Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Books Aren't For Everybody...But I Believe in Them

It's Black History Month. The time of year where Black creatives, academics, and historians, families, and students, and legacy, and public figures are acknowledged with great regard. They are honoured. They are celebrated. They are invited to spaces that are somewhat difficult to penetrate, oftentimes, during the rest of the year. But this is THEIR time. Everyone's time. Our time. We get to be even more unapologetically Black than we usually are! So we cherish it...regardless.

With all this greatness, it drives me to look internally and wonder about my chosen contribution to Black history/present/future and cyberspace. My books. My writing. My stories. My legacy. My Urban Toronto Tales.

I'm reminded of the Black literary GREATNESS in Canada, particularly each February. I have their books on my shelves. I listen to them speak, and read their words. They are the reflection of our ancestors that we are proud to be affiliated with: intelligent. Reflective. Passionate. Articulate.

I honour them.

I respect them.

I often envy them. Their words are poetic. Descriptive. Lyrical. Literary. Complicated.

It is in their literary greatness, that I am reminded that what I am writing (fiction-wise) is not that. Not at all. To an aristocratic reader, my words will seem infantile and/or uncultured. My plots: unchallenging. My language: common.

Acknowledging that I have now been a serious writer for the majority of my life, with no possible way of stopping...I realize that this may eternally be my style of writing. Common. Conversational. Riddled with slang and colloquialisms. Unbalanced and straightforward. But I also realize that this is how I enjoy capturing my generation. Whether it was my generation, as experienced in 1992...or my generation now, in 2018, I enjoy the every day conversations. I love the common locations, and banal activities. The stereotypical life patterns. The raw dialogue.

I have classified my writing as urban fiction. In my heart I know that these stories are my love letter to the city of Toronto, and to the developing urban culture that I am fortunate enough to be a part of. In a unique position to be first-generation to this country. Influenced by the cultural traditions of another land, yet responsible for excelling and maintaining a lifestyle fit for Canadian reality. Teaching and nurturing the next generation of minds, and being able to witness this progression from all three perspectives. It's wonderful.

Just as it is. Life: just as it happens. People: just as we remember them. I sometimes can't decide if my writing is actually quite horrible...or if it's low key acceptable. I'm human. I question it often. But I do know that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to tell the stories of what I see, hear, and feel around me, and I get a joy and satisfaction from putting the words together that only another writer would understand.

These books are most definitely not for everybody. I can unequivocally guarantee that many well-read literary folks would 100% not endorse, approve of, or even turn to the second page of my books.

I can also hope that there are at least a few people in the city that have fun reading these pages, because the stories are unapologetically interpretation of us. In February. In March. In 2018. In 1995. I wanted to be able to remember us exactly as we were. I believe so strongly in the power of representation, and recognition...acceptance...that I can only hope that the mere familiarity of the characters and scenarios, and smiles of reader recognition and nostalgia are enough to make the printing of them worthwhile.

There's nine of them--the Urban Toronto Tales--and I've poured my heart and soul into them over the past 25 years. I started the first Tale when I was 15, and I haven't stopped writing them since...

VIDEO LIGHT - A story about a west-end dancehall princess turned Scarborough "housewife."

REQUEST TO REWIND - A fluffy, reclusive young photographer from Markham meets the city's top DJ and top club promoter and is unexpectedly thrown into a love triangle with these brothers.

FIRST YEAR - A teenage couple from Malvern leave home to attend a "fictional" university in Windsor, where their commitments and characters are put to through their first adult challenges.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS - A college actress struggles with monogamy, and is put into a complicated choice between her career, her love life, and potentially settling down.

EIGHTEEN - An adolescent tale about biracial triplets who leave their hometown of Windsor, Ontario, to start junior high in Toronto, anxious to grow up (needless to say).

THE WAY WE USED TO BE - A collection of eleven short stories about the drama and relationships experienced by most teens during their high school journey, however, these teens are still carrying pagers: it's the 90s.

THE HOOK UP - Four short stories about twenty-somethings looking for love in Toronto, in the late 1990s and 2000s. They have cell phones now.

CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT - In a follow up to "Video Light," the characters are introduced to the exciting world of Toronto, Carnival...and the unexpected bacchanal threatens their union.

I WISH I NEVER MET HIM - Female cousins (in their late 30s) travel together to Cancun for a vacation, to reevaluate their current relationships and past heartbreaks through a series of conversations and journaling.

Those books are my heart and soul. It is my hope that the also represent the heart and soul of Toronto...from an "urban" cultural perspective.

They're all on sale. All the time...with a boost during Black History Month. It never fails.

And as technology has progressed, so have I. As my skills have improved, so has the content, and editing. They are a reflection of our wonderful city, our wonderful culture...both the urban culture and the Caribbean culture. They are a snapshot of a moment in time.

These books capture collective memories. And I believe in them. Still.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" is a Brilliant Exercise in Everyday Hilarity

I'm pretty "new" to Netflix, and don't really have any shows that I'm committed to online. As a result, I watch random specials, and documentaries...occasionally binge on old sitcoms (just finished a ten-season Friends recap last month, for example)...but I didn't realize that Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" has existed since 2012? What a wonderful, refreshing, and a brilliant exercise in everyday hilarity! Thanks (yet again) Netflix!

I've been watching a lot of Kevin Hart, Trevor Noah, and Dave Chappelle these days, so naturally Netflix suggested I view a few other things they thought I'd like, and yet would never discover on my own. And they were right. This show is really funny, and I think I have a NEW, new appreciation for comedians right now. Especially looking back over decades of life, and realizing just how present they were during various eras, and how they are responsible for so many smiles, so much laughter, and just good memories overall.

Jim Carrey, in the first episode of the latest season made a great comment about his life. He said that just knowing that when he shows up places, or when people see his face, their immediate reaction is joy and/or laughter. He feels good knowing that in his life, he has managed to make an impact that just makes people happy when they see him. End of story.

That's the point of entertainment, needless to say. To bring us away from reality, or introduce us to new escape, without escaping. And through the most basic form of entertainment...soliciting laughter through jokes. I think pop culture goes through eras where comedy is either really on...or really off. Given the wacky state of political affairs, and other fuckups...comedy is like a necessity right now.

The show, although moving along just fine for the past 5 years...couldn't have come at a better time for me, personally. I imagine that it's move to Netflix is a welcome addition for other entertainment lovers as well. I mean, clearly, an unscripted segment with two professional jokesters is bound to make you laugh at some point?! But what I'm also loving, in addition to the laughs, is the insight that these folks are providing along the way. I'm sure this was 100% the point, when Jerry Seinfeld conceptualized this show. The other side of comedian's they interact with one another.

