Tuesday, January 21, 2020

CARNIVAL MUSIC // Carnival Leadership & Education Series by @CarnivalSpotlight

Kya Publishing's carnival-centric outlet @CarnivalSpotlight is featuring a six-part blog series, highlighting various aspect of Caribbean Carnival culture, in an effort to reflect, inform, and encourage the development and documentation of the cultural phenomenon that is celebrated and revered by Caribbean natives, descendants, and supporters around the globe. From a Canadian perspective, we will give an overview and list recommended next steps for those who are curious about and/or committed to sustaining and enhancing the culture that inspires the lives of thousand of international revellers, creatives, and participants each year.

We are all stimulated by a range of external factors, and the power and influence of said factors can drive us to engage in particular behaviours, attend certain events, and invest our time in money in very specific activities. For me, that stimuli is music. It never fails. Particularly when it comes to Caribbean music, it's virtually impossible to ignore the spiritual effects that the combination of drums, riddims, instruments, dialects, and production has on me. I admire the creations, and the creativity. I applaud just how intrinsically beautiful and addictive the sounds are.

Reggae and soca music evoke different emotions from me, although both are driven purely from my soul. When it comes to soca/calypso music in particular, the music drives me towards towards paying attention to and participating in the ritual of carnival. Regardless of the other factors of engagement, it is primarily the music that explains and justifies this interest of mine. It is the music that rests at the root of everything that is beautiful and authentic about carnival culture. The music guides with power.


It's now late January of 2020, and that means one thing: Trinidad carnival is right around the corner. Have I ever attended the mecca of all carnivals? No, regrettably. Not yet anyhow. Have I invested time, attention, and passion into this spectacular ritual? Absolutely, I have. Most recently, I have been motivated to write this six-part Carnival Leadership & Education Series as an outlet for this unshakeable passion and interest of mine. This is my way of contributing to the constantly evolving carnival culture. This is my method of building the online archive of information and context for this festive phenomenon. For the year 2020, this is how I would like to celebrate my love for carnival, and do my part to help sustain its existence.

I love the way the the songs of each season frame the memories and experiences. I love that immediately upon hearing an old soca track, you can place exactly what year it was by the costume you wore on the road that year, who you spent time with, or what events you attended. The music is so specifically tied to the experience of carnival, and the songs and artists are such a carefully orchestrated piece to the overall experience.

From the new season's songs start to roll out in late fall, until they become vaguely familiar in the turn of the new year and weeks leading up to Trinidad carnival, the music alone reminds you of the power, the energy, and the pure force of Caribbean carnival. The music directs the entire experience in the best and most memorable of ways.


The artists are magical. To list them, or reference them each individually would be nearly impossible. Each artiste has their own style and essence of joy that they bring to the scene. They are all equally important pieces to the overall puzzle. I will always love the legends of my time growing up listening to soca: Machel and Bunji, and of course Destra and Patrice. As I grew in my love for soca, I became familiar with so many others and I continue to embrace the new artists that prove themselves to be legends in the making with each passing season, like Voice, Preedy, and Nailah Blackman for example.

Another wonderful element: each island has its own specific sound, cadence, instrumental preference, and energy that they bring to Caribbean music in general, and soca music in particular.

I love the ways in which Caribbean folk are innately drawn to the music of their particular region of origin, through loyalty and of course, cultural familiarity. How the folks from St. Vincent love Vincy soca, and how the folks from Barbados love Bajan soca. I love the Grenadian vibe, the sound of jab jab, and would love to learn more about Dominica and Haitian music. There are so many levels that may not get the same mainstream carnival love as the Trinidadians do (and naturally so), that makes this cultural experience one that still has elements to uncover.


As a Jamaican descendant, I am hard pressed to "choose" between soca and dancehall music, but at the same time, would love nothing more than for the Jamaican soca to establish it's own sound. I just saw a video with Usain Bolt joining forces with Ultimate Rejects, and literally lost my shit. I may be listening to Trini soca most of the time, and connecting with Trini culture on a level...but as soon as a Jamaican even remotely enters the arena, I am 100% there. I love how Bolt loves carnival, and I love what his love has brought to the celebration of carnival overall...in Trinidad and Jamaica. That resonates with me.

I would love to see a Jamaican Soca Monarch, and every part of me feels like this is something that may never happen. Jamaican/reggae artists have been recording calypso music since Byron Lee embraced and developed the culture in 1970's Jamaica. We as Jamaicans are no strangers to the sound or passion behind it.

Konsens, Charley Black, and Busy Signal have easily ridden soca riddims over the years, and I love them for it. Vegas was a pro at it, and Beenie Man even dabbled in soca for a while. I just saw a Vybez Kartel and Machel collab and I love everything about it. But each year, as Trinidad Carnival passes and Jamaica carnival approaches, I think how great it would be to have an established Jamaican Soca Monarch. Linky First came close in 2017, when he was a contender with "Rock and Come In."


The sound of soca is fluid, as are most genres to an extent. And each year there's a trend, and a vibe that the artists naturally run with. I believe that the closer soca and dancehall came together, the easier it was for the artists to collaborate. In fact, there are times when you can't tell if the dancehall song is soca, or if the soca song is dancehall. The easiest way has been to decipher using the artist's origin. If it's Bunji Garlin: soca. If it's Busy Signal: dancehall. Simple.

I always try to see what the advances in Jamaican soca culture are, because the mix of both cultures is exceptionally exquisite to my ears and soul. I believe there was a Jamaican Soca Monarch competition in April of 2000 sponsored by Tastee...but I haven't been able to find any evidence of a similar competition afterwards. While the documentation may seem trivial at time, the conversations are worth having and reporting! I am a firm believer of this.

