Mahogany Café poets remember Maya Angelou, pass the mic to the next generation
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
It was a place for love, a place for poetry, a place where Detroiters came together and celebrated their collective creativity. From 1995-2000, this was Café Mahogany, a Midwestern Mecca in Detroit for bohemian culture that defined an era for many of the city’s most inspired lyrical minds.
On Friday, July 11 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Café Mahogany will be paid tribute with an evening of music, art and poetry.
“It was the central hub for poets to express themselves,” says poet Joel “Fluent” Greene, who hosted open mic sessions for three years of the five-year run. “It was a place where people would go to cut their teeth, a lot of people started out in the community that ended up doing big things.”
Greene will host the evening, bringing the crowd back to the essence of the coffee shop that once thrived in the space now occupied by the Coaches Corner sports bar in Harmonie Park.
During its day, people would come to Café Mahogany from around the city and from as far away as Chicago and Cincinnati to see Detroit artists like Dwele, Khary Kimani Turner, LaShaun “Phoenix” Moore and Chantay “Legacy” Leonard perform.
“For me being a young guy who wasn’t a great student, (I) was still looking for my own path as an artist and what I wanted to do in life, Mahogany gave me a platform and a home, which developed my art,” says Greene.
Carl Shaw was a principle owner-founder of Café Mahogany with his brother Cyrus, who opened the cafe with funds raised from their family. Today he lives in Wisconsin, but is proud of the cultural legacy of his former establishment.
“At the time, we as owners recognized Café Mahogany had become part of the fabric of the community, especially those involved in poetry, hip hop and the arts,” says Shaw. “But what we didn’t realize (was) the lifestyle (ramifications); it became part of people’s lifestyle.”
Café Mahogany ultimately closed when the building’s owners chose not to renew the lease with Shaw and his brother, instead opting to open the sports bar that operates there now, after the city announced the plans to open Ford Field and Comerica Park.
The show will also be a tribute to the recently deceased Maya Angelou, and will feature poet jessica Care moore, Caesar Torreano, gospel band Spiritual Therapy and DJ Equad among other poets and musicians. The event will include a mix of artists who were a part of the Café Mahogany scene as well as up and coming poets and artists.
“It’s really a tribute to the legacy of Mahogany and what it meant,” says Greene. “Mahogany was a place where new artists and seasoned artists all got together and shared their thoughts, and that’s where we actually learned from each other.”
General admission tickets, available through www.brownpapertickets.com are $15, with $25 VIP tickets including advance seating and a birthday reception for Joel “Fluent“ Greene. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.