The premise itself is funny, because we're expecting them to both be "on"...and in some cases they are, and it manifests many brilliant, honest moments of joy. In some cases it's forced, but still insightful. In the best episodes, Jerry himself can't stop the tears of laughter from falling, and there is absolutely wonderfulness in just watching THAT go down.

Made me think about a few things, overall...and the first was Robin Williams. The most animated of all comedians, with so much of the most unbearable pain. Watching the comedians interact with one another, you can see the personality type more clearly, the eccentricities and intelligence. The commonality I'm noticing with these discussions (and even with stand-up, as of late) is how intrinsically connected these artists are to the world. To human nature. So connected mentally, yet so often disconnected emotionally. They proclaim to be introverts, and socially awkward. They say that they are outcasts, when our entire lives we know them to be the life of any digital party. The paradoxes are fascinating.

It's like musicians: many of them are gone too soon, and we never get to see them mature, or grow wise, or old because of this unbearable uncomfortableness. And then some of them, we get to see the full arch of their lives. The beginning, the peak of their careers, the disappearance, public issues, and resurrection...we get to see the end result of their craft. We see many flourish, and stay grounded. They beat the fame game, and live prosperous lives! Some of them, we're living right beside them...coming of age, falling in love...we are similar in life stages, yet watch them life under their permanent spotlight, performing for us.

One of the things I am enjoying the most about this series--as I easily blaze through new episodes and old--is how many of the comedians we get to reconnect with, later on in life. Even if that later on is just a few months, or a few's nice to be made acquaintance with Stephen Colbert, and Dave Letterman, and I even actually enjoyed Jim Carrey...probably moreso than I did during the height of his career. Go figure.

Some of the comedians were unexpectedly demure, almost. Introspective. It was great to not see them "on"...and just listen to their thoughts and perspectives on life, and their careers. For someone trained in the art of seeing the funny in life, it's amazing to hear what happens...after the funny. When they're not obligated to pretend, but can now freely speak their truths without the confines of their television shows/film careers.

This is what is going to catapult people like Dave Chappelle and Dave Letterman to another public level, I believe (the honesty, and lack of restriction/regulation), and I think what streaming channels and new entertainment-viewing mediums will bring to pop culture in the next few years. A rawness, and genuine truth that we all desperately need to progress, collectively. With faces and voices we've already grown to trust, admire, and love for how they have already injected laughter into our lives.

P.S. The cars, pretty dope too!

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Dave Chappelle is Brilliant in his Latest Netflix Specials "Equanimity" & "The Bird Revelations"

Thank you, Netflix! Having TWO new Dave Chappelle stand up comedy specials to watch and bring in the new year was an excellent, excellent idea! "Equanimity" and "The Bird Revelations" were everything I wanted them to be...and more. Dave Chappelle is wonderfully brilliant in both, and I appreciate him on new levels as a result.

His voice, his perspectives, his sense of humour, his honesty, and of course his amazing comedic timing and creativity make him my favourite comedian of all times. I love and appreciate a lot of them. Bill Cosby (yes, still) and Eddie Murphy for what they represented in my childhood. Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and the Wayans brothers for what they were to our generation growing up, and of course Kevin Hart and Dave for their relevance right now. Their commentary, right now.

I so appreciated the rawness of these latest specials. Like many, I was obsessed with Chappelle's Show in the early 2000's and have watched those DVDs repeatedly over the past decade. The jokes are still funny. The characters still make me laugh, and the sketches will go down in comedy history for their cleverness...and foolishness.

While the television show was beyond classic, what I love now is to see Chappelle post-Comedy Central. Post-speculation. Post-disappearance. He's always been around, and doing regular appearances at comedy clubs and intimate venues across the continent. A true comedian, of course he couldn't just stop cold turkey like that. But as we now understand, he just went low key for a bit. He came off the radar for a bit.

I respect the fact that he hasn't given into the standards of fame that most of us are used to accessing: social media. Politically correct perspectives. Personal life exploitation. The list of reasons why I admire this man are quite opposite from the reasons why I might appreciate some others. For example, I appreciate how Kevin Hart has been forthcoming and transparent about his life, because the lessons and stories are awesome and inspiring. But Chappelle's journey has been different. Quieter. Yet still, quite powerful.

The first two Netflix specials earlier this year were a relief: he was BACK! He was public, he was mainstream, he was on SNL, and ready to take on the world. Those specials were a blessing to Chappelle lovers everywhere. But these two...they're other level.

It has all the expectations of a traditional Chappelle stand up routine, but what I feel is the wisdom. The introspection, and the social responsibility are much, much clearer now. He's still silly, and he's still got a unique style of jokes...but then without notice, he can dig deep, switch the mood, and get right to the heart of many issues. No laughter necessary.

Transgender. Race. Trump. Poverty. Sexual misconduct. There wasn't a touchy topic that he didn't cover, that I wasn't super excited to hear his perspectives. As a serial news-and-entertainment watcher, and someone who is tuned into pop culture and political journalism 24/7, it was literally a blessing to hear this man's thoughts on the past year.

He's brilliant, to put it simply. I love the way his mind works, from the immaturity to the extreme global consciousness. He's brilliant. And I believe he is brilliant, because he is seeing the world as it it...and isn't afraid to provide his analysis to those of us who haven't been exposed to the same shit he's seen.

Fame, power, money, and celebrity are "privileges" that few are given, and even fewer are willing to be so incredibly transparent about. It's beyond interesting to hear someone who can speak on the realities of the glitz and glamour that we consume through media/social media...and to hear new philosophies on "how" and "why" of the business.

While "Equanimity" was more of a traditional stand up special in aesthetic and pace, "The Bird Revelations" was more of an intimate conversation, with a smaller audience and a sober tone. Touchier topics. Less laughter, but more processing of information.

I'll be watching both specials again, and again. I love the way they made me feel, mentally. I love to watch the career of this man expand, and reach new levels of intellect and soul. He's powerful. And will continue to be powerful, if he keeps moving strategically this way.

Most importantly, I loved the reminder that there are dozens of people that we grew up watching as "entertainers"...athletes, comedians, and musicians...who came in with one talent, and have evolved into powerful representations of our culture, our thoughts, and our aspirations. We are watching them grow, and seeing their power and influence multiply as well. It's liberating.

