Review: Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower at the Power Center

This past Saturday, I and some friends saw the Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a new opera developed by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon from Butler’s masterwork written in 1993 and set in 2024. This musical adaption utilizes the styles of folk, blues, and gospel to tell the story of Lauren Oya Olamina, a young prophet of a post-apocalyptic America. A true parable, this musical provides a sketch of an incredibly rich story created by Butler. Through beautifully layered choral performances and compelling narration, Reagon and the performers offer us the greatest lessons of Earthseed, Lauren’s religion created around the ethos that “God is Change” and that people have a responsibility to shape God, to adapt and learn from the Earth and become its collaborator.

Lauren confronts her community at church.
Colorful compositions reflect the action

She comes of age in a community walled off from the outside world. Her father is a professor and Baptist minister and he along with the other able-bodied adults of the community enforce their security from the outside world. Lauren knows that this can’t last forever and at first her ideas are met with fierce disapproval from those around her. Soon enough, she is proved right in the worst of ways when her community is razed to the ground and she is forced to flee along with a couple of her peers. A lot of the strength of this musical is not so much what happens, but how it’s shown through music, color, and lighting. In one of the show’s greatest moments of pathos, the entire theater goes dark except for single light on Marie Tattiana Aqeel’s face while she, performing as Lauren, beseechingly sings to the crowd “Has anybody seen my father?” During moments of tension, a triptych showing explosive and swirling textures of paint is lighted in various colors.

Toshi introduces herself to the audience

Unlike dystopian works of more recent acclaim like the Hunger Games or the Giver, the world Octavia Butler has created is remarkably familiar but no less terrifying. A lot of the inventions of her future setting have parallels or precedents in reality. (Such as addictive sensory VR technology or new prescription drugs with performance enhancing side effects). As some who has read the source material, I was aware of a lot of the worldbuilding that was left on the cutting room floor. A lot of these details are left out of the musical, but there is one number included which deviates from the main plot line to warn us, the audience, of Olivar. This is Toshi, our narrator’s, solo. Toshi tells us about the “company town” of Olivar, in which people become indentured servants in exchange for housing and stable employment but are really no better than slaves. (This hitting home for anybody?) Toshi interrupts Lauren’s story to remind the world not to sell our freedom for security. Toshi explains the role of the folk singer, to be critical of corruption in society and government, even if it means foregoing conventional life and societal expectations. Toshi, like Lauren, remind us of the consequences of our apathy and complacency.

Refugees wait in line to buy water.

I think Butler’s masterworks should be on the must read list of anyone serious about surviving a changing world or just looking for an incredible and unique piece of literature. Likewise, this musical performance is an emerging landmark work in a new school of Afrofuturist thought. Music lovers will  not be disappointed by Reagon’s opera. The powerful voices of the performers brought many to tears and at various points the audience clapped or sang along. This is a work of “pleasure activism”, something to be enjoyed while shifting the consciousness and asking important questions about our unsustainable economic system. I have no doubt that we will be seeing and hearing more of Earthseed in the years to come.

Review: Tokyo Godfathers at the Michigan Theater

What would a small town be without its indie theaters? Ann Arbor is blessed to have not only one but two independent theaters showing the likes of Wes Anderson as well as cult favorites like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and cutting documentaries like I Am Not Your Negro. But one of my very favorite things about these theaters is that they introduce foreign films to Ann Arbor. This friday, I saw the classic Christmas anime Tokyo Godfathers at the Michigan Theater. (Highly recommend grabbing some ramen at Tomukun beforehand). Before we even saw the film, my friends and I were amazed by the gorgeous Art Deco interior of the theater which reminded this reviewer of another film, Eyes Wide Shut. The interior is a bit of a labyrinth and it took us a few tries to find our auditorium. The Michigan Theater was built in 1928 and also hosts theater, comedy, and live music.

When we nestled into the velvet seats, I was struck by what a turnout this one night viewing had! There was diverse audience of students and families, as well as Japanese speakers and those of us relying on subtitles. (There was one particular scene in which one of protagonists escapes at gun point with a Spanish-speaking mafioso, made even funnier if you understand Spanish.) Despite being an animated film, Tokyo Godfathers is a dark comedy full of slapstick and physical comedy than anyone of any age or background can enjoy. This film centers on a homeless trio who find a newborn abandoned newborn in a garbage can. The three protagonists are a middle-aged alcoholic named Gin, a transgender woman named Hana, and a dependent teenage runaway named Miyuki. Hana immediately accepts the child and takes her back to their dwelling to play house. They all have varying opinions about what to do with the baby and ultimately decide to find and confront the parents, as she was abandoned with some identifying photographs.

Thus begins their odyssey from Christmas to New Years to find the baby’s parents. Along the way, we learn more about the protagonists and how they became homeless. Despite being  a picaresque comedy, the movie is fairly realistic in its depiction of homelessness. It shows the protagonists’ difficulty finding warm and clean places to bathe the baby and sleep. At one point, they find some money and stay all night at a diner, sleeping in shifts. In a harrowing sequence, Gin is separated from the group and attacked and beaten by a group of young men walking through the park. It’s a grim reminder that although many cities and people fear the homeless or see them as a problem, it is in fact people with out homes who are the most vulnerable and likely to be victimized. Without consistent access to phones or internet, homeless people can also lose touch with each other quite easily and may not know if friends and family are still alive.