When asked what would need to happen for Jamaican soca music to advance, a few years ago in an online article from Sleek Jamaica, a few surveyed Jamaican DJs unanimously indicated that an increase in soca production would need to originate in Jamaica for their to be a distinct "Jamaican soca" sound and value...and subsequent Monarchs.

DJ Taj noted the change in music over the years, as Jamaicans have increasingly embraced the presence of soca in parties, and DJ Richie Ras was in support of Jamaican producers developing more music in the genre. DJ Lantern felt as though the exposure to carnival (which is increasing exponentially in Jamaica now) was essential to fully understanding carnival culture, and DJ Franco said that with production, Jamaica could sustain enough artists to hold down their own Monarch for the season.


Because of the music, you can see that even fete culture has expanded from being Trinidad-centric, to finding permanence across North America, and also on other islands come carnival time. Brands like Duck Work, Vale Vibe, and Soca Brainwash have found their way to Jamaican land and are increasing in popularity with each Jamaican carnival season. It's the music, driving the change, driving the enterprise, and allowing for a larger picture of how the culture can expand and inspire change.

Fete culture can be viewed as a result of the music as well, and in addition to the visiting brands like those of DJ Private Ryan, local DJs also are learning towards branding annual events, rather than simply promoting and participating in one-off fetes and parties. In Toronto, we have quite a few steady brands in Caribbean music that have been taking place for ten years or more. The culture definitely evolved, and there was a time when major American brands or radio stations had our influence, but now homegrown soca DJs and promoters can pull in huge holiday weekend crowds and carnival attendees just based on brands that were developed right here in Canada.


To advance as leaders, there requires a firm foundation to be able to monitor and lead as is. Trinidad is currently the obvious leader when it comes to the production and celebration of Caribbean Carnival, based on the meticulous way they have created and sustained a viable economic structure for their carnival to exist.

While it is easy to support and endorse Trinidad while brushing off other less-meticulous and economically questionable carnival music scenes (like, ahem, the scene here in Toronto)...we also have to realize that it takes a village to form before the leader can emerge. To start, we can take a look at the leaders that already exist in our community: the musicians, the vocalists, the panists, and calypsonians. The elders of their craft, who currently reside in Toronto: who are they? Where and when do they perform?

From there, we can take a look at the up-and-coming Caribbean musicians, who have chosen to follow in the tradition of soca and calypso, and not yet gone over to hip hop and trap music. We can continue to support their efforts and endorse the leaders that currently exist, as well as uplift and encourage the leaders in training.

While there are increasingly more producers at home, crafting and creating riddims and movements, we have to always pay homage to the musicians and instrumentalists who are also honing their crafts and providing the authentically pure sounds to accompany the computerized vibrations.


Toronto's steel pan scene is vibrant, and just passing by a pan yard pre-Carnival in Toronto is a tradition and welcome addition to the summer activities. We have to give credit to the Ontario Steel Pan Association, that has been around since 2003 and continues to produce their flagship event, the Pan Alive competition that takes place on Carnival Friday at Lamport Stadium.

From groups like the Toronto All Stars Steel Orchestra headed by Salmon Cupid, or Wendy Jones and the Pan Fantasy Steel Band, there is no shortage of talented pannists in Toronto. Afropan Steelband has been around since 1973 under the leadership of founder and arranger Earl La Pierre Senior, and management by one of his musical sons Earl La Pierre Junior.

Educator and performer Joy Lapps heads up the SteelPan Experience, instructing others on her instrument of mastery, and Tropicana Community Services offers a steelpan program to local youth in Toronto. There is Panatics, and the Silhouettes, and even Symphony X in Stony Creek. New Dimension, or Steelpan with Suzette Vidale...so many instrumentalists have emerged as leaders just within this one instrument in Toronto, and have paved the way for many youth to enjoy and perform and sustain the beautiful sound of the steel pan.

While the individual performers do not always get face time or due recognition, it is important that we pay attention to who these leaders are, and the contributions and sacrifices they are making for the music, and for the culture overall. While the DJs and producers are making waves in the club and driving the international soca brand...in community centres, and other gatherings and practice environments, the musicians are also doing their part to sustain the beauty of soca and calypso music.


The local music instructors, programs, and schools in your town will love it if you come to their annual recital, performances, and endorse the young and new performers they are training. Music education, while not always culturally diverse in the provincial/municipal education systems, can still be beautiful and nostalgia-evoking for cultural reasons.

If you are unable to support the concerts in person, perhaps you can purchase a few tickets, or donate the amount of the ticket to the organization. It's important to keep these businesses in operation, and to encourage the young to learn their craft and sustain it. Just as we need to teach the next generation about Super Blue, Calypso Rose, and Byron Lee, we also need to educate them on the musicians behind the artists and the theory behind the DJs and producer's technical skills. We have to nurture the systems of education that allow the professionals to exist and create.


Here are a few recommendations. We've touched on soca artists, various islands, and briefly looked at the influence of DJs and producers, and even pannists. Let's take it a step further and I challenge you to find out who the local soca artists are in your town, or the nearest major city near you. Check out their music online, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and follow them on IG. Make an effort to get to know more about them, and even go out and support one of their shows when possible. If you find someone unique, tag us on Instagram at @CarnivalSpotlight and we'd be happy to share the good news and sounds!

Find out about the other local Caribbean musicians in your town, and see if you can find any old stories or footage of their contributions to the culture. Maybe on an old recording, or film. Other than the steelpan, see who the keyboardists and brass players are. The drummers. Where in your city do they practice, and what organizations are they affiliated with?

