The Concert of Colors music festival, Detroit’s annual world music festival, returns to stages across Detroit this year, July 16-24, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the festival. The Concert of Colors festival also celebrates a return to in-person performances, from international bands across the world, after having to pivot virtual programming in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahead of the festival’s return to in-person this year, Detroit Public TV‘s Mariellen Chynoweth and Producer Jessie Fidler sit down with Concert of Colors Founder Ismael Ahmed and Deputy Director Ralph Valdez for a conversation about how and why the Concert of Colors began, as well as how the festival continued to succeed virtually in 2020 and 2021.

Plus, Blue Note Records President and renowned producer and artist Don Was and Richard Parris, a singer for Universal Xpression, talk about the power of music as a universal vessel to share different cultures across communities, and to begin to understand the similarities we share as humans.

Want to learn more about Concert of Color’s 30-year history?

Tune in to Detroit Public TV on Monday, July 25 at 9p ET to watch “Unity in Diversity,” an hour-long documentary, directed by WDET-FM’s Martina Guzman, detailing the start of the Concert of Colors in 1993 and the success it continues to see today.

Full Transcript:

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Concert of Colors, 2000 These are changing times that we live in when it comes to race and culture. These are times when people are learning how to appreciate each other. The good message in that is that we ourselves can change.  

Ishmael Ahmed, Founder, Concert of Colors The Concert of Colors really is focused on the question of equity, diversity and justice. And, of course, music and art. It’s done in 24 of Detroit’s major arts institutions. As a festival, it brings in artists from all over the world, and of course has an emphasis on Detroit artists as well. The aim is to bring people together to enjoy each other’s communities, and cultures, and ways of life. And to build respect for each other. 

Ralph Valdez Deputy Director, Concert of Colors We’re celebrating our 30-year anniversary this summer, and it began as a grassroots collaboration with neighborhoods, and activists, and trying to bring cultures of Detroit together. Ismael Ahmed, our founder for the festival, realized early on, as many of us do, that music is the great universal language, so to speak, and that people could really connect through experiencing other people’s music, experiencing their culture, their food, their dance. And so the concert of colors began in parks, small neighborhood parks, and has grown through the years. We were at Chene Park for a while. We were with the DSO, and now we’re holed and housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and we are all over the Midtown area now. 

Don Was, President, Blue Note Records That’s a really nice thing about Detroit. It creates an environment where I think people are really honest with each other. It’s a very real city. The music that comes out of here is very real. And if you’re not putting on any airs, you sort of look after each other a little bit. In my job at Blue Note Records. I’m moving around the world all the time, and it just feels like people are nicer to each other here. I don’t know how to put it any other way.  

Ishmael Ahmed In 2019, when we were planning, we were planning to do things exactly the same way. And when COVID started and really became a force to be reckoned with, it became clear that we couldn’t do it the same way.  We went to Detroit Public Television and asked for their help, and they were there for us. They made the difference. Literally, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the Concert of Colors as a result of their work. Getting the information out and doing the programming and then getting the programming to people. You know, was a mountain to be climbed.  

Narrator, Concert of Colors 2021 Recorded live from the Detroit Film Theater inside the Detroit Institute of Arts. It’s the 29th annual Concert of Colors.  

Christy McDonald, Former Managing Editor, One Detroit: Detroit Public Television partnered up with a Concert of Colors to be the production team and help bring all of these amazing performances into our homes. We shot performances over three days. It was a heck of a production.  So here’s a look at just one of them. A performance from Last Gasp Collective.  

Ishmael Ahmed: The virtual programming was hugely successful. We had 200,000 people watch and listen in 20 countries, and 40 states. And of course, the Detroit area.  You can’t be the same every year. We have to change. We have to learn, change, and apply.  

Don Was: It’s tough to deal with. It’s a lot for people to carry around. And anything that helps you forget about your burdens and dance for an hour and a half, you should make a point to participate.  

Richard Parris, singer, Universal Xpression: Music is, like I said, is a universal vessel and is something that everyone can relate to. And to transcend different cultural aspect through music is the greatest thing there is. And that’s what Concert of Colors is.  

Ishmael Ahmed: Change is hard for all of us, and if we can cause change that makes a difference in people’s lives, and the way they look at each other, and the way that they get together, the way they build trust with each other. And we can do that through music and art? It’s a big step forward for our community.  

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