Whenever the movie begins to verge on despair however, the protagonists have a turn of luck or lightheartedness, something they attribute to the baby. In an ironic twist, Gin is saved by a bartender who is part of Hana’s chosen family. Without spoiling too much more, this is a gem of film not to be missed. If you’re looking for a quirky holiday film that celebrates family and will keep you on the edge of your seat, I highly recommend checking out Tokyo Godfathers.

REVIEW: Candle-Making with the Coven Mavens at Booksweet!

For those who prefer more intimate Halloween celebrations, this Samhain candle making workshop at new North Campus bookstore Booksweet was not to be missed. The Coven Mavens curated a truly magical experience right down to the golden place settings and the abundance of dried herbs and essential oils. Before we made our striped candles, Coven Mavens Juliana and Sara shared with us a bit about Samhain. “Samhain is the traditional celebration in Celtic and Wiccan belief at the end of Harvest before winter begins when the veil between worlds is understood to be thin. This means that we might feel the closer presence of the dead, or ancestors, or even spirits like fairies.” The Coven Mavens are two alumni of the University of Michigan who now facilitate magical events around Ann Arbor.

The Coven Mavens at the divination table
Coven Maven Juliana pours wax for a participant

This workshop attracted local Ann Arbor families and students a like. There were people like myself there who practice witchcraft and other types of spirituality but I would say we were outnumbered by participants as equally passionate about scented candles and candlemaking. The Coven Mavens helped us along every step of the way with tips to make even stripes and a large variety of ingredients including palo santo oil, dried lavender, and sea salt. My favorite scent to try was the white birch! The workshop also featured optional Tarot reading and a raffle. Each participant received a goody bag with a metal candle snuffer among other treats. I was really impressed with the quality of it all and excited to add my new candle and snuffer to my altar!

I hope in the future the Mavens will host more events and give us an even deeper glimpse into some of these magical traditions. The Coven Mavens may attract a wide range of customers but when it comes to witchcraft, they are the real deal. They practice magic themselves as part of a larger group and hold specific events to share some of their practice through their business. They are what Booksweet owner Truly Render calls “community experts”, local practitioners, writers, scholars, and activists based in Ann Arbor who collaborate with Booksweet.

Booksweet is a family owned and operated business that seeks to showcase the work of these experts and foster community around literature and discussion. The shop features curated reading lists, including a Racial Justice List and a Gender Reading List. Past partners have included Black Men Read and Booksweet is a proud partner for monthly Family Book Parties when the weather is nice. Next month, Booksweet is hosting  11/6 event with with Rise, a student-led advocacy organization committed to restoring funding for public higher education to make public colleges and universities affordable and accessible to all.

A selection of books on the topic of racial justice
Participants at the candle making table
My new Samhain candle!

Booksweet is not your typical Barnes and Nobles type of experience. Where as larger bookstores might provide variety and anonymity– a place to drink a coffee and work undistracted– smaller bookstores like Booksweet offer a curated, interactive experience. They have a unique selection of books ranging on topics from religion to current events to young adult fiction to graphic novels.

I picked up a gem I have been coveting, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel, the genius writer, director, and star of tv series I May Destroy You. Included at this event as well were various books of magic and tarot decks discounted to the participants of the workshop. If you’ve been craving a change in perspective, check out Booksweet on 1729 Plymouth Rd!


REVIEW: Princess Nokia at the Majestic Theater

The highlight of my fall break was definitely seeing Princess Nokia perform at the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Going to Detroit is always a treat, especially to see a show in one of America’s oldest independent theaters. It opened in 1915 as a movie theater, but now operates mostly as an event space. One fun feature about the Majestic is the bowling alley accessible from the deck, which the artist herself passed some time at shortly before the concert. Before Princess Nokia graced the stage, the Majestic hosted many other up-and-comers like the Black Keys, the Fleet Foxes, Drake, and Post Malone as well as favorites like Patti Smith and Sonic Youth.

Opening up for Princess Nokia was newcomer Dounia, a body-positive model turned performer who joined the tour a couple months ago. 24 year old Dounia is NYC born and raised, like Nokia herself. Before touring with Princess Nokia, she previously released a single with Kehlani. Monday night, she sang a few tracks off her 2019 album The Studio. Her dreamy tracks were a nice prelude to the evening and ramping up the anticipation for the high-energy performance that Nokia would deliver. Lyrically, “Smoke and Slow Dance” and “Lavendar” left something to be desired but as a young artist, she claims her space on the stage with an admirable confidence.

Dounia, promotional

Some time Dounia finished her set, the lights shifted and we heard the ambient beats filter as Princess Nokia and her dancers stormed the stage, ripping into “Crazy House”. The stage was truly blooming, festooned with large glowing paper blossoms and inflatable mushrooms.  The audience got more and more hyped up as she moved through Everything is Beautiful and launched into one of her all time greatest singles “Tomboy”. 