Despite the social injustices covered extremely blatantly by Chappelle in this special, and the realities of race, sex, political, historical, and economic circumstances that continue to make life a challenging course to navigate for some...there was hope within his messages. Hope that with time comes understanding. And with understanding comes recognition, and action, and eventually change.

Shit felt really, really discouraging at times during 2017...from a media lens, and a political/global lens. Things felt off, like mankind was suffering through not only natural disasters but also social disasters on a daily basis. In extreme. The year felt like it was sinking into the depths of despair...but there is still an element of hope, as he expresses via the infinite audience of Netflix. Hope that things can only get better. That awareness and sadly, the unfortunate actions of many, will still somehow bring about change.

I appreciate voices like Mr. Chappelle on so many levels. He's saying things that need to be said, inappropriate or not, and he's opening our eyes. He's making his platform more than just an entertaining one...he's making it a necessary one. I'm grateful for his ability to influence. I'm happy to see his career circle back with a force that no one or no thing can stop going forward. I love what he represents to a generation.

He's someone to be admired. And not for the fame and money, but for the effort he puts in to understanding the world, assessing his place in it, and communicating his lessons publicly. I commend his social responsibility, and look forward to seeing where he goes next.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why I'm Willing to Forgive Kevin Hart...

I almost didn't read Kevin Hart's book "I Can't Make This Up" because of his recent infidelity scandal. I have been a die hard fan for a few years now, have even traveled out of country (OK, so it was just Buffalo, NY) to see his stand up show, and I'm definitely a follower of his social media profiles.

Eniko is a Jamaican girl (brap brap), so I was thrilled to learn more about her, about them as a couple, and live the hype Hollywood life through their photos, interviews, and Insta-stories. That's what they are there for, right? Our entertainment! I was 100% invested into the Kevin Hart story, and loved to see him hustling his book "I Can't Make This Up" earlier this year.

As a writer, and publisher, and urban cultural enthusiast, Kevin Hart hit all of my favourite things this year. He's a media mogul now, an author, he's a great actor, funny as hell, AND he has a Jamaican woman on his arm! What's not to love?

The cheating scandal. That's what.

It turned my stomach. I threw my hands in the air, and stomped my feet, like why, why whyyyyyy did he have to mess this up?! The great thing about following celebrities and entertainers so closely is that they bring so much access to their world. And if you're someone who follows the lifestyles of the rich and famous as a hobby (guilty!) then you know that the world is always full of clever antics, and great fashion, juicy stories, and good looking people.

And then they fall. Hard, usually.

They always fall. It's an inevitable part of the story, but a part you hope never happens to your favourites. There are the obvious ones that tumble and break our hearts, like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, for example. There are the scumbags that we could care less about like Charlie Sheen or Harvey Weinstein. And then there's the in-between where, we love them, we see them...and we're concerned. Like Mariah Carey for example. Love her to pieces...but slightly concerned. Same with Kanye.

So when the news dropped, and that horribly tacky press conference with the chick Kevin messed with came out, and the corny interviews, and the lawyer, I was like...really, bruh? Like, REALLY? Her? All of the affection, and professional respect, and personal interest, and humour-craving, and time invested in this man was thrown out the window.

Yes, I took it that personally. Because I feel like when we invest in the career of entertainers over time, we genuinely become committed to their journey. I love to see them grow into their craft. Or branch out into another form of entertainment and excel. I love to see artists do well, and inspire others. Kevin Hart definitely inspired me!

When my friend and I went to check his What Now? tour in Buffalo, we were in awe. He performed his stand up routine in a stadium, he had an awesome digital display and lighting effects. It was funny: great storytelling about his life, and family. It was a real production! I was impressed. I was inspired, and I was cemented as a Kevin Hart fan.

The cheating scandal delayed me reading his book, however. I purchased the book as soon as it came out, but had to work my way through a few other books before reaching his on the list. So when I got there, it was like a disappointment that he even existed at that point.

Nonetheless, I read the book...and within minutes, and the initial pages, I was drawn into the story of Kevin and never looked back. It was an amazing read. I'm a sucker for biographies, and a notorious book-leaver (I'll read two pages, and forget about it forever if I'm not instantly intrigued...), and this book got me.

It was great!

Not as a fan, but as someone who studies life. And experiences. Someone who loves the story of a good journey, lessons learned, and artists defying the odds to "make it big." This story had all the elements of my favourite type of tale, and I couldn't put it down!

The more I read, the more I shared with friends, as I took Kevin's lessons and anecdotes, and related them to other scenarios. The more I read, the more I gained respect for Kevin, learning about his journey and hardships. The more I read, the more I appreciated his honesty as he told it exactly like it was, and had nothing to hide.

In fact, Kevin was so forthcoming with the skeletons in his closet, that it was actually endearing. I'm surprised he even admitted some of the things that he did...but he did. I had to respect that.

I found myself highlighting passages in the book. Quotes, and thoughts, and many helpful sentences that I knew would help ME through my own personal travels. I found myself being motivated, and getting ideas, and brainstorming, and thinking about great things, as a result of reading HIS story. I was moved. I was happy for him. I was sympathetic.

And even though the book ended just before the scandal the time I finished reading the book, and celebrated the successes outlined in the story, it was hard to stay angry at this stranger Kevin Hart. Although he doesn't know me, and my opinion literally means nothing in the grand scheme of his career...I'd like to believe that I probably represent many fans and followers of this man.

I do believe that he has millions of fans that he brings joy to on a regular basis...and I do believe a good portion of them were disappointed when we found out that he had allegedly messed around on his pregnant wife, Eniko. The internet dialogue was heated, and thick with disgust and reactions similar to my initial one. WHY? WHY NOW?

It seemed like he had built up a great success story, and now was going to have it all lost over some tacky female. It didn't seem like a valid way for his story to end. It wasn't fair. Not to Eniko, and not to the fans that held them both on a great pedestal. I truly believed that it might be the end of his reign.

Described as "an inspirational life story and road map to achieving your dreams"...I think the book almost prepared me to deal with his scandal as well. It reminded me that although the path is set out, and your heart is in the right place...that things don't always go as planned. Even if you're the one that messes it up.

In the book he mentioned:"trusting your gut in situations where your logic contradicts you is terrifying--especially the first time you do it--but it's always the right move." My gut instinct, after reading this book was that Kevin is still a good guy. He means well. He messed up (big time) and embarrassed his family...but he still had many other redeeming qualities. One of which was the art of storytelling.

