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  • Twerk du Soleil shakes up Detroit

    Former American Idol contestant Vonzell Solomon weighs in on twerking, natural hair & CEO status. In 2005, recording artist Vonzell “Baby V” Solomon embarked on a journey that changed her life. At the age of 20, Vonzell made it to the top three on American Idol before she was eliminated. But that was not the beginning nor the end of her journey to stardom. Vonzell is one of more than two dozen artists on tour with YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, who is a former Idol contestant as well. Todrick gained notoriety for his fast food drive-thru songs and also for producing parody videos  —  based on popular Broadway musicals and songs. His tour, uniquely entitled Twerk Du Soleil (translation: twerk of the sun), is a combination of his popular YouTube spoofs. Both Vonzell and her ratchet alter ego,Boonquisha Jenkins, made an appearance in Twerk Du Soleil,which stopped in Detroit July 23 at Saint Andrews Hall. Boonquisha opened the show by facilitating a twerking competition among the audience. Next, Vonzell made a reappearance singing a fan favorite – Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Later, Boonquisha came on stage screaming “It’s so cold in the D! You gotta be from the D to […]

    The post Twerk du Soleil shakes up Detroit appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Poll shows Bob Ficano behind in Wayne County Executive race

    If a poll released this week is any indication of how the August 5 primary election will turn out, current Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano has reason to worry, Fox 2 reports. Ficano, who’s seeking a third term, polled in fourth place — behind former Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans, Westland Mayor Bill Wild and Wayne County Commissioner Phil Cavanaugh, according to Fox 2. The poll by Strategic Solutions LLC, showed 6.7 percent of respondents said they’d vote for Ficano, which isn’t so bad: He finished ahead of County Commissioner Kevin McNamara (who came in at No. 6) and someone literally described as “a candidate not named here” (who polled at No. 5.) If you’re planning to head to the polls — which you should! — and need some input on the candidates and ballot proposals, you can read for our election coverage in this week’s Metro Times.

    The post Poll shows Bob Ficano behind in Wayne County Executive race appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • A Mad Decent Mixtape

    Mad Decent Block Party will roll through town on Saturday, August 16, bringing to town artists like Dillon Francis, Diplo, Flosstradamus, RiFF RAFF, Keys N Krates, and Zeds Dead. Thugli, a Canadian duo, will perform on the Toronto leg of the tour and they put together a 45 minute mix that features songs by some of the tour’s featured artists as well as a host of others.  Listen to it here. 

    The post A Mad Decent Mixtape appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Tangent Gallery to host Breaking Borders

    Detroit’s Tangent Gallery will host a special event this Saturday, July 26 in hopes of raising money for the local faction of an international nonprofit, Burners without Borders Detroit. Breaking Borders is a one-evening-only event that will feature live music, performance, and art. Satori Circus will perform along with spoken word artist ZakAndWhatArmy. Music by Tartanic, Dixon’s Violin, and Servitor. Fire dancers, hoop performers, and acrobats will provide a certain mysticism to the ambiance as old Victorian steampunk and tribal art is shown in the main gallery. There will also be a runway fashion show and the evening will end with a dubstep rave featuring DJ Forcefeed and Dotty. Truly, there’s something for everyone. Perhaps more importantly, there will be a full service bar. The event is open to those 18 and older and IDs will be checked at the door. Admission is $25 at the door, or $20 with the donation of a canned good. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the party goes until 2 a.m. A 20 percent commission will be taken from all art sold at this event and donated to Burners without Borders. The Tangent Gallery is located at 715 Milwaukee Ave., Detroit; 313-873-2955;

    The post Tangent Gallery to host Breaking Borders appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • 48 to film — behind the scenes at the 48 Hour Film Project

    By Amanda Mooney There’s a lot that goes into producing a film, and unless you are a filmmaker you really have no idea. Writing, casting, finding a location, shooting, and editing; each step of the process can take days, months, and sometimes years to complete. Can you imagine doing it ALL in just 48 hours? The 48 Hour Film Project is an annual competition that takes place all over the world in various cities. According to Mike Madigan, head of the Detroit 48 Hour chapter, the city is one of the largest participating in terms of the number of teams. The competing teams go in blind as to what kind of film they will be producing, with no creative planning beyond getting a cast and crew together, Madigan explained. “They pick a genre out of a hat, and they get a line, a prop, and a character. And they have to incorporate that within a short film, that’s usually between 4 to 7 minutes long. And they have the timeframe of doing it all within 48 hours,” said Madigan, “So all the creative process of it all has to happen within that 48 hour–writing a script, putting it together, editing–to […]

    The post 48 to film — behind the scenes at the 48 Hour Film Project appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Passalacqua debut dark project ‘Church: Revival’ at new Hamtramck performance space

    Church: Revival is the new project by local rap duo Passalacqua (aka Bryan Lackner and Brent Smith), but it’s more than just a new Passalacqua release. The rappers teamed up with siblings Jax Anderson (frontwoman of rockers Flint Eastwood) and Seth Anderson, who together form the songwriting team called Syblyng (naturally). The result is a cycle of songs that promises to be darker than Passalacqua’s material so far. The project will make a live debut on Saturday, July 26 at a brand new venue space at the Detroit Bus Co.’s building Eight & Sand, and they will premiere the Right Bros.-directed video for the track “Baptism” as well. Other performances include Tunde Olaniran and Open Mike Eagle, and DJ sets by Nothing Elegant, Dante LaSalle, and Charles Trees. We met up the two duos at Eight & Sand to check out the new space and to talk about the project with all parties involved. Metro Times: How long have you been working together? Jax Anderson: Seth and I are constantly writing songs together. We want to push in the direction of becoming songwriters more frequently. This is our first project that we took on to co-write everything together. We’re basically just a songwriting entity. We won’t play live that […]

    The post Passalacqua debut dark project ‘Church: Revival’ at new Hamtramck performance space appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.



