A blend of hip-hop, r&b, neo-soul, and jazz warmed Detroit on a cold Saturday night last Valentine’s weekend as the duo Impromp2 greeted their favorite city with their trademark smooth sound. With opening act L’Renee setting the stage with her infectious sultry sound, the audience was treated to an extraordinary night of love songs, old favorites, and new grooves from this group of performers. Performing three songs from her CD “2nd Chances”, this lovely and talented young lady was been entertaining Detroit steadily for the past year, getting raves wherever she performs. Check out her my space page at www.myspace.com/l’renee (el-reh-nay).
Impromp2 has been thrilling Detroit audiences since their debut “You’re Gonna Love It”, in 1995. With their new CD “It Is What It Is”, it is apparent that after a long hiatus Impromp2 is back in a big way. Crafting their unique sound with many heavyweights in the music game including Ray Parker Jr. Marcus Miller, and Wayman Tisdale among others, this new effort was featured prominently at this concert at the new venue Asian Village, on Detroit’s revamped waterfront. Although they performed most of their new music throughout the night, they didn’t disappoint the many fans who came out to hear some of the favorites from the past including their hits “Enjoy Yourself”, You’re Gonna Love It”, and of course “Summer Nights”. Check out our video interview with one half of this super group, vocalist and trumpeter/keyboardist Johnny Britt and also their web site www.myspace.com/impromp2.
Along with “Holy Hip Hop!” new portraits of hip hop icons by Russian-born artist Alex Melamid, and Rei Kawakubo’s ReFUSING FASHION opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit tonight, Detroit-based hip-hop artist MIKE-E Ellison will be performing live at 9pm. MIKE-E is a growing sensation around the country and in Africa, and most recently he’s garnered greater attention as a song of his has been featured as part of Barack Obama’s campaign. We caught up with Ellison a while back to discuss “AfroFlow,” his debut album and the movement (in all senses of the word) that it represents.
Ellison defines “AfroFlow” as meaning, quite literally, “flowing from Africa.” In his words this concept, is a curriculum, an approach to educate and bring awareness of not just African-American’s roots in Africa, but all of humanity’s, and thereby help “create a culture of respect.” It’s a socially conscious message – that you can dance to – out to alter people’s perceptions of Africa, Detroit, Hip-hop, and themselves.
I’ll take it all the way back – where it all began
The message and the music are about educating and giving a sense of identity to African-Americans, and understanding of all peoples. As he says, unlike Europeans who came to America fully aware of their cultures and a strong sense of self and thus could start over, those who came from Africa, came by force and lost their culture, their very identity. Without that, it leaves a lot of people struggling. So AfroFlow is in part a history lesson. Instead of devoting a single month to the history of African-American people and learning just a few figures, MIKE-E’s talking about it as a true curriculum – discovering inventors, scientists, the contributions from Africa and African-Americans. Not at the exclusion of others, but inclusively – to teach respect for all cultures. And rebuild a sense of identity.
4 the red, 4 the green, 4 the green, 4 the gold
This message of empowerment comes through in MIKE-E’s lyrics, as well as his actions. Listening to his words is an education – as the history of Africa comes through, a few listens and we pick up on references from the colors of our traffic lights coming from the Ethiopian flag to the Berlin Conference of 1885, that led to the division of Africa by European colonial powers to a pretty stirring excerpt from a Sidney Poitier speech in the movie “A Piece of the Action.” MIKE-E is active in the Detroit Public Schools, working with the kids and doing public service announcements. Trying to help change their perception of Africa, and thus their own perception of their origins and themselves.
AfroFlow applies to Ellison’s own origins too. He was born in Ethiopia, to African-American parents, and spent his first few years there. From there it was off to North Virginia where he grew up. But it was summers spent in Queens visiting with his cousins, where he was introduced to hip hop. As a young man, he went into, as he puts it, “jobs that seemed like you were supposed to go into.” This led to a career in sports management, first in New York, which then brought him to Detroit. Despite it being a solid job, something was missing. “For me sitting in a cubicle is a prison sentence. I’ve always been a pretty hyper guy.” As he sings in “Four More Exits,” “I’m in the office, trapped like a mouse in 4 corners. U call ‘em cubicles, I call ‘em unsuitable. It feel like punishment, cruel & unusual. My energy’s creative, but I never get to be creative.” Something had to give. He had to find his art.
