Friday, February 21, 2020

Jamaican Author Andre L. Simpson: Writing to Inspire the "Higher Thinka"

Every author has a sense of purpose that propels their thinking, brainstorming, and eventual documenting of sentences and phrases. For Jamaican author Andre L. Simpson, the actual thoughts are what motivates him to write and create for publication. A 37-year-old resident of Kingston, he has written two novels to date, is currently finalizing his third book, and is also working towards completing his fourth. In addition to his fiction composition, his "Higher Thinka" brand of quotes and inspirational writings is naturally developing, simultaneously.

In his early twenties, Andre went through a period where he consumed a great amount of novels--American urban fiction in particular. Captivated by the power of the written word, the complexities of the stories, and the passion with which the writers created their works, he became inspired by the art form and a curiosity formed. He started to believe that he, too, could record his thoughts and develop characters and scenarios that could be used as learning experiences and conversation pieces for readers. And so with his love for reading, grew a love for writing. Andre wanted to leave his mark, the way the authors had left their mark.

"I'm an 80s baby," said Andre. "I get musical inspiration mostly from 90s and early 2000s reggae, hip hop, and even some alternative music." Taking in the written word, in addition to lyrical compositions from artists like Nas and Baby Cham, also provided fuel for Andre as a younger man. He became fascinated with using the medium of literature as a way to reach wide audiences and display his own versatility as a writer.

As he constructed his story lines and characters for novels High Rollaz and Crooked Lines, he also began to craft quotations. Thoughts. Pieces of advice. Phrases to consider. Musings. Andre the novelist realized that he also had a love and enjoyment for penning quotes: brief compositions of purpose.

"My quotes come from me talking to like-minded persons, and just me being at peace and drawing closer to my inner spirituality," said Andre.

Currently, he posts regular quotes and thoughts online to a growing social media audience, hoping to reach his friends, family and immediate circle with good vibes and positive energy each day. These "Higher Thinka" quotes, accompanied by the brand hashtag, have now become a way of life for Andre. With each day and experience it is an opportunity to learn, to teach, and hopefully, to also uplift others.

"I would just love to be able to inspire persons to follow their dreams, and not allow their past to define their future," said Andre. "Higher Thinka represents thinking on a higher level than the norm. Searching for your truth, and being willing to speak for your truth. As my tagline says: creativity breathes uniqueness. #HigherThinka represents the creatives, and it represents being able to use your brain and your thoughts to their highest level and greatest potential."

A special piece of advice that Andre has received in life, that he holds on to in good and bad situations, came from his father who once told him: "The fact that you are hoping means that you have already lost." Andre uses this as a motivator for continuing to strive towards self-understanding, and having an awareness about his surroundings and interactions. The Higher Thinka quotes are his contribution to cultivating similar vibes around him.

"I just want others to embrace their true mental capacity, and not allow their minds to be controlled by what people say," said Andre. "In everything I do, I hope to encourage individuals to search for their own truths, and to not be afraid to be different. At the end of the day, there has to be balance."

Embracing his passion for writing, and the beauty of his surroundings, Andre also takes inspiration from his homeland of Jamaica and tries to instill the love and energy of the island into his story lines and overall lifestyle. 

"Jamaica represents living life to the fullest," said Andre. "The culture, the music, and the people of Jamaica inspire me every day."

His journey as an author is a relatively new one, but his spirit has wholeheartedly embraced the path he is taking and the forces that lead him to influence readers in a positive and progressive way.

As readers become increasingly familiar with Andre Lloyd Simpson through his novels High Rollaz and Crooked Lines, he anticipates the release of his forthcoming novel and book of quotes this year as well. He will continue to create, and continue to absorb the potential of greatness around him. 

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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Recap: Kya Publishing & Elevated Waves Publishing Writing Workshop at the Toronto Public Library (Albion)

In what has become an annual tradition, Kya Publishing partnered with Cleveland's Elevated Waves Publishing to present a special Writing Workshop for the Toronto Public Library last week, in association with their Black History Month programming. Over the years, the workshop has evolved from discussing the idea of Urban Fiction, to providing information about Urban Fiction...and then with increased participation, we established a format of having a panel discussion followed by one-on-one author chats in the latest editions of the cultural writing workshop.

One thing has been consistent, and that is our dedication to letting writers know about the importance of staying true to their authentic voices, and also honouring their personal experiences. Whether writing Urban Fiction, Black Narratives, or developing cultural writing projects, all writers have entered the environment and left with the same spirit: one of increased creativity.