Through his story, from childhood, to the discipline of his late mother, the crazy antics of his drug-addicted father, as well as tales from his friendships, jobs, his marriage to Torrei, his children, and navigating the stand-up comedy scene...the theme of perseverance and hard work and faith ring strong. Themes that will help anyone, regardless of their personal journey. His lessons are easily transferable, and his life and blessings are a great testament to the fact that they worked. And will work.

He made an excellent point in trusting life. He said, "There is a flow to life, and all you have to do is make the decisions to follow that current--even if it seems to be carrying you away from everyone around you."

The book is filled with great statements, and great philosophies for understanding life, and following your own destiny.

And what more do we want from a fellow like Kevin, who worked hard, and made us laugh, and gave back to the world in his own unique ways? What more can we ask, than for words of wisdom, and a look into his personal life to see how he managed to gain success in an unconventional field of work?

He shared his story. That was enough.

It sucks if the scandal is true, and I never followed up enough to see what the outcome was. All I know is that somehow, the world is overflowing with ridiculously negative energy, and commentary, and actions, and revelations all around us. From politics to local news, there's always something going down...and when I looked at the bigger picture, I realized that Kevin's sex life is really not my concern. Or anyone's. That's up to him and Eniko to work out...and I imagine, they already have.

So if Kevin's negative press is stopping you from reading this book, like it almost stopped me...I encourage you to pick it up anyhow. It's worth it, and actually adds great context to his life...and life is general. Shit happens. I'm not justifying his actions, or anything of the sort...but I think at the end of his days he'll be able to look back at his life as a whole, and hopefully this would have been one minor indiscretion against a world of greater deeds for society.

The book is awesome. Filled with great stories, sad moments, and wonderful victories. It's one of the best autobiographies I've read to date...and I've read a lot of autobiographies in my day. I wish Kevin nothing but the best as he continues to walk through fame and public scrutiny...and if we've learned anything over these past few months of news and's that life is long. And what's done in the dark eventually comes to the light. I am currently waiting patiently for the White House drama to come to a satisfying end.

For his sake, at least this is out and done, and he can move on. And I hope this serves as a lesson to many, who continue to watch the news and see as MANY careers across disciplines are being ruined by negative actions of their past. It's not worth it. Hopefully Kevin now realizes the importance of living clean, and continuing to put GOOD energy out there. God knows, in the current state of the world, we need all the positivity and laughter that we can get. Which is why I will continue to be a fan of his. I have faith that he too, will learn the best course to follow to sustain his already thriving career.

Good luck, Kevin. I don't believe you came this far to stop now!

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson, for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book Review: BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah

I don't watch his show, nightly. I do catch recaps of his monologues on YouTube sometimes. I have seen his stand up special, and I do like what I hear whenever I catch a glimpse of him on television, or hear about his commentaries and reflections. I follow him on Instagram. I wouldn't say I'm a huge "fan" yet, but I am definitely someone who respects Trevor Noah. Based on my limited knowledge of him...I know that he is someone worthy of respect. I do now admire him, a great deal, thanks to what I've read.

His book, "Born a Crime," filled in every blank necessary to give me a thorough understanding of who Trevor Noah was raised to be, and the circumstances that created the intellectually stimulating comedian and public figure that he is today.

Basically a story about growing up in South Africa, "Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood" is a tale about his childhood, his identity formation, his coming of age as a critical thinker and a bit of a troublemaker, and most importantly, a reflection on his family, his siblings, a brief look at his relationships with his father and step father...and a beautiful look at the lessons and spirit obtained from his mother.

His mother! The heart of Trevor Noah's book is his mother, which essentially tells you everything you need to know about Trevor Noah as a man. He is his mother's son: resilient, funny, realistic, clever, dedicated, smart, hardworking, and someone of great inner strength.

Through a series of stories, recaps, scenarios, and carefully selected looks at the political and social climate of his childhood and teenage years, Trevor's personal story unfolds and a foundation for his character is established. Some chapters falls chronologically, others serve as funny inserts to the ever-serious backdrop of racial tensions, apartheid, and a recurring theme of "belonging" and Trevor finding his way as a mixed-race young man growing up in the most difficult, and illogical racial turmoil possible at that point in history.

I was curious to see how far the story would go. I don't know much about how he eventually came to America and became the star that he is now, the fortunate successor to Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" legacy. Again, I don't know much about Trevor outside of the basic facts, but his story has definitely provided the context necessary to begin to set my PVR to record his nightly monologues, and add him to the list of go-to pundits and intellects that I catch up on to provide context and commentary on the day's news events.

"Born a Crime" was a good read, and celebrity and fame aside, it was an excellent story about how to raise a young man, even under the most terrible of circumstances, and how to build resiliency and class, when the rest of the world doesn't believe you to be deserving of it.

Mothers, sons, families, and individuals alike can benefit from the lessons and examples provided in "Born and Crime." Now that I am versed on his history, I can confidently say that I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Trevor Noah. He is a special soul, and someone who's story deserves to be highlighted in this way.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

New Kamilah Haywood Novel Gives a Voice to Women in the Canadian Prison System

Diamond in the Rough Part 2, the third novel in Kamilah Haywood's urban fiction trilogy follows the journey of a young Toronto woman, rising each day in a correctional institution and facing challenges from her superiors, her peers, an addiction, and inevitably also her own mind. An honest look at the complexities of mental health, coupled with the chaos and depression of the prison system, the reader has a rare look into a segment of urban Toronto rarely publicly discussed.

Newly signed to independent Toronto company Kya Publishing, Kamilah is excited to continue to document stories that she believes will tell truths about realities that are seldom highlighted in fictional accounts. A champion of urban fiction, and a supporter of the culture and concerns that drive the community, Kamilah was inspired to write the final novel in the trilogy to explore the injustices that prisoners with mental health issues in particular, experience in the Canadian prison system.

"I especially wanted to explore the women's prison system, because of the story of Ashley Smith, and also the other women who suffered back in the late 80's before the riots at the Kingston Penitentiary for Women," said Kamilah. "I wanted to display the mind of a female inmate who suffered from mental illness, and depict what her experience would be like."

Recognizing the huge gap between mental health care and the prison system, Kamilah was determined to communicate the message that police officers, correctional officers, government officials, and politicians are not exempt from making mistakes or being corrupt. This is a reality that many in the system are aware of, but few openly discuss.

"The more we research and learn about the system that we live in, the more we can combat to implement change...and becoming aware of the system's realities is the first step," said Kamilah. "The literature plays a huge part of this process."