It's easy to connect with soca artists, soca DJs, and to enjoy music at festivals and fetes. Let's take it a step further and pay attention to the music and scene on a new island every now and then...there's so many to choose from. Let's look at the traditional Caribbean instruments like the steel pan, and try to uplift that portion of the carnival celebration. Investigate the artists, and song writers, and the other musicians who work to advance and enhance the craft.

I say "let's" because it is a lot of information to uncover and investigate at once, as an individual. I'm pretty sure I could research and entertain a full Ph.D. dissertation on the possibility of the Jamaican Soca Monarch becoming a "thing"...

@CarnivalSpotlight is here, and our objective is very intentional. I'm here as a writer a communication specialist, with a specific commitment to cultural arts. I'm committed, and as long as I can write, and as long as I can hear the sweet sounds of soca music, I will do my best to research, communicate, and share what I believe to be the most beautiful and inspiring and liberating culture on earth. I will proudly do my part to help to inform and share (and enjoy!) the music of my people: the music that brings so many people so much joy and self-understanding.

We encourage you to directly engage with your local Caribbean Carnival community, endeavour to understand the culture on a deeper level, and consistently contribute to the ongoing development and cultural enterprise of the carnival industry.

In an effort to preserve the contemporary Toronto Caribbean Carnival experience, we wrote a fictional book about one Toronto couple's introduction to the world of soca music and mas; "Carnival Spotlight" is a part of Kya Publishing's Urban Toronto Tales novel and short story collection, written by Stacey Marie Robinson.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Author Profile // Jennifer Harris: "She of the Woods"


A Profile of Author Jennifer Harris

She wrote and self-published her first children’s book “What About Me?” during the summer of 2019. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in the summer of 1992, the 27-year-old writer and poet Jennifer Harris began penning stories as an imaginative child, completing her first tale for a class project at the age of nine.

Along with her compassionate spirit, writing is her gift. Within her first year of composing, her teacher at Kingston Elementary School entered Jennifer into the annual Young Author’s Conference for emerging writers. Not only did Jennifer win the contest, but she was also awarded a position at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

Restrictions of poverty and limited access to additional resources to support her opportunity made it difficult for Jennifer—who lived with her parents—to attend the arts institution. Nonetheless, she continued her journey, attended a public high school, and excelled in English and the social sciences. During high school, she also developed a love of sports and applied science and was able to transition smoothly into Troy University with an excellent academic record.

Despite her natural passion for writing and the arts, Jennifer set her post-secondary sights on health studies and science. At Troy, she studied pre-med and hoped to implement her passion for sports into a career as a doctor. Admittedly, her early college years were often pensive, as she contemplated a few directions to take her medical career. The medical field was a definite passion, and sports were also an identifiable interest, so Jennifer focused her academics in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management.

“I always find myself coming back around to the medical field in some aspect,” said Jennifer, who currently works in a healthcare facility as a medical assistant. Realizing that the pursuit of a sports industry vocation was possibly a short-lived phase, she still is drawn to health care as a profession. As for sports: a few yoga classes and recreational activities with her children is where she is comfortably engaged post-university, with her Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management and extensive knowledge in hand.

The change in vocation didn’t alter the enjoyment of Jennifer’s professional activities. Settled comfortably into the medical field and her position at the urgent care center, she recognized that she would have really been comfortable in either setting and credits her ability to “vibe with almost anyone” for allowing her to settle in and operate authentically at her workplace, and outside of the facility.

“I’m goofy,” she also noted. In addition to possessing a playful side, Jennifer also owns a few other personality traits that easily connect her with peers and colleagues. “I’m also laid back at times, spiritual, optimistic, and a pep talker. I am all of those things.”

Fun and free-spirited, Jennifer comfortably adopts the little sister role amongst her peers and is drawn to nurturing associates as a result. She confesses that while she’s often the one that wants to have a good time—and who doesn’t mind occasionally embracing immaturity—she is also aware that when it comes to dispensing advice, her friends will promptly look in her direction.

“I always view things from three perspectives,” Jennifer admitted, which is why her friends tend to lean on her support and guidance. “I also come with tons of emotional and spiritual support, which is intangible.”

Whether being nurtured by her friends, or providing advice to her friends, Jennifer naturally pours this wisdom and empathy into her writing and hopes that her words can be a source of empowerment and enlightenment for her readers. Particularly for women. Specifically, through her latest book “She of the Woods.”

“I hope that women take their sense of self love, and their own divine power from my book while reading it,” she admitted. “Through all of the darkness that may have taken place in their lives, that may have caused them to lose sight of who they are as a woman, I hope they see the beauty behind the madness.”

Inspiring women's strength is a key component of the inspiration behind her words, and her commitment to being a writer. Jennifer noted that having the ability to peel back layers of uncertainty, and unmasking authenticity were goals she had for her readers.

“You are your own strength, and there is so much magic within you,” she declared, a heartfelt message to women. Jennifer deems that in their purest form, all women are “beautiful, magical, and powerful beings.”

While she empathizes particularly with the journey of  women, Jennifer believes her books and her art are for everyone: those who are touched by her work, and those who feel uplifted as a result of her messaging.

“Anyone that moves my spirit is inspirational,” she admits. When looking for musical inspiration in particular, Jennifer turns to the melodies and lyrical passages of Jhene Aiko, Sza, Sabrina Claudio, Erykah Badu, and Londrelle. “Thich Nhat Hahn and Don Miguel Ruiz are my inspiration as well.”

The cadences and pace of music, combined with her passion and talents for wordsmithing, made the transition to poetry a natural one, completing her ability to compose fiction. It wasn’t long before Jennifer was a featured guest on the Words Beat Poetry podcast with Adam Messner, highlighting the publication of her new poetry book: “She of the Woods.”