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Stir It Up

Fela's last laugh

The father of Afro-beat’s long march to Broadway and Music Hall

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Sahr Ngaujah as Fela with Catherine Foster (l) and Nicole de Weever. The Nigerian Afro-beat radical is reincarnated as a Broadway sensation.

Fela Kuti would often perform with a painted face and thick chains draping his slim body's bare chest; he'd stalk the stage playing sax, keys and drums while chain-smoking enough cigar-size spliffs to make a Rasta village jealous. Scantily clad female dancers gyrated around him, while 15 or 20 drummers, guitarists, horn players and more wailed on anthems praising pan-African solidarity and lambasting corruption and colonialisms, tunes with evocative titles like "Zombie," "I.T.T. (International Thief, Thief)," or "Beasts of No Nation." He sang in Pidgin English so he could be understood across the African continent.

Offstage, Fela was an uncompromising social activist. He championed traditional Yoruban religion and declared his band's commune and recording facility, the Kalakuta Republic, a sovereign nation. After "Zombie," a 1977 attack on the Nigerian military ("Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think"), some 1,000 soldiers struck back and burned down Kalakuta, threw Fela's mother and brother from a window and beat the musician within an inch of his life. Fela's mother died from her injuries and he delivered her coffin to the residence of General Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria; the song "Coffin for the Head of State" memorialized the action. After the official investigation blamed an unknown soldier, he answered in the song "Unknown Soldier." His music made him a hero to the poor and downtrodden of Africa, but at best a cult figure for America. Until now. 

All those things that were Fela — the music, the politics, the outrageousness — are woven together in Fela!, the Broadway musical written by Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis, which runs through March 4 at Detroit's Music Hall for the Performing Arts. It arrives two years after its Broadway premiere with three Tony Awards, following successful runs in London and Lagos, and tours in Canada and the United States.

Rikki Stein — Fela's manager for 17 years and a Fela! creative consultant — contrasts the show's reception in this country and back in Nigeria: "We took it to Lagos in February. It opened at the Shrine [a nightclub near Kalakuta]. It was phenomenal, the reaction of the audience. They know the words of the songs and laugh at all the jokes. In the United States, it's a story; in Lagos it's history. From the perspective of Nigeria's young people, it's revealing of the past. For the older people, it's a trip down memory lane. His lifestyle was so radical, particularly as far as the middle class was concerned. I really miss the guy, and finally the world is catching up on what he was doing."


Fela Ransome Kuti was born in 1938 in Nigeria's Ogun state. Claiming that Ransome was a slave name, he later changed his middle name to Anikulapo, which means "he who carries death in his pouch." He came to his activism through his family. His minister-school principal father helped organize Nigeria's first teachers union and became its first president. His mother fought against British colonial rule and helped Nigerian women win the right to drive. She met with Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah as well as China's Mao Zedong. Nobel laureate novelist Wole Soyinka is a first cousin to Fela.

Fela's two brothers became doctors, and in 1958, despite the fact that he had been playing music since age 8, Fela was sent to London to study medicine. Instead, he enrolled in the Trinity College of Music and formed a band that played jazz and easy-going Nigerian highlife music. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 and continued his jazz-highlife fusion while searching for something more in the music. Four years later, he coined the term Afro-beat for his revolutionary new mix of traditional Yoruban music, highlife, jazz, funk and rock with chanting call-and-response vocals. His philosophy was developed further after a 1969 visit to the United States, where he learned about the black power movement. Deported for working without a permit, he renamed his band Africa '70, redirected his lyrics from romance to politics, threw himself into social activism, formed the Kalakuta Republic and put himself on the path to becoming Africa's most popular musician. 

His reputation was growing in 1970 when he met and recorded with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Baker made a rare early film of a Fela performance that can be found on YouTube. 

The Kalakuta Republic was Fela's base of operations. Most people associated with the band lived there, his recording studio was there, and he opened a club called the Afro Spot at a nearby hotel where he performed weekly 2 a.m.-to-dawn shows. The club was later named the Shrine, and he called his intense performances — wherein raw ensemble horn lines gave way to adventurous solos ripping through walls of sound woven with funk-styled guitar lines and Yoruban drumming — "the underground spiritual game." Think of P-Funk meeting Sun Ra with Bob Marley overtones.

The philosophical underpinnings of the music were laid down at weekly political discussion groups held at Kalakuta. Fela's compositions were often direct outgrowths of the discussions.

"Fela always had his saxophone with him and would play at any time," says self-taught artist Lemi Ghariokwu, who designed 26 of Fela's album covers starting in 1974. "When there was a pause in the conversation, he would play."

Stein says, "Fela was at odds with the authorities more than anything else. The best night was when we met once a week to discuss issues. He was akin to the 19th century pamphleteers. They would crank out tracts that would be distributed to the people. Fela's mode of communication was music. We'd have a discussion and he'd go write about it. Over time he began to sing and talk about issues that weren't only Nigerian. His message does have relevance, resonance in Detroit. "

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