Kamilah chooses to use her writing as a means of raising awareness, and initiating uncomfortable conversations.

"The value of urban fiction is just like the value of hip hop in our culture today, and yesterday," said Kamilah. "Urban fiction, by nature, explores diverse cultural perspectives. When exploring any artistic expression, we have to be conscious of the fact that these works are of art created for a reason. It doesn't matter what race, gender, cultural background, class, or religion you are...if you have a story to be told, you have to tell it."

tp-ashley-smith-9667279The 2007 death of Ashley Smith, then 19, was controversial, and sparked discussion surrounding mental health in the prison system. An Ontario coroner's jury ruled the self-inflicted choking death of Smith in her prison cell a homicide, as reported by CBC. After months of testimony from numerous witnesses, a series of recommendations came forward, including ensuring nursing services and psychological services are available onsite for inmates at all times, as well as adequate staffing and contractual duties for psychiatrists and care staff.

The story of Ashley Smith still resonates with Kamilah, even ten years later, and she tells this story and speaks of the conditions, on her behalf.

"I would like to use this book as a catalyst for discussion on how the system can violate prisoners' rights," said Kamilah. "Especially those that are oppressed, or in poverty. It's a conversation that needs to lead to a solution, and if this book can be a part of that dialogue and inspire one mind...I am at peace with that."

Diamond in the Rough Part 2, released on August 6, is available for purchase via Kya Publishing. Kamilah can be reached online @KWoodz29, or at

For booking or media inquiries, please contact

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: "Black Privilege" by Charlamagne Tha God

He used to intimidate me! His truth scared me. I unfollowed him from Twitter back in the day, I'd refuse to watch his commentary when it got offensive and raw, and I brushed him off as a loud-mouthed know-it-all who was just looking for attention.

Surely, I'm not the first person to express my dislike for Charlamagne Tha God. He is, by design, a controversial figure. He's brutally honest. He's silenced by few, and has a huge platform to communicate his views which in today's social world = power.

Purchasing his book "#BlackPrivilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It" was automatic for me, however. Because between fearing his Twitter rants, and being addicted to YouTube videos of his morning show The Breakfast Club on New York's Power 105.1...I became a fan of his. A huge fan. In fact, somehow over the years I started to respect Charlamagne. Like, really respect him...and the things that I respected him for were the very things that I disliked him for previously. I had grown into his rhetoric, and appreciated his views. I looked forward to his opinions and interviews.

Many of us watch Breakfast Club interviews online. Some are fortunate to get to tune in live-to-air (but not us in Toronto who have to scramble for a decent radio signal to get our morning fix of urban culture). I feel like Charlamagne, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee are my go-to media outlet for celebrity interviews, perspectives, and to "catch up" on what's hot.

As much as I rate these guys, however, I never really dug deeper until now. I never looked into their personal stories, individual journeys, or career paths. My reference points really didn't go beyond the morning show. Partially because I'm not THAT much of a hip hop head...and partially because, I never saw the relevance.

But I can safely say now--having read Charlamagne's full life story--that I am genuinely moved and inspired by his journey. I am better off having read this book. I read a LOT of biographies (which I am finally admitting is my preferred genre of down-time reading)...but this one was special. Yes. Charlamagne's story was very special. I learned a lot, and reinforced a lot.

Everyone loves a good coming of age story, and seeing a small town hustler make it big in the Big City. It's the story of many of our favourite rappers, actors, tech experts, and activists. We love to see someone defy the odds against them, make a name for themselves, follow their passions, and create a lifestyle that they love, and use this to motivate and inspire others.

Personally, I love to read stories about artists. Musicians. Writers. Actors. People who enter an unstable field of work to begin with, driven by passion and creativity alone...and somehow find a way to make it work. I am driven by this, needless to an artist/writer/dreamer myself.

So Charlamagne's journey from a young thug and troublemaker in South Carolina, to a radio personality finding his way through the industry, and ending up on one of the most popular syndicated programs in America is a great story! I've read biographies that dragged and bored through the "wonder years," but I can honestly say that every step of his journey was interesting, filled with great lessons, and a genuinely entertaining read.

He is a great storyteller. Just listening to him on air, you can see he has a way with words, and is actually a lot funnier than I realized. He's painfully aware of his strengths, and super-duper aware of his flaws...which is definitely something I like about the brother. From his bleaching rumours, penis size, getting beat up on camera, and confessions of infidelity, there really isn't anything that Charlamagne left out. Literally, an open book.

Hearing his version of some of the best Charlamagne rumours was definitely interesting, but then also reading about the lessons he extracted from a lot of those experiences were even better. A few new characteristics came to mind when I finally finished the book, and had a moment to reflect. Newfound acknowledgement of his personal strength, courage, and self-awareness in particular. Lessons in patience, and trusting God also came to light, which is definitely not something I expected to take away from this reading.

I highlighted this story like a textbook, not wanting to forget some of the passages and anecdotes that he shared. A few gems I liked were:

-In order to change your life for the better, you must first change your lifestyle.
-Always live your truth.
-Design yourself. Construct your own dream.
-Don't try to grab someone else's gift.
-A true winner values their integrity, no matter what the fallout.
-You can never hurt yourself by helping others.
-Faith plus hard work can change any circumstance.

I really, really loved how much of an avid reader he was growing up, and his love for books. The way his parents shaped his mind. Growing up in an isolated small town, and eventually learning about Tupac's LA, and Biggie's NYC just through reading, and lyrics, reminded me of the power of telling your own story and documenting the here and now. Sharing your experience. Learning through example. So powerful.

From a small town self-professed "nerd" to one of the most prominent voices in media and pop culture, I think it's fabulous that he has evolved, and reached successes, and opened so many doors for himself from writing, to television, to radio...and yet he didn't seem to compromise himself. You can see and hear the growth by watching him over the years...but Charlamagne is still pretty much the same Charlamagne he always was. A real dude.

I admire him. For his honesty especially, and for reminding me that you don't have to change or conform or follow any set paths or methods of behaviour in order to achieve what is meant for you. He was true to himself first and foremost, and everything else fell into place as a result. He didn't compromise his personal values. He didn't censor himself or suck up to people in positions of influence to gain respect. The #BlackPrivilege is a reminder that everyone is in a position to influence the direction of their own life: "opportunity comes to those who create it."

He just called it like it was, and still does. And for that, the same reason that I was afraid to read his simple Tweets, I will gladly recommend this book to anyone who asks. Charlamagne is the truth.