"Writing is my calling. I’ve tried many things to find my niche, but I always came back to what truly expresses my creativity...and that is writing,” said Jennifer. “Whether it be short stories, spoken word, poems, or novels, I refer to myself as a storyteller because I don’t fit into one genre.”

The spoken word, the poetry, and the fiction writing are all based on Jennifer’s love for self-discovery and spiritual clarity. “All of my words result in searching inward to find answers and allowing the spirit to rise above the ego. It’s all about helping someone reach their authenticity and release the answers to every question they’ve ever had to ask.”

To seek her own answers, she also draws on nature, enjoys hiking, and potentially even one day camping out in the woods to truly connect with the elements. Jennifer anticipates continuing her creative journey and intends to write more books, more short stories, and eventually even try her hand at plays, scripts, and movie screenplays: “I just see myself with many different roles as a writer under my belt.”

Since her beginnings in Alabama, Jennifer has resided in other southern states. She moved from Georgia to Florida, back to Alabama, and then settled in Georgia where she currently resides. Classifying herself as a “wanderer,” she doesn’t like to dwell in the same location for too long and changes her surroundings and environment as often as possible.

“I have the heart of an adventurer—a nomad,” said Jennifer who will always have love for her Alabama roots. “My environment forced me to be fearless and want to become an explorer. I always wanted more and knew that there was more out there for me.”

In addition to her two books, Jennifer has also recorded a spoken word piece entitled “Creations” that is available through iTunes. As long as she is able to travel and experience new surroundings and relationships, Jennifer will be committed to documenting her journey through poetry, musings, and lyrics. She will continue to write, continue to inspire those around her, and continue to leave her legacy as someone who follows her own intuition, and encourages others to also seek their own personal paths to clarity and joy.

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

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book Review: "Scarborough (a novel)" by Catherine Hernandez

I was born in Scarborough, and returned to live in the eastern part of Toronto about ten years ago. I chose to live here because I love it here and therefore I definitely wouldn't miss the opportunity to read a novel exclusively dedicated to the community I walk and drive through every day.

Written by Catherine Hernandez--also a Scarborough resident--a theatre practitioner and writer of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese, and Indian heritage. She has carefully captured the voices of a community of characters who also represent a range of nationalities, in addition to various ages, experiences, and stages in development.

Our little town doesn't always get a good rap. In fact, residents of any other part of the Greater Toronto Area from Brampton straight through to Oshawa most likely have a different perception of this part of the city than the actual residents do. I won't even repeat any of the stereotypes circulating for years about Scarborough (because it's safe to say that every region from Peel to Durham experiences their own unique challenges and concerns), but I do embrace the fact that there are so many different kinds of people that live here, and that's what makes it unique. Anyone--and everyone--can feel culturally at home in Scarborough.

Photo via Queen's Gazette
In this particular novel, in one particular area of Scarborough, Hernandez brings us into the homes and hearts of the children and families that cross paths through their local residences, a shelter, and a Literacy Program that operates out of a local elementary school. The Program Facilitator of the Program, Hina Hassani, is a compassionate connector between individuals, lessons, resources, and emotions.

Each of the characters in this compassionate novel are lovable--even those who are questionable in behaviour and opinions at times. Each chapter takes us into a different lifestyle, a different thought process, and a different person as they navigate their day and readers have the opportunity to experience Scarborough through their eyes...as well as learn about what it takes for them to get through each day.

Author Catherine Hernandez
This book goes straight to the heart. The stories are beautiful, and tragic, and inspiring...and yet there's still a deep sadness that exists even when the characters achieve their small triumphs and experience joy. Between the seasons, the days, the experiences, and the conversations, we are able to get to know Ms. Hina and how she respectfully nurtures and educates the children in her program, while sharing and embracing their parents and allowing them to maintain dignity through her food giving and clothes sharing processes.

There are no stereotypes here: just realities. Realities for particular Scarborough pockets, or any low-income neighbourhood where residing in shelters, accepting food donations, and relying on community support are customary. These conditions aren't tied to one particular race or demographic. Just like a ride on the Eglinton 86 or the RT: there are white folks, black folks, Asian and South Asian folks, and indigenous North Americans/Canadians. The mosaic is as Scarborough as the TTC routes, and the living conditions see no colour in this particular story.

Mental illness, poverty, child care, gender issues, and abuse are unfortunate issues that the characters learn to cope with, succumb to, or overcome within the pages of Hernandez' novel. And you can feel the cold in the under-dressed, and smell the funk of the under-groomed. The characters are vivid and relatable even in their worst predicaments, for they are just Torontonians trying to make it through...with their own unique circumstances to take on.

Photo via Toronto.com
The bad times are bad...but the moments of happiness are sweet in this novel as well! There's a dancing moment of triumph for a boy named Bing, and a very sweet friendship with him and a classmate girl named Sylvie. There are wonderful parent-child bonds, and so many moments of support and love between community members. Parents celebrating progress with their children, and children relishing in small joys with one another.

Overall, is it the character of Hina that I truly love because not only does she serve as the story's anchor and narrative of sorts, but she also stays committed to her work. She is the hope in this novel, because she is able to witness the commonalities and provide a safe space for individuals to grow, express their dignity, and dream. She is pure in her love for community, and diplomatic when communicating with her superiors and fighting against institutional challenges.

Photo via Toronto Star
There are many lessons and glories within the pages of "Scarborough," and the message that resonates most of all with me is that everyone has their issues. Whether in Scarborough, or in Ajax, or in Markham, or Woodbridge...everyone is faced with issues that stand between their daily routine and achieving their greatest dreams. The main difference at times is just circumstance, resources, and even morale. You feel this when you see even the most simple of gestures from one character to another make a great different in outlook and activity.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Scarborough" and thank the staff member (Jasmine) at the Scarborough Town Centre Indigo who highlighted this book as a "staff pick" and drew my attention to the shelf display to motivate my purchase.

