "Fire" and Rufus' "Once You Get Started." They also thrilled the crowd with their new single, "Earthquake." Festival headliners, the Rod Rodgers Dance Company, ran funky, scintillating modern dance accompaniments to contemporary musical numbers. The Amalgamated Funk Company, out of the Metro Arts Complex music department, closed the show that evening and had to come back to satisfy boisterous listener demands for an encoré. Sunday afternoon was given over to Detroit blues. Literally dozens of talented but rarely-heard workers of the blues idiom came up to strut their half-hour upon the stage. Particular standouts were Little Jr. Cannady. and Odessa Harris who did a delightful version of "Feel Like Makin' Love" in a style between Dinah Washington's and Esther Phillips'. LaVerna Mason, with the Voices of Tabernacle and with the McFarlandWilliams Company, is all about the end of the dist inct ion between the sacred and the secular. Her soulful gospel shouting made believers out of more than a few lost souls. And the Lyman Woodard Organization, currently building on the success of their album "Saturday Night Special," were, as usual, stunning. Saxophonist Norma Bell, dressed to kill in a yellow suit. added provocative visuals to a group whose music is consistently satisfying. Hundreds of folks were up dancing their happy response to it. Spontaneous dancing was, in fact, a frequent phenomenon during the Festival and a sure sign that people were, ah, moved. The unfortunate, even criminal, thing is that, as Strata's Edwenna Edwards put it, "Half those people may not work again until the next Festival." If you were there, you know something of the voluminousness of native talent in the area today. And, whether you attended or not, you should make it your business and pleasure to seek these musicians out whenever they perform and continue to support the diverse cultural scène given such a grand showcase at the 1975 Afro-American Festival.