Well done, brother.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: David Rodigan, My Life in Reggae

I am not a sound clash expert, but I am a true lover of reggae music. I love music in general, from soca to hip hop, R&B to pop/dance, but it is reggae music that speaks to my soul the most. Naturally. The lyrics, the riddims, the culture, the history, the origin, the personal/family nostalgia, and the originality are like no other genre. And for as long as I have known about reggae music...I have known about David Rodigan.

I've only heard him play live Oshawa, Ontario (of all places) probably over a decade ago. I knew about the legacy of the man, and truth be told...on the surface, it was more of an entertainment factor. An older white, British gentleman who could select and chat with the best of them. On the surface, my appreciation for him was almost novelty-based...with all due respect.

News of his book's release was good news; I didn't even hesitate before ordering a copy. I love a biography. Coupled with a love for the music, I was more than happy to read my way through this book (slowly but surely) over the past couple of months.

Should it have taken me months to read? Nope. But it did. The book started off a lot slower than I anticipated, as David Rodigan carefully described his youth, his family, and upbringing. Without rehashing the fine was average. Nothing stood out to me, and it took me a few attempts to really get into the heart and soul of his story. Not because it wasn't a great foundation...but because it wasn't the heart of the music and travelling that I was looking forward to.

As the young David became a teen, and developed a passion for reggae music, for radio broadcasting, for acting, and began to excel in his craft, I started to understanding the making of the man, and it provided a greater context for his place in reggae history. The backstory became relevant again.

He is a legend, to say the least. Not because he's a "white man" speaking patois, occasionally. And not because he's a British gentleman hanging out in Kingston and clashing the biggest, and baddest of sounds in Jamaican history. I believe David Rodigan is a legend because he is SO passionate about reggae music, and culture, and development, that he can't help but be a part of the history itself.

Aside from being able to boast about interviewing Bob Marley, attending his funeral, and having unique stories about the creation of very special dub plates from a great number of reggae greats, he can also reflect on the growth of reggae music itself. From a reggae lover's perspective. From an international perspective. From the perspective of a radio professional, and also as a fan.

He was there (albeit, across the "pond") as reggae became an international phenomenon. He witnessed the great success stories of recording artists, DJs, radio personalities, and the changing musical landscape that adjusted and grew to embrace the music.

The most endearing part about this book is the passion that Rodigan has for the music. He lived, breathed, and performed reggae music to the fullest from the beginning of his career...and continues to do so now. He advocated for reggae music on the air, he developed long lasting relationships with artists, producers, DJs, and the architects of the genre. He inspired generations of reggae lovers around the world with his own passion.

I think this is a book that every reggae lover should read. It's a great collection of stories, and it's interesting to hear the tale behind the tune. Much like his live performances, where Rodigan is known for explaining the origins of his dubs, and recapping stories and anecdotes about his interactions with specific artists, the book compiles all of these great reflections into one unit.

Even if you already know some of the stories, by default from hearing him play over the years, it is still interesting to read about how particular dub plates were created, and how certain relationships were established. From Lee Scratch Perry, to Barry Gordon, there are great flashbacks of young relationships turned into deeply respected bonds and collaborations.

The book is well written. The language flows nicely, and you gain a sense of how Rodigan thinks as well as how he speaks. Descriptions of the Bogle Dance "...a bodily contortion during which waves of energy appear to pass through the torso..." or recaps of how particular riddims sound, the stories of how he gained specific dub plates in his collection, and the soundclash recaps. The clash recaps are the greatest! He literally recounts each record played, the talks before he drops them, the counteractions from his musical opponents, and crowd responses. Towards the end of the book, it is the details of the music and experience that bring the Rodigan story to life!

Too many small incidents to recap, but I highly recommend that music lovers and reggae fans in particular give this book a read. I love that his story is far from finished. I love that this particular "chapter" of his life ended with a conversation between him and Damian Marley, who had made a suggestion that he record these incidents. The full circle moment was beautiful. From a young fan hoping to catch a word with Bob a respected colleague, talking about how to document and celebrate the culture that he helped to build. Few people are in the unique position to tell this story in it's entirety.

Rodigan: My Life in Reggae is a history lesson, a musical record, and a reggae fairy tale all in one.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Experiencing Jamaica Carnival 2017

I just HAD to visit Jamaica for carnival this year. There was no question about it. Ever since the carnival bug hit me during a 2006 "girl's trip" to Miami Carnival, the international phenomenon captured my spirit and had me doing weird and new things like listening to soca music, and playing mas...BUILDING mas, and diving head first into Toronto Carnival. I fell so hard that people close to me didn't know what was going on! In fact, many of them STILL question this niche obsession I have. But, I digress.

Like any carnival enthusiast will declare: "You HAVE to experience Trinidad, though!" Admittedly, I have been hesitant. I've seen the pictures, the videos, the fetes, and the costumes. I've heard the stories, and experienced the second-hand enthusiasm and extreme passion that people have for Trinidad Carnival. But still, I hesitated.

Jamaican in heritage, I always promised myself that I would NOT touch down on Trinidadian soil for carnival until I experienced it..."Jamaican style." Year after year, I considered planning a trip to sweet sweet T&T, but yet never felt ready in my soul, because I knew that Jamaica had to see me first. This year, I finally fulfilled that promise to myself, and found my way to Kingston, Jamaica for the 2017 Caribbean Carnival.

A few takeaways:

1) I Love Jamaica
2) Carnival Culture is Addictive
3) Every City has it's Rhythm

I did my research. Thoroughly. I watched every piece of Jamaica Carnival footage available online, and did the history of the situation to overstand what I was getting into. I looked into the bands, the participants, the DJs, and the events, and carefully constructed the perfect birthday weekend getaway to my parent's experience something that NONE of my family members (in Jamaica or abroad) had ever bothered to affiliate themselves with.

This wasn't the year for me to play mas, although all of the bands and the costumes were tempting. I've played mas for years in Toronto, but decided that this was the year for me to observe Jamaican mas, assess the situation, and decide if I would be adding Jamaica's carnival to my yearly travel routine. If so...the band/costume selection would come next. Yes, I made this more strategic than necessary...but that's just how my personal addiction goes.

To my surprise, it seems like I picked the right year to go, because news was buzzing about the 2017 carnival from early in the year. When I saw Wynford Williams on Jamaica's entertainment program "On Stage" even talking about Jamaica's carnival, I knew that it was turning up on a new level for my inaugural visit.