Needless to say, as someone who is committed to promoting and celebrating cultural stories, I know that "Scarborough" is the type of book that has to exist. Often. Across generations. It shows us about ourselves, reminds us about others, and particularly for those of us who live in Toronto...it is an up-close-and-personal look at the lives of the folks we pass every day, and a deeper understanding of challenges that we may not have encountered...yet.

An excellent book, an excellent town, and I commend Catherine Hernandez (CatherineHernandezCreates.com) for the way in which she handled the complexities of Scarborough, the sensitive issues, and the cultures with compassion, accuracy, and hope.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Rebel Salute Media Launch Highlights Features of Roots Reggae Festival in January 2020

What better way to start off a new year than with the beautiful and spacious outdoor landscape of Grizzly's Plantation Cove in St. Ann's Jamaica, taking in an assortment of the finest reggae artists from past, present, and future, and committing January 17 and 18, 2020 to the celebration of music and the preservation of culture that is the annual Rebel Salute roots reggae festival? Last night at the AC Marriott hotel in Kingston--and simultaneous streamed online to hundreds of media personnel and supporters around the globe--Tony Rebel's festival launched its 27th edition with fervour and confidence.

All of the favourite elements of the traditional Rebel Salute festivities were presented, as expected: the Herb Curb will return, for example, for the education and enjoyment of sacramental marijuana use and awareness. Representatives from the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF), Courts furniture, Enterprise car rentals, and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport were in attendance to share well wishes, outline festival protocol, and share words of inspiration to attendees and virtual supporters watching online.

Musical performances for the media launch were carefully selected to pay homage to reggae's greats, to provide a platform to reggae's talented newcomers, and to give listeners a preview of the vibe and energy that is just a month away when the 2-day festival of everything roots reggae returns.

I had the pleasure of attending Rebel Salute earlier this year, and my physical presence in Jamaica and within arm's reach of the most powerful forces in reggae music made an extreme impact on my year's lens and my musical appetite. As a Jamaican descendant, it spoke to my soul and history on spiritual levels that are almost indescribable.

Now that another year has passed by and it's time for the festival again, I instantly felt that familiar sense of pride and anticipation knowing that this amazing event was just weeks away, and that reggae lovers and music lovers around the world would soon be in the midst of  that positive energy and beautiful composition of sounds.

The live media launch experience online is appreciated, because supporters like me all the way up in Toronto still get to feel a part of the production process. We get to hear the news, the guest speakers, and the lineup unveiled in real time. We get to witness the excitement on the faces of Tony Rebel and Queen Ifrica, and invest in the festival as if it was our own.

Most importantly, it is the excellence with which the speakers present their passions and purpose in uplifting and communicating the special elements of Brand Jamaica that always motivates me.

Tony Rebel was a fitting, comfortable, and authentic host for the evening, controlling the night's pace and visibly excited at the sounds of the Riddim 2000 band and the accompanying vocalists for the night. His love for reggae music is evident and it makes the festival feel like a true presentation of passion. He is the perfect host, and the perfect ambassador for this movement, now entering its 27th year under his expert leadership. He proudly stated: "We participate in the preservation of this music."

It was awesome to hear performances from Queen Omega, from Imeru Tafari, Mortimer, Miss Chee, Heavyweight Rockaz, Stevie Pace, George Nooks, Mikey Spice and Singing Melody, and of course Tony and Ifrica blessed the microphone as well.

The Mayor of St. Ann's Bay, Michael Belnavis spoke to the economic benefits of Rebel Salute to the parish, businesses, and individuals. A proud host of of the festival, he expressed that the event was "indigenous" to St. Ann, and that many were blessed with the "direct and indirect employment opportunities" as a result of the annual staging. He also communicated a great statistic, stating that over 40% of festival attendees came to Rebel Salute from abroad which not only spoke to the consistent quality of production, but also the enjoyment of the vacation and travel opportunities surrounding the festival as well.

Michael Dawson of Strictly Roots water is always a pleasure to listen to, as he spoke to elements of his products and the digital link each bottle has to African news and facts (via QR code). He also marked the significance of the 2020 staging, as it marks 100 years since Marcus Garvey's gathering in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Mark Pike of Enterprise Car Rentals described Rebel Salute as a "resurrection of Jamaican consciousness," and also a "nexus between rebellion and righteousness." Describing the mission of Enterprise to simplify the mobility journey for Jamaicans, Rebel Salute attendees, and returning Jamaican residents and tourists, he announced the 20% discount that would be applied to car rentals leading up to Rebel Salute, and continuing through Reggae Month 2020.

The Minister of Tourism Donovan White quoted from a study of music festivals, and the impact they have on host destinations. In respect to Brand Jamaica, he noted the effect of Rebel Salute's presence on tourism, and contributing overall to generating a positive image of Jamaica as a destination, along with the loyalty to the festival itself.

Minister Olivia Grange and the JCF Superintendent Calvin Small also spoke to the importance of Rebel Salute in celebrating the image and enjoyment of Jamaican culture, and their dedication to doing so professionally and deliberately with an attention to detail and enjoyment for patrons and the reggae community-at-large.

At the festival, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport will be hosting a booth for Reparations (based on the upcoming docu-film that will celebrate the International Decade for People of African Descent) as well as to energize young people to action. She credited the festival as being "the world's most outstanding roots and culture festival" that specifically spoke to the music conscious folks, globally.

