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Straight from The Source, a regular interview series taking you behind-the-scenes to Southeast Michigan’s cultural destinations to hear from the curators, programmers, leaders, doers and makers.

What are you best known for? 

Singing and playing guitar. (Al-Saadi was also a finalist on season 10 of the NBC reality competition The Voice).

What makes Detroit such an iconic music town? 

Detroit is one of the most interesting melting pots because of the auto industry, and musically speaking, that saw a lot of different artists coming up from the South. It has a really rich music history, whether it’s jazz, blues, Motown, rock and roll, and you can see all of these influences in my music.

We enjoyed John Lee Hooker spending time in Detroit, as well as the rich history of jazz—The Jones family and Ron Carter from Detroit, and the great guitarist Kenny Burrell. I think that kind of funk and blues and gospel sound that Detroit is known for is infused into all of its music. I also think that even the pre-funk, great rock and roll bands from Ann Arbor like MC5 and The Stooges were heavily influenced by the soul music from Detroit. 

LAITH PHOTO BIGWho are your musical influences?

I try to be open to everybody. The Beatles and Jimi Hendricks and Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Band and the Grateful Dead. I could go on for hours. 

What does a vibrant arts and cultural community mean to you?

I think the arts community could be a lot more vibrant, but in my lifetime, it’s always been pretty vibrant in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The arts flourishing in any society is a sign of a progressive society that is intellectual and peaceful. I think that the arts are tremendously important to all of us, whether or not we appreciate it. To me, the arts are the greatest reflection of humanity, the arts are things that can be shared by all walks of life, the arts are things that bring people together. I of course would love to see the arts community flourish more, but I’m also tremendously happy to be a part of the arts community here that I’ve had the fortune to be a part of in Southeast Michigan.

What local cultural destination have you visited recently?

I got to perform at The Fillmore on the 17th of September. It was my first time playing there, and I’m excited to be back there on October 14th for the Detroit Performs Live concert produced by Detroit Public Television. I also had a homecoming show at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor in July. There are a lot of venues I’m very happy to have around, like the Blind Pig and Cliff Bell’s. 

Who, to you, epitomizes arts and culture in Michigan? 

In Ann Arbor, The Ark is a great organization, and Anya Siglin, who runs The Ark, is great at making sure we have fantastic artists coming through here all the time. And I think even on a national level, they’re recognized because Ann Arbor has a very good folk music scene. The Ark has bluegrass, they have singer-songwriters, jazz, rock and roll. They have a pretty wide range of what folk can mean. It’s wonderful that Ann Arbor is such a great stepping stone for this genre.

When you have visitors in from out of town, what is the one cultural destination you make sure they see during their visit? 

If I’m in Ann Arbor, I try to take them to Zingerman’s Deli and show them the different businesses they have. As an Arab-American, I take them to Dearborn quite often. I think the Arab-American community out there is quite unique. 

What excites you most about the future of Southeast Michigan’s arts and culture scene? 

As a musician, we’re still trying to make sure that there are places to play and trying to get people to come out and support stuff. While I’m encouraged by people coming out, I think that we are way down from where we were 30 years ago for support for the arts. Whether it’s because of home entertainment, there is less support for live arts than there was. 

"Support of local art is the development of any strong community." 

While I’m grateful for these new venues, and there’s obviously people who come out and crave it pretty religiously, I’d love for more people to come out and make it a part of their lives. Support of local art, again, is the development of any strong community, and on so many levels enhances the lives of so many around. I’m encouraged by new venues and the fact that there’s younger people who are making an investment in Detroit and the cultural scene. 

And with events like Detroit Performs Live, It’s good to have the spotlight on Detroit artists and share it through a medium that can be watched across platforms. But there’s nothing like seeing a live concert, and The Fillmore is a great place for a show. I’m looking forward to playing there again.  

Tickets to Detroit Performs Live, Friday, October 14th at 8pm, are available here

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