For starters: the addition of new bands was opening up the field and appeal in a new way way. My research let me know that Jamaica's carnival only started in the early 1990s, when Jamaican musician and beloved calypsonian Byron Lee decided to bring his love for the carnival music and culture to his homeland. Parading down the streets of Kingston, symbolically where "uptown" met "downtown," Lee wanted to create a celebratory event that would take the Trinidadian festivities...and present them with a Jamaican edge. And believe me...ain't nothing more "Jamaican" than Kingston, Jamaica.

Rather than have this new carnival just before Lent, like many other cultures across the Caribbean and South America, Lee decided to focus his activities around the Easter celebration. Now, the carnival parade (aka Road March) takes place on the Sunday after Easter Sunday.

Now, anyone that hears about Jamaica carnival presently, most likely hears about "Bacchanal Jamaica." I only recently discovered that this band (who has been the face of Jamaica's carnival since Byron Lee's passing, and subsequent hiatus of his carnival band "Jamaica Carnival" in 2008) was comprised of a few other bands: the "Oakridge," the "Raiders," and the "Revellers." These bands, who originated with Lee's carnival, had expanded over the years and took on a new challenge with building up Bacchanal Jamaica.

Carnival had previously existed at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, as early in the 1940s, but it never reached its full capacity until Byron Lee's introduction. His first carnival, which took place on April 22, 1990, has now since evolved into the biggest festival in Kingston, Jamaica...but it was not without its challenges.

Much like my own Jamaican family members and other hardcore Jamaican-nationalists in my life, I have often heard remarks that carnival is a "Trinidadian" thing, and didn't really have a place in the Jamaican cultural landscape. Coupled with religious-based resistance, the shunning of some carnival folklores and traditions, as well as an overall lack of acceptance from the Jamaican public, the carnival has managed to still experience growth in Kingston town, and particularly this year...additional corporate acceptance.

The effects on Kingston tourism were experienced first hand, as all of the hotels, car rentals, and other amenities in town were booked to capacity carnival weekend.

Now, I've been to Jamaica numerous times. Mainly to visit with family in Manchester parish, to live the tourist life on the north coast in resorts, or to swing by the hills of Kingston to visit with other family members. Kingston is a beautiful city, with it's mountains in the background, pretty glitter of lights in the hills at night, and a sunshine, humidity and heat that only a Canadian could appreciate. But it's clear that tourism isn't necessarily the shining star of the town...rather business, and academic interests.

That being said, there was still a full agenda of fetes, boat rides, shows, and other events (all-inclusive, and cooler-fete style) to electrify pockets of the Jamaican capital, leading up to the anticipated carnival day.

From Easter weekend, the festivities begin. From the beaches of Ocho Rios, straight down to Hellshire, and over to the city of Kingston, there is no lack of parties for Jamaica's carnival. What I could appreciate is that many of the brands that I recognize from Toronto, and from Trinidadian promotion, had also found a place in Kingston for carnival.

As a relative newby to carnival, and someone who still has not visited the mecca of Trinidad, I am becoming acutely aware of the trends in branding, reputation, and vibe. I even now know how to pick and choose what events match my style, and know what to expect for the most part, whether I attend at home in Toronto, or in Kingston. Yes, I am proud of this, because I have invested a lot of time and money into this addiction!

Scorch, Brainwash, Frenchmen, Suits, Caesar's Army, Sunrise, and Candy Coated were just a few of the familiar names that I saw pre-carnival, and while I was on the scene. I have grown to appreciate the international appeal of these event brands, and realize the importance of trusting and respecting the folks behind these elaborate productions. These parties are always elaborate, always well set, and you almost always walk away with a souvenir cup and a wrist band...for bragging rights, and nostalgia of course.

A few new brands that I'm pleased to add to my carnival repertoire are the new additions to Jamaica's carnival band scene: Xodus, and Xaymaca. Overall, there were four bands in total. Four bands, with separate mas camps, separate brands, costume themes...and even separate routes. Unlike Toronto Carnival, where all bands follow a linear path, with positions based on a draw...the Jamaican bands each have their own designated routes within the city. When you pick a band, therefore, you really pick a band. You don't even have to see the other trucks/masqueraders if you don't want to.

The biggest and most recognizable band, BACCHANAL JAMAICA, has their popular mas camp situated right to the north lot of Jamaica's National Stadium, and brought to vibes to Kingston for the Fridays leading up to the parade with a series of stage shows, fetes, and special events at their home base. Sponsored in part by the Jamaica Observer, Smirnoff, and TVJ--under this year's theme of Spellbound--they presented costumes like "Make a Wish," "Pixie Dust," and a variety of Frenchmen-named sections like "Frenchmen Trance" and "Frenchmen Shooting Star." On the road: soca superstar, Kes (a personal favourite) who felt like a familiar face as we participated in the road march. This is the band I chose to jump up with, because of Kes...annnnd because the band also conveniently passed my hotel, and concluded at my hotel. I was also graciously honoured with Accreditation by Bacchanal's media maven, Marcia McDonnough.

Many were happy to see the original JAMAICA CARNIVAL re-emerge for this year's carnival, as envisioned by Byron Lee. Branded heavily by Wray & Nephew, this felt like the heart of Jamaica carnival. A favourite amongst the islanders, this band's theme featured costumes like "Anansi," "Screechie," "Kisko," and "Peenie Wally," and they were joined on the road by reggae legend Beenie Man, and soca artist extraordinaire Bunji Garlin. I imagine this band may have suited my personal vibes best. I love a Bunji...and Beenie Man is Beenie Man! Would have been great to see them together!

The band XAYMACA INTERNATIONAL (pronounced Zah-My-Kah) were an exquisite group, sponsored by Sleek Jamaica, Karnival by Kandi, Leh We Go, Skkan, and national newspaper The Gleaner to name a few. This band featured costumes like "Revolution," the "Provocateur," and "Rogue." Very pretty.

XODUS CARNIVAL had the theme "It's Showtime," and were produced by Dream Entertainment Ltd., and Y.U.M.A. This premium band had one of the year's most memorable costumes in my opinion, a number called "Gold Digger," (it was my favourite) and also featured beauties "Neon Lights," and "X-Tacy."

The spectators were respectful and obedient, unlike the "unruly stormers" (kidding) that are out to destroy Toronto Carnival as we know it. In Jamaica (much like Trinidad, as I hear) there is a simple rope dividing the masqueraders from the observers, and a few marshals to politely keep the pace alongside the dancing to ensure that those who invested hundreds of American dollars for their costumes, were safe, unbothered, and free to dance and display their beauty. I realize that unlike Toronto (where everyone is determined to "jump the fence," so to speak), the Jamaica viewers had no interest in jumping up WITH the band. They were content to watch, take pictures, and enjoy the spectacle. And rightfully so.