Keynote speaker Stephen L. Drummond, respected legal expert and partner in Drummond & Squillace law firm, was passionate in his address to musicians and supporters of Rebel Salute, expressing his gratitude for Jamaica and admiration of the billion dollar worldwide reggae music industry. He urged individuals to take careful heed to the performance, protection, and preservation of reggae music. Notably so, his firm has recently been involved in the defence of reggae artist Flourgon in his copyright infringement case against pop artist Miley Cyrus for use of his lyrics.

With words of advice for those in the music industry, Drummond urged artists to ensure that they were legally protected, and surrounded themselves with the right team including managers, accountant, business folk, public relations experts, and legal assistance. He counselled that artists should seek mentorship from leaders like Tony Rebel, and learn the backstory and from their experiences in addition to tradition guidance.

Significantly, he spoke with love about Jamaica, the teachings of his grandmother, the discipline of his community members, and the soul of the island that formed and nurtured and moulded his values from a young age before moving to the United States. He asked listeners and attendees to value Jamaica, Jamaican culture, and to harness the special power and influence contained in the island.

Also in support of Reggae Salute's mission and presentation, the highlighted sponsors were acknowledged, from Enterprise, the Jamaica Tourist Boat, Strictly Roots Water, the Marriott and Cardiff hotels, radio supporters Hits 92FM, Irie FM, and media outlet the Jamaica Star. Jamaica Tours Limited, TV Jamaica, the Knutsford Express, and the Ministry of Culture were also listed as some of the event's contributing sponsors.

The much anticipated lineup of artists announced included: Lady G, I-Wayne, Singing Melody, Beenie Man, Leroy Sibbles, Sugar Roy, a special hour of comedy from Johnny, Carl Malcolm, Lone Rangers, Michigan, a dance performance from Chi Ching Ching, Queen Ifrica, Flourgon, Sanchez, and returning Ugandan artist Bobi Wine. Many were anticipating the announcement of Buju Banton, but I imagine that will be a treat saved for later release, if it is going to be a feature of the show...and at this point, it only makes sense!

Now that the launch has passed, I patiently await the promotions, announcements, and other details yet to be released. I look forward to the increase in excitement as the countdown continues. And if by chance I don't find myself in Jamaica next month, grooving to the sounds of Sanchez and Sugar Roy, then I most definitely will be logged on to continue the support of the music and culture that ultimately and consistently drives my soul to the sweetest of highs.

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Jesus is King" Album Review // Once Again Kanye Creates A Moving Musical Experience

I'm a fan. I've always been a Kanye West fan. Antics and all. Actually, sometimes I feel like it's because of the antics why I can appreciate Kanye's creative journey even more. This industry is not for the weak, nor is it for the super strong. Sane, insane, or otherwise. We know it's a mess. We know it's hard to navigate, as are fame, scrutiny, and aging. Some of us are old enough now to have lived and witnessed the full career trajectory of so many of our favourite artists. For me, Kanye west is one of those favourites.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm at the point where I can take all of his music, good and bad (and there's definitely been some baaaaad), because I'm now more interested in the long-term progression of his sound and his mind and can overlook the glitches and questionable judgement at times. On a personal level, it's difficult...on a musical level, it continues to intrigue me.

Sure, I could have done without the red MAGA hat. Absolutely, his comments on slavery were disappointing, to say the least. The Taylor Swift thing, the Kardashian link up, there are a plethora of reasons why Kanye West is not to be liked or to be easily dismissed. And then...on the other side of the proverbial scale there is just one reason: the music. OK two reasons: the music, and the production!!


I'm writing this in real-time as I listen to the "Jesus is King" album for the first time. Why? Because that's what good music does to me, it inspires words to form, and fingers to type, and vibes to turn up. Good music is the consummate conduit for productivity, as far as I'm concerned. More often than not, I have experienced these vibes at the hands of Kanye.

I didn't know when the album was coming out. I was hoping for last night, but when that didn't happen I stopped paying attention. Funny how my automatic response when I heard the first song today was to get to my laptop and write...it is an automatic response at this point. The music moved me. Literally.

It was the video clips of his pop-up Sunday Service concerts that drew me back into Ye this time around. Starting in Calabassass with a handful of California's elite gathered around a then relatively unknown gospel concert, mounted on a hill and raising their hands in praise. It was quaint. It was moving. It was spiritual, and I appreciated the attention pointed upwards...instead of on his shoes, his wife, his brand, on the President, or onto other Kanye-esque gimmicks.

Selah. Is. Officially. My. Track. That's the excerpt of choir singing "he is wonderful" that I have been binge watching for months now, and I was hoping the passage would find its way into the album. Phew. Love it. The spirit of it is impeccable.


Boy, this album is moving quickly. So where was I...yes, I appreciated the nod towards Jesus, and the collective voices of worship, and the African-American soul, and the natural feeling of gratitude that the choir evoked. What's not to like?

I ignored the Kanye doubters/haters over the past couple of years, and continued to tune in to the Sunday Services. Eventually more "stars" started to show up at the outdoor sessions, and then the outdoor sessions moved indoors, into domes and churches...and then they went on tour. As this was transpiring, I was able to connect online with many of the talented musicians participating in the musical experience. The choir members. The keyboardists. The other instrumentalists, and they too became familiar faces on my IG timeline.

I appreciate that this style hasn't changed much. He's singing much less, which is a relief. His cadence and thought processes still remain. They've evolved, but they're classic Kanye at heart.