From the Blue Nile 2 Belle Isle
“Detroit woke me up out of a creative coma.” Ellison credits the city and its rich musical and creative heritage and environment as helping him tap into the poetry and rhythms he’d been struck by as a child in Queens. He began honing his writing skills on the slam and spoken word stages in Detroit. This experience made him a better lyricist, as he puts it, “When you take away the music and the hype, you need integrity.” It’s this foundation of strong lyrics, good thinking that his music is built on. In fact, he says, “In some ways, AfroFlow is a cleverly disguised spoken word album.”
Ethiopia to Detroit & Back Again
Ellison would return as an adult to his birthplace of Ethiopia. He wrote “Everything will be alright,” for the people there, which slid through the underground to become a huge hit in that country. Many of his songs reference Ethiopia, trying to bring respect to a place that’s seldom been given much. In “Call Us By Name,” he combats the view of Ethiopia of just starving children and a helpless people. “They make it look just like hell, they never show u the wealth/ They always got lies 2 tell, folks always got jokes as well/ They never say 1st on earth, they always say last in line.” Using a clever, catchy rhythm, he turns from what “They Say” to what is: “this is the home of the earth’s first inhabitants / The birthplace of science, medicine & mathematics.” And “I’ll never hold my head in shame / I’ll make the world call us by name.”
The beautiful rhythm, The powerful rhythm
As MIKE-E brings cultures together through his words, he does so through the music as well. The music is a mix of African, hip-hop, and other world beats, all mixed together into a cohesive whole. It creates not only something lively and strong, but an education of rhythm as well.
People sacrificed life so I could rap on this mic
In putting forth a positive message of empowerment and education, MIKE-E also addresses the hip-hop and rap cultures. He turns away from emcees battling each other, and instead credits the civil rights leads and the sacrifices that they made, as being the real emcees, the one to learn from and emulate. “A Malcom, Mandella, Martin Luther lovin’ lyricist / U want sum inspiration 4 the nation, baby, her it is”
I had 2 take it back home & make the people feel it
And so now, MIKE-E is lending his talents to a modern day political emcee, Senator Barack Obama. A retooled version of his song “Everything will be alright” has been part of campaign rallies for the aspiring presidential candidate. From Detroit Public Schools to Ethiopian towns, and now across this nation, MIKE-E is spreading a message of empowerment, of possibility, through music.
Catch him tonight at MOCAD, and from there he’ll be continuing the AfroFlow Tour, which is put on in conjunction with the AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY (ACS), “as part of an anti-tobacco initiative aimed at historically black colleges and universities throughout the United States.” For more on MIKE-E and AfroFlow, check out his website here. – Nick Sousanis
9pm Friday, February 08, 2008 at MOCAD, Admission $5.
HOLY HIP HOP! New Portraits by Alex Melamid
ReFUSING FASHION: Rei Kawakubo
“Everything will be alright” remix for Obama:
Interview with Mike-E:
2008 Mike-E AfroFlow Tour Dates (As of February 5, 2008)
February 20 – South Carolina State University (Orangeburg, SC)
February 21 - Claflin University (Orangeburg, SC)
February 22 - Savannah State University (Savannah, GA)
February 28 – Winston Salem State University (Winston Salem, NC)
Feb. 29-March 1 – CIAA Tournament Fan Experience (Charlotte, NC)
March 10 – University of Maryland Eastern Shore (Princess Anne, MD)
March 11 – Howard University (Washington, DC)
March 12 – Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD)
March 18 – Delaware State University (Dover, DE)
March 28 – ACS/HBCU Conference - Carolina Theater (Raleigh, NC)
March 28 – University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC)
April 1 – Morehouse College/AUC (Atlanta, GA)
April 4 – Shaw University (Durham, NC)
April 5 - St. Augustine (Raleigh, NC) - Afternoon
April 5 - Duke University (Durham, NC) – Evening
April 8 – Benedict College (Columbia, SC)
April 10 – Norfolk State University (Norfolk, VA)
April 11 – Hampton University (Hampton, VA)
April 17 – Fort Valley St. University (Fort Valley, GA)
April 18 - Albany State University (Albany, Georgia)
April 23 - Bowie State University (Bowie, MD)
April 25 – ACS Relay 4 Life (Onslow, NC)
April 26 – Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (Jacksonville, NC); to be confirmed
May 2 – ACS Relay 4 Life (Brunswick County, NC)
May 9 – University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)
May 16 – ACS Relay 4 Life (Bertie County, NC)
* Stay Tuned for additional dates