I’ve wanted to grow closer.
For almost 4 months now, I have been on the fence of developing a greater connection to ancestry and black spiritual practices forged by North American slaves. So much of my approach in the beginning of this journey was rooted in miseducation and an overall disconnect from my ancestors who traveled across waters and state lines to provide the life I live today. But as I’ve learned more about myself and even my journey, I see so much of it as a product of those who came before me.
So when I hear about lived connections to ancestry and where they show up in people’s lives, I am always inspired by how they keep legacy alive. So much of this I see in Gabriel Duran, a singer/songwriter from Southwest Detroit who’s album Wish You Well we covered last year. The album was an incredible R&B album woven through flamenco guitar and pop music and our read on it was that this was music that was actually lived-in. And so it comes as no surprise that a year later, Duran, along with friends, has spent the past 2 months planning an all day music festival called Southwest Fest in his community.
This was the first time we had actually talked outside of DMs or the Twitter timeline but my read was instantly that community is such an important value for him. And so much of Gabe’s commitment to community stems from his family.
“I met your mom by the way”
He chuckled as I told him that I had spent 5 weeks on Zoom watching his mom co-facilitate a powerful Culture Workshop that immersed visual and audio artists into the world of organizing. As we talked more and more, I started seeing the connection. But it goes back even farther than just that.
Duran’s grandfather was also an organizer. Over the years, he founded 3 cultural centers where youth could learn about music and their culture and Gabe can still remember helping set tables for community events as a kid. I related so much to watching my parents occupy community spaces and never really knowing anything else. So much of my life has been folk telling me that I had to be cautious of folk or to monetize gifts and I never really understood why we could never suspend those assumptions. So I understood why Gabe talked about organizing so casually as he did. Because it's not a trend or circumstance for him. It’s instincts
Being wrapped around a community that doesn't perpetuate scarcity but instead models support is so much of what we all need. And this is what both Altnubian and Southwest Fest are about.
And that’s what Southwest Fest does; It models what community support actually looks like. The organizers behind the event have raised $10,000, in partnership with the Senate Theatre and other community orgs in Southwest to make this large-scale event free to all. Amongst festivities are vendors, on-site vaccination, and an afterparty event to be announced. Southwest Fest heavily leans on the people, through 86 vendors and a majority of the performers coming from the community of Southwest.
All 32 performers have agreed to way lower compensation than their regular booking fees with 16 of those artists also deciding to donate their money to the event next year. This models a music festival not dictated by simply making a profit. It is instead about forming connections in-community and building greater capacity of creators. This is why the majority of funding has gone into logistics and safety measures.
“And that’s what it’s all about. Allowing younger creatives to see someone from the neighborhood and just see other avenues for themselves. It's all about inspiring that next generation.”
And that’s the other piece that’s important here. Southwest Fest is about equitable, lived regionalism; not consumptive regionalism. Several of the performers are from communities outside of Southwest and the invitation is being made to all who support the festival's mission. As a youth, I got to experience Southwest a decent bit with my mother working there and brother attending Cesar Chavez High School. And so much of my understanding of the community has always been about the beauty of it, not how “different” it is from mine.
A common joke here in Detroit is that there are actually separate cities in Detroit. It's a joke about where identity and values show up in Detroit and the spectrum of experiences for people here. But it also holds some truth. Often when these worlds collide we run the risk of consuming instead of building relationships and I think this festival is such a great opportunity for people to experience the lived beauty of Southwest. Not to view the community like a snowball.
"I've had this idea since like December to be honest. But I just know I needed other people to put this together. And we don't really have a name for it or anything. The mission is just Southwest Fest"
Gabe didn't really put much stock in identifying a leader. He was candid about how much of this had to be built collectively. 14-15 people truly worked together to ideate the festival and there are goals to grow this capacity to include even more people that can impact this event each year.
As we navigate the “recovery” of the city, so much of that narrative is neither lived nor felt for black and brown people here. For so long much of this counter narrative for artists has occupied speakeasies and underground economies. But we are now seeing people bring this experience right to the streets. We can not build these relationships that we need to build as a city through passivity or indecision. Even digital spaces are great tools that have kept the wheels churning this past year and a half but they are not the streets. We build these connections in the streets. Some call it touching grass. Some call it organizing. Hell, some even call it a festival. I call it getting on the floor and grabbing crayons!
Let’s Grab Crayons,