A music lover from birth, I loved everything about the organic joining of the instruments at the Sunday Service, the passionate voices, and of course the creative genius of Mr. West, sitting behind his keyboard, jamming to his own gospel interpretations of various R&B hits. How do you not love a choir's rendition of Soul II Soul, Genuwine, and other classic songs? It was brilliant! A clever way to bring the "secular" and the "spiritual" together in a joint love for sound.

These song are really brief and to the point, right? They're flying by.


When the Sunday Service began to tour, I was excited each and every time the new footage emerged, and I had the opportunity to see the effect that the singers, and the dance moves had on the music. I thought to myself, that it was a good move for Kanye to use his influence and visibility for good. To bring good energy, and good messages through music to crowds of supporters, fans, and curious on-lookers.

I almooooost made it to the Chicago show, at the invite of an Illinois-based friend, but the last minute timing made it near impossible. I contemplated the Detroit staging, watched the Howard Homecoming longingly, and sat in sheer envy of the pop-up at Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica the other day. It was a movement that I wanted to be a part of, simply because it felt so good. The music reverberated. The choirs moving in unison moved me, visually. The spirit of God was coming through Kanye's productions...and I appreciated it.

The implementation of choir is something that I've loved about Kanye in previous works of his. My favourite Ye album My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy (2010) was very musical, and very spiritual in a way that inspired me beyond words. I have craved that level of album-listening experience ever since. I had yet to find a series of songs that moved so beautifully in narrative (and visual, thanks to the extended music video) like that album did.


The music listening experience has changed for me drastically over the years. Where I used to be a serial album-buyer, and someone who didn't mind spending money to get a physical musical product in my hands...the digital/streaming era has not been a productive one for me. I'm sure I have missed out on a lot of gems because of my inability to seek, download, and listen to new compositions this way. While I'll definitely listen to DJ mixes and tune into the radio during musical listening opportunities, I found it more and more distracting to have to use an Apple Music or Spotify to hear what I needed to hear. Yeah. I miss CDs.

That being said, DJ Khaled and 2 Chainz had awesome albums this year that I streamed...and never listened to again, just by way of delivery method. If don't catch the top hits in the club or through other mainstream methods, I rarely dig into the "B-side" tracks like I used to. Perhaps it's a generational error, but I do feel the effects on my relationship with newly released music. Particularly hip hop. Soca and reggae have other means of keeping up, that have remained constant regardless of technology.

So I'm happily taking in Kanye's album RIGHT NOW...hot off the presses, and in real time. I'm not going to even go back online until I've listened to it in its entirety. When the pundits, the fans, the naysayers, and the gossip outlets start to critique and analyze this album obsessively over the next 24 hours, I need to know that I've heard every single instrument, riddim, and lyric and had the opportunity to form an unbiased opinion. I do admit, that my opinion may expand as a result.

At present, I like what I hear. It sounds like Kanye. It sounds like I figured it would sound, and I can appreciate that. It's on brand, it feels spiritual and musical, and everything that I've loved about the 7-month Sunday Service marketing campaign that he's embarked on, leading up to this album's release.

Part of the joy of taking in a project by Kanye West, and other creative minds, is that the entire experience is a process. Their personal life, their public remarks and actions, and then the steps they take in the months and days leading up to their latest project.

I hated to watch him break down in the Oval Office hugging up that man, and I was saddened to hear when his mental health issues had him hospitalized, overweight, and subdued. It's been tough to watch him suffer and as a legit fan, I tried to remain open to his experience and really tried not to judge him too harshly as he was clearly going through some shit.

On the flip side now, the choirs, and the praying, and the Bible, and the pseudo-preaching...I dig it. It shows evolution. It shows growth. Even if it is just a Kardashian-level elaborate marketing scheme, at LEAST the scheme is leading people back to God. At least it's led me to at least a dozen singers and instrumentalists who have dedicated their life to praise. If this was all just a fancy trick to get us to "buy" his album (do people still buy online through streaming...I actually have no idea?!)...then it worked.

The deadlines, and missed deadlines, due dates, and past due dates, it's all been a roller coaster and test of patience for fans that have been eager to hear what has been brewing in Kanye's mind over the past year. The false alarms and video releases, etc. It's been a trip to say the least.


Wait, that's it? The album is done? That wasn't very long, was it? I think I need to start again and take it in on another level now. This is the part of the process I love. I'm pretty sure I'll be listening to nothing else for the remainder of the weekend. It's weird, it's frustrating, and it's hard to figure out...but I enjoy the process because of the way I feel right now. INSPIRED.

I want to hear what future Kanye is up to...at 50 and what 65-year-old Kanye is producing. And beyond. The journey has been nothing less than interesting and entertaining thus far, and I'm definitely here for the long haul.

OK. That last song was literally 30 seconds.

Kanye is something else. I've been telling y'all since '05. That's on God.

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

Monday, September 30, 2019

RECONNECTED // Artist Mark Stoddart features Scarborough Legends and Community Stories through Nuit Blanche Exhibit

Familiarity feels good, particularly when it is coupled with success and social movement. When the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championships this past summer, thousands of Torontonians eagerly left their homes to parade and revel downtown and show their pride and appreciation for the hometown basketball team. When tennis professional Bianca Andreescu recently defeated superstar Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, Canadians from coast to coast expressed their joy, despite rallying behind Serena’s career for decades. From sports to music, film, politics, or science, whenever one of our own excels on a public stage, we all hold our heads a little higher. It’s only natural.

There is something pure and relatable about working hard and then eventually seeing the results. We are inspired when we see efforts rewarded, because it reminds us of our own abilities and that every goal and dream once started as a mere thought, idea, or humble hope. We enjoy watching the fruits of hard work, because we ourselves are working hard for something. In some way.

