Explore African Culture Right Here in Metro Detroit
M.etro Detroit is at home to a growing community of Africans from countries across the continent. Though not as visible as the Polish culture in Hamtramck or the Arab influences in Dearborn, there are many African cultures in Metro Detroit so it’s easy to sample the continent’s riches here at home.
Seydi Sarr, a native of Senegal and executive director of the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs (ABISA) in Detroit, says the city is attracting a steady influx of African immigrants from major metropolitan areas like New York and Washington, DC, who are coming to settle, Raising families and starting businesses. As of 2000, there were nearly 17,000 African-born people in Michigan. By 2016, that number had risen nearly 63 percent to just over 27,000, according to the U.S. census. More than half of the state’s African-born population at the time lived in the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn area. They represent a diverse mix of people hailing from Senegal, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Togo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and other countries, says Zaini Itito, a Togo native who serves as the shelter and client services manager at the nonprofit Freedom House Detroit, a temporary home for asylum seekers.
“It’s definitely diverse because you have Senegalese, you have Gambian, you have Ivory Coast, you have Benin, you have Togo, you have Mali, you have Nigeria, you have Uganda … you have Burundi here. It’s very, very diverse, ”says Sarr about African influences in the region.
There are many ways to experience the diversity of African culture here on Metro Detroit if you know where to look.
Visit the Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum to learn more about African material culture. // Take photos of Gerard + experienced
Do not miss
A good place to start is with a trip to Dabls Mbad African Pearl Museum. Museum owner, curator, and visual storyteller Olayami Dabls began collecting African pearls in the 1980s. He opened his museum in an entire city block in Detroit in 2002 with the aim of connecting the local community to African history and material culture, free from the constructs of European museums. The walls of the pearl gallery and the shop are covered from ceiling to floor with hand-carved pearls made from bone, glass, brass and ceramics from all parts of the continent. The campus also includes 18 outdoor mosaic and wall installations, including the “N’kisi House” and the “African Language Wall” Here 25 languages of the continent are painted in several colors.
The African World Festival is a highly anticipated annual event in Detroit. Over a three-day weekend in August, the festival brings live music and dance performances, art, clothing, more than 200 authentic African and Caribbean food vendors, and more to crowds that exceed 125,000 in non-pandemic years. The event took place in Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for the past decade, but plans to return to its original home base, Hart Plaza, August 22-24 this year.
In the Detroit Institute of ArtsLocal historian Jamon Jordan guides guests through the museum’s ancient Egyptian and African exhibits as part of the museum Royal African Tour. Meanwhile, Sarr from ABISA teaches West African dance classes at the Movement center of the N’Namdi center for contemporary art.
The only true
Several shops with authentic African clothing and accessories line Detroit’s Livernois Avenue of Fashion. Love travel. Imports. offers handcrafted artisanal goods made by manufacturers in South Africa, Guatemala, Peru and Haiti, including apparel, accessories, textiles and body products. The store is a highlight of owner Yvette Jenkins’ trips to these places. Nearby More is an art gallery, shop and co-op space for local artists and makers with African textiles like indigo-colored cotton and hand-dyed mud cloth from Mali. Other notable shops on the avenue include African fabrics & fashion and Prisca’s African fashion for less.
Sarr recommends a visit to Detroit Djenne pearls and art, owned by Mali-born Mahamadou Sumareh, for African pearls, perfumes, shea butter and clothing. Well worth a visit Sun crystal and pearl supplyHere you will find a selection of brass, carnelian, coconut heishi beads and much more. Zarkpa’sHailing from Liberia, Tracy Garley offers vibrant tops, dashikis, skirts, dresses, masks and handmade head wraps
Fabrics from Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia.
At the African fashion from Classic Expressions Born in Oak Park, Nigeria, designer Yemisi Bamisaye creates ready-to-wear clothing and custom-made items using fabrics from Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Sterose International Boutique in Detroit is internationally known for its gels, a traditional Nigerian headgear.
You can find more products with African roots at Diop, a diaspora-inspired streetwear brand founded by first-generation American Mapate Diop. The brand’s vibrant clothing and accessories are made from Ankara fabric, a material that Diop’s mother brought home after visiting her native Nigeria and which inspired Diop to start his business. And Chinyone Akunne’s beauty brand Pharmacist health features collections of herbal, ethical cleansers, moisturizers, and body butters influenced by the Nigerian roots of acunne.
The west side of Detroit is also home to many grocery stores –Darou Salam African market, African village market, African family market, and United African Market among them – who sell African foods, herbs, organic products, oils, butters, cosmetics and similar products.
Maty’s African Cuisine Chef Amady Guere specializes in traditional Senegalese dishes. // Photo by J.acob Levkov
Authentic African dishes are plentiful in Metro Detroit. At the Matys African cuisineChef Amady Guere conjures up Senegalese dishes like chicken yassa; deep fried fataya biscuits; and Maafe, a West African stew. Located in Detroit’s Old Redford neighborhood, the restaurant is the first of its kind in the city. KG’s African American Grill Garden City also serves traditional Senegalese dishes, including various dishes from the national dish, Thiéboudienne, as well as burgers, chicken sandwiches, and other American favorites.
Afro-Caribbean restaurant YumVillageFounded by Chef Godwin Ihentuge, the company specializes in hot bowls filled with aromatic proteins, rice and vegetables, including mango curry chicken, guava tahini chicken, lemon pepper jerk chicken, jollof, coconut or turmeric Rice and spicy plantains. Not far from YumVillage in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood Make baobab, a highly anticipated East African restaurant founded by couple Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba. This is the region’s newest African restaurant, opening in mid-February.
Kola Restaurant & Ultra Lounge in Farmington Hills offers Afro-Caribbean dishes paired with live performances by Afrobeat, reggae and jazz as well as comedy and dance shows. Blue Nile in Ferndale and Ann Arbor and Taste of Ethiopia in Southfield offer Ethiopian meat and vegetarian dishes. Other places to check out are Detroit Kalahari African cuisine and the Fork in Nigeria Food truck that offers tasty dishes based on Chef Prej Iroebgu’s native Nigeria.
Did you know already?
Afrobeat is a genre that combines elements of West African music – such as Nigerian Fuji music, traditional Yoruba music, and Ghanaian highlife – with American jazz and funk. The Odu Afrobeat Orchestra, a 15-piece ensemble from Detroit, is a notable example of local Afrobeat talent.
A legendary Afrobeat performance was recorded live at the Fox Theater in 1986. The late Fela Kuti – a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and activist considered a pioneer of Afrobeat – stepped on Nigeria less than a year after being released from his 20-month prison sentence. The set of four songs lasted almost two and a half hours and was released as an album Live in D.