Her backup dancers accompanied her in colorful costumes and orange lifejackets, while she stayed in her recognizable plaid mini-skirt, anime tank, and knee highs. Princess Nokia has never shied away from camp or looks that might, at first glance, seem cliché. Rather, she chooses to embody many ideas: goth, witch, Boricua, weeb, and rave kid. By wearing pieces like the schoolgirl skirt, she also pays homage to her positionality as a sex worker. (Nokia started creating content through OnlyFans in 2019).

She took us by surprise by performing “Brujas”, her anthem celebrating witchcraft and her Afro-Indigenous spirituality. This high energy track got us in the Halloween spirit and many people were dressed up for the concert, if not in costume, then at least to impress. She slowed things down by performing “Green Eggs and Ham” and everyone in the theater joined in to her cry of “Fuck these cops, fuck these cops!”. From the Coachella stage in 2018 to the Bloom World Tour, Princess Nokia has earned her hype. She is a seasoned performer from her own teenage years in the clubs of NYC. But she connects with people everywhere because she celebrates that which is creative, subversive, feminine, and fun. She pays homage to her roots with her vintage style and influences while also being firmly concerned with shaping the future. This is Princess Nokia in her Saturn Return* and it’s a glorious thing. She sees no limits and makes no apologies.

*in astrology, one’s Saturn returns to the same position it was during birth around age 27-31. This a time marked by decisions and changes in perspective related to one’s future and one’s responsibility, career, and role in society.

REVIEW: The Holy Bones Festival

If you’re looking for some kitschy fun, look no further that Ypsilanti’s Holy Bones Festival. The Halloween Spirit was out in full force as local artists and performers showcased their spookiest wares and performances. I commend the talented drag and burlesque performers for doing their routines on a chilly evening!
During one memorable number, Johnny Rocket, dressed as a mummy did a striptease unraveling their bandages. Local drag queen Zooey Gaychanel, I first saw perform at the Spectrum Center’s Fair in September was also headlining.

Johnny Rocket strikes a pose

The Halloween Market featured everything from antiques to enamel pins to bath bombs and indie comics. I particularly enjoyed talking with Detroit-based Bad Love Design who sells cheeky, high-quality affordable prints inspired by retro cartoon an 60s pin-up aesthetic. Bad Love is working on a forthcoming tarot deck, so keep your eyes peeled! I also stopped to talk to the owner of Conjure Goddess, a new hoodoo shop opening up in Ypsilanti. They stock everything a witch could need from incense to Tarot cards to conjure oil. I was really impressed by the diversity of magic shops and businesses in Ypsi as well as the amount of queer-owned and women-owned businesses at the fair.

Owners of the Conjure Goddess
Bad Love Design


Last but not least, the food options were few but notable. Fork in Nigeria was definitely the stand-out, with various kinds of fufu and jollof. There was also a more economical taco truck option. Both had vegetarian choices. There was also a lot of hot cider going around! I ducked out before the festivities ended but I did get to hear some of the mellow tones of London Beck before I left. The fun, lighthearted atmosphere nearly allows you to forget how hard the performers and artists work to put events like these together. All in all, I think the Holy Bones festival is a great choice for families and for students and young adults.

PREVIEW: Princess Nokia at the Majestic Theater


Genre-crossing Bronx based rapper Princess Nokia is ascending to new heights on her Bloom tour, coming to the Majestic Theater in Detroit this Monday the 18th. Bloom is her first world tour and she will be performing songs from her two new full-length albums released during quarantine, Everything Sucks and Everything Is Beautiful. These two albums truly showcase her range as an artist and her influences from 90s hip hop and the various New York subcultures that nurtured her career.

In Everything Sucks, we meet her more emo persona, a bitter and braggadocious young woman who seeks success to spite her enemies and her critics. Everything Sucks explores more fully the themes she rapped and sung about on A Girl Cried Red, her 2018 mixtape, which contained candid lyrics about her hurt and anger at past traumas of being a foster child and having a loving but inconsistent relationship to her birth family. This Nokia is all about control; she needs no approval from others and the men in her life are plentiful and disposable. Singles from this album include “I Like Him” and “It’s Not My Fault”.

Princess Nokia, real name Destiny Frasqueri, celebrates her duality as a gemini with these two albums. In Everything Is Beautiful, we see the Nokia who embraces and celebrates her loved ones. This Nokia found peace and sings a lot about her chosen family, forgiveness, and transcending the ego. She also celebrates her Puerto Rican heritage and her connection to the strong women in her life who keep her grounded. In tracks like “Soul Food y Adobo”, she layers Spanglish lyrics over brass instrumentals evoking 60s Soul. At age 29, Nokia has taken up the mantle of adulthood and all that entails. She no longer looks to her past as something holding her down but rather the platform on which she has built her success. The Bloom tour is a triumphant celebration of her fully realized self.