Whether the accolades are received on a Canadian level, on a Toronto level, or on a municipal level, it is wonderful to see communities form in celebration and common passion. We’ve witnessed it time and time again in sadness and in joy: a variety of cultures, ages, and backgrounds unifying based on a common experience of community. In the eastern Toronto community of Scarborough, this month, there is plenty to celebrate and it includes the history of some of the town’s most influential residents and citizens of nearby towns. It also involves one of the city’s favourite shared annual events.

Nuit Blanche—Toronto’s all-night free art exhibition—takes place this year from sunset (7:00 p.m.) on Saturday, October 5 through to sunrise (7:00 a.m.) on Sunday, October 6 in a range of indoor and outdoor locations around the city. This year, Scarborough will be activating more installations than anywhere else in the city.

Artist Mark Stoddart, a Scarborough native, has joined creative forces with Ashley McKenzie-Barnes and her Queens and Kings of Scarborough exhibit curated for Nuit Blanche this year.

“This theatrical playground will challenge systems of social marginalization, self-identity negotiation, and racial stereotyping within a modern framework. From film and installation to interactive sculpture and street art, Queens and Kings of Scarborough will honour this community as a hotbed of culture,” said a Nuit Blanche release.

As a part of the Nuit Blanche display that will expand across Scarborough Town Centre and nearby locations within walking distance, Stoddart’s contribution—ReConnected—will be a featured element of the Queens and Kings of Scarborough installation.

“[ReConnected] is a chance for young inspiring artists and athletes to realize that they have individuals who were raised within their communities who have excelled despite various obstacles that may have been in their way,” said Stoddart. “It’s a chance for a community to re-establish a bond of communication and emotional connection. A time to truly reflect on the success and accomplishments of our own, while thinking of the next wave of rising stars to make a difference within our communities.”

ReConnected will highlight 19 individuals from Scarborough and its surrounding districts, who have contributed to hometown pride in a variety of ways. Their images will be coupled with an assortment of published articles and archival photos from the Scarborough Mirror newspaper, 5” x 20” pieces accompanied by a 15-minute video story.

The celebrated Scarborough figures include:

Queens of Scarborough:

             Mahlikah Awe:ri, Afro-Native Canadian drum talk rapologist
             Shary Boyle, contemporary visual artist
             Bernice Carnegie, Educational and life enrichment speaker and the director of the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Program
             Mitzie Hunter, Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
             Yusra Khogali, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Toronto, community activist, artist, and educator
             Carrianne Leung, author and educator
             Natasha Ramsahai, meteorologist and journalist
             Diana C. Reyes (Fly Lady Di), multidisciplinary artist and performer
             Lilly Singh, comedian, television host, and actress
             Shameless Maya Washington, artist and creative producer

Kings of Scarborough:

             Jim Creeggan, bassist for the Barenaked Ladies
             Dwayne DeRosario, professional soccer player
             Jamaal Magloire, professional basketball player and Toronto Raptors assistant coach
             Louis March, community and youth development facilitator
             Sam Moncada, founder of the Scarborough Basketball Association
             Dwayne Morgan, spoken word artist and motivational speaker
             Kardinal Offishall, rapper, record producer, DJ, and music executive
             Jagmeet Singh, lawyer and NDP leader
             Wes “Maestro” Williams, rapper, producer, and actor

The names are being honoured in Scarborough for Nuit Blanche because of their unique connections to the town. They are individuals that lived on the same streets, attended the same schools, played at the same parks, and developed in the same neighbourhoods as the current residents of the eastern Toronto borough. Residents know their relatives, have seen them on the TTC, or encountered them over the years at events and local businesses. They represent the community well, because they are of the community. They are Scarborough.

Photo by Nathaniel Anderson
The ReConnected exhibit is a spinoff of a former exhibit from Stoddart entitled “Voices of the Past,” which highlighted civil rights activists, also through uniquely combining images and newsprint.  Through , Stoddart will show appreciation for the efforts and individual legacies. It will be on display at the Scarborough Town Centre’s Entrance 4, in the passageway joining the mall to the TTC/RT entrance. The indoor exhibit is free to the public, family friendly, and fully accessible. It will serve as a meeting ground for Scarborough locals, and visiting admirers. It will help to reestablish connections, educate visitors, and celebrate the achievements of those on display.

As a visual storyteller, Stoddart has dedicated his career to communicating truth to power. His passion for music, sports, and activism have been important tools towards his mission of educating, empowering, and uniting audiences. Born in 1968, the powerful history of the year’s significance has framed his outlook, designs, and social contributions. He has taken a childhood love of collecting t-shirts and expanded it into a clothing and apparel line. He has partnered with historical Black figures like Dr. John Carlos who in 1968, as an Olympic sprinter, silently protested with a raised first on the Mexico City podium during the medal ceremony. Stoddart has deliberately built collections featuring jazz icons and other cultural leaders—his work is rooted in social integrity and powered by the intent of his ancestors.

“Mark is looking towards the future with a passion for an artistic medium that motivates and expands the imagination. As a visual communicator, he feels compelled to do more than just convey information—it has become his personal mission to create art that inspires people to act.”

Stoddart’s latest project ReConnected, in the spirit of his previous artistic presentations, will continue to inspire, to teach, and to provide insights and ideas to his audience. A focal point of the Scarborough experience, by highlighting these individuals Stoddart is reminding NuitBlanche patrons of the creative forces and unique souls that Scarborough and its surrounding Toronto communities has produced. His pride is visible and will be transferable to all who take part in this weekend’s Queens and Kings of Scarborough exhibit. It is his hope that through the familiar faces and stories, another generation of leaders will be nurtured on the same Scarborough streets that Stoddart himself used to navigate, internalizing the positive and progressive inspirations of his environment.

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