The parade itself wasn't full of dancing and music and hype like I'm used to at home...interestingly enough, I didn't see as much road fanfare and bacchanal as I expected. And definitely less traffic and stopping. In Toronto, half the day is spent waiting for trucks to move, or finding your way back to friends in a hectic crowd of dancing and movement. In Jamaica...not so much. Trucks kept moving to the point where I almost couldn't keep up, and the pace was quick...yet not conducive to on-the-spot dancing.

One thing I could truly appreciate about the carnival that our Toronto carnival is lacking, big time: the heavy branding from alcoholic beverages, and the ability to serve and consume liquor on the road. Nuff said.

I do love the way that each Jamaican band is corporatized by their sponsors, and it really does help to differentiate who is who, and give each band a personality past their own name. I have yet to see such heavy brand association in Toronto, and think it's something that Canadian corporations could benefit from...if they only had faith in us! Again, another annoying element of why Toronto Carnival has soooooo much confusion, while even the smallest and less-established carnivals around the world seem to figure this stuff out, seamlessly.

A few things I missed overall (that Toronto NEVER lacks): Machel Montano (WHAT KIND OF CARNIVAL HAS NO MACHEL?!), sexy ass Lyrikal, and what about Ultimate Rejects, to perfect "We Jammin Still"?! I was missing a few other familiar faces of carnival and soca that I am used to invading Toronto for the bacchanal. That being said, I realize that Jamaica's carnival is considerably smaller, as is the population that supports it, so I can hold tight until...this summer, when most of the artists will forward to Toronto for a few shows before our carnival season is really in full swing. And fall, when they return. OK. I also realize that we are spoiled in Toronto and have a steady rotation of soca shows, DJs, and festivities to participate in. Right here. All the time.

Over the duration of this trip, I was reminded that we (as carnival and soca enthusiasts) are blessed to live in Toronto, and that we have the best of the best of the best at our fingertips. Venues. Artists. DJs. Costumes. Fetes. Landscape. We have been given every resource and opportunity to have one of the world's greatest carnivals. And if we can ever sort out the endless fucking bacchanal and mixup and DRAMA that surrounds the parade and its participants/management, there is absolutely no reason why Toronto carnival shouldn't be the obvious go-to carnival event, next to Trinidad itself.

But again, I digress, and will circle back on my takeaways from my experience with Jamaica's carnival:

1) I LOVE JAMAICA - What a beautiful island, beautiful people, fabulously delicious food, and a crazy vibe! Vibes on top of VIBES. My goodness! As much as all carnivals are similar in protocol, fetes, participants, and activities...there is something so specifically PERFECT about the vibe of Jamaica that can not be replaced, or imitated. I'm sure that even if I travel to Brazil or Trinidad themselves, the carnivals will not have the same place in my heart that Jamaica carnival did. There's a familiarity with the people, the language and the energy and swagger of the country that I just love (naturally), and being there during carnival time for me was just exciting beyond words. A country that I love, with music that I love, and a GOOD dose of reggae (which I imagine doesn't happen at all carnivals) made for a great experience.

2) CARNIVAL CULTURE IS ADDICTIVE - I say this, because to date I have frequented Miami Carnival quite a few times, I've only missed one Caribana in Toronto since I was 14, and I've even taken a trip to Atlanta to see what was up with their carnival. It's addictive because of the parade itself, as well as the overall joy you see on everyone's face. The familiar new batch of songs for the year...the freedom of dancing down the street, and the overwhelming presence of fancy fetes with cool paraphernalia and good times. It didn't take me long to figure out that I loved carnival culture, but I can also see how it's hard to get it out of your system. There are so many cities, and costumes, and configurations of carnival out there in the world, that you can literally make a year's worth of travel out of it...and then start again with the new year. I looked at Kes, and some of the high profile carnival bloggers like Trini Jungle Juice, and thought how easy it was for them to fill their schedules 100% with carnival-related activities. It never ends. And rightfully so!

3) EVERY CITY HAS IT'S RHYTHM - The best takeaway from my trip is that even though the carnival itself is the same in theory, every city brings it's own personality to the carnival parade. That in itself is the beauty of it. For Toronto, I think travelling down the Lakeshore is a beautiful thing...and the way the carnival takes over our metropolitan city is awesome. Jamaica carnival to me felt...really, really...Jamaican. In the heart of Kingston. Kingston: a city that many JAMAICANS don't even too travel to--unless it's to renew their passports, apply for a visa, or conduct some form of national business. Kingston: a city that everyone in the world knows is not an easy place to live, grow, or navigate. Kingston: a city with such a rich musical history in reggae music, and such a prominent energy to it. Yet the carnival somehow carves a path through the streets of this town, and makes it it's own. The rhythm of Jamaica's carnival is gritty and urban, while still remaining tropical and beautiful.

Will I return to Jamaica's carnival for 2018? There's a part of me that has already promised myself to NEVER miss this event again. I had such a unique experience, such great company, and really felt blessed to be able to celebrate my birthday with the perfect storm of things that I love.

That being said, if the funds are right and the travel partners are 'bout it, I should be back on Old Hope Road next spring on Sunday, April 8, 2018 to see what Bacchanal, Xodus, Jamaica Carnival, and Xaymaca are saying. And to see if maybe there are new bands as well! It's just how the addiction goes. You try to fight it sometimes (mainly for fiscal reasons...after all, those costumes and all-inclusive fetes do run a pretty penny)...but it's a hard battle to win. That's why it's an addiction, after all. You can't get enough of it...even when consumption defies logic. Carnival is a drug, and comes with such an exhilarating and unique feeling, that it's hard to duplicate.

I'm not sure what band I'd play mas with (they all have their appeals), but I do know that the combination of ackee and callalloo for breakfast, visiting with family members mid-day, and eating jerk chicken fresh off the outdoor drum...all before fete-ing, is probably the most interesting combination of entertainment and all of my heart's passions that I will ever experience.

Whatever the outcome for next year...I have to send a special BIG UP to everyone who helped to make this year's carnival in Jamaica a great experience for me! I had a TIME!

Here's my favourite video clip that I gathered, of Kes on the Bacchanal Jamaica truck just before they crossed the stage...

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.