This year's workshop highlighted a panel featuring children's author Angelot Ndongmo and urban fiction writer Kamilah Haywood. Facilitated by writer Jameel Davis from Cleveland (representing Elevated Waves Publishing Corp.) and co-hosted by Toronto's Kya Publishing.

On Saturday, February 8 at the Albion Branch of the Toronto Public Library, a room of fiction writers, song writers, poets, travel bloggers, and curious creators gathered to obtain tips and strategies, and to meet with the authors.

Angelot Ndongmo provided an introduction of her entry into writing, as a creative soul who was passionate about working with children. She was inspired to create something to share with children, as well as leave behind a legacy of her passions...something that could be passed on. A self-published writer, she has achieved much acclaim and best-seller status in bookstores for her popular children's titles "Loving Me" and "Boy! I Am Loving Me!"


With late night writing sessions taking her into the early morning, Angelot acknowledged that creating her books were works of love, and how inspiration would hit her at strange times...that she would just work with.

Jameel also admitted to being hit with inspiration at inconvenient times, and confessed to mastering the ability to record his thoughts and ideas through voice notes and other means when on the road, or in times away from the office. His recommendation: "get in the habit of putting yourself in the writing seat! It may be uncomfortable for a while, but you'll get used to it, and eventually enjoy it. Try to write daily, until your goals are accomplished."

Angelot noted that the information she was looking for through literature while growing up, the reflections, and the inspiration were often not found in common reading materials. She was inspired to write something that spoke directly to an audience she represented. A Black audience. "I wanted something to educate kids, and also have fun with," said Angelot.


Jameel, a lover of urban fiction (although he has only written self-help books, thus far), recommended allowing readers to walk through the steps of your character and with your characters...and to let them be a part of the story.

An element of a good story, according to Kamilah: "If you can visualize the story, that's good. Include details like emotions, and setting--the more detail the better with fiction--and concentrate on how the narrative is put together," she advised.

Kamilah's latest novel "Diamond in the Rough Part Two" was crafted loosely based on people she knows. The plot and the characters were rooted in reality, but still a creative effort. While she sometimes has plot points predetermined when writing, Kamilah noted that she often doesn't know how the story is going to end, and that it can often change as she's writing it.

A point that resonated: Kamilah mentioned that when she gets into a writing zone, she starts to channel her characters, and lets the dialogue and the plot flow naturally. "And then something happens. I get into a creative space, and notice that the masterpiece starts creating itself," Kamilah said.

While Jameel, and Kamilah often use their cell phones or laptops to record their thoughts, Angelot admittedly was a bit more old school in process.

"I don't like to rely on technology," said Angelot. "I like the feeling of pen to paper." While she appreciates the value of recording details, she also said that she generally knows what she is trying to accomplish when story writing: the peaks and valleys of the characters, and then she sometimes also works backwards. Rarely developing a story around the characters themselves, which she finds challenging.


The various processes of writing were highlighted, as each individual had their own method for creation and documentation. The discussion went in the direction of formal instruction on writing, and the group discussed the pros and cons.

Kamilah felt that courses were a great idea, as long as individuals went in with an open mind to learn, and take away the good...without having it distract from your own creativity. "If you're going there to allow the institution to dictate your creativity, I think it can hinder you as a writer," said Kamilah.

Angelot agreed, that as writers we are used to being in control, and that it's challenging to allow someone else to lead that process. However, she also noted that it's a good idea to have someone challenge your as a writer.

A special guest in the room, children's author Nadia Hohn noted that she will be teaching a children's writing course at the University of Toronto, and was asked to share a few words about her experiences as a published author, and her own challenges with creativity. The biggest obstacle on her path: time. This was a factor that most of the writers could agree to, regardless if they were self-published or traditionally published, finding a quiet creative space was something that was challenging.

Jameel's thoughts: he had a hard time with the concept of creativity being judged, graded, or reviewed from just one perspective. "Certain opinions can destroy your work," Jameel said. "Can't nobody tell you what you can or can not release. And some have lost good projects, or sent out manuscripts and never had them returned." He followed up by recommending: "Fall in love with your style of writing, and don't put anything out in to the world if you're not comfortable with it yourself. Don't let anybody attack your style of writing. Your confidence is everything."


Angelot offered: "As writers, have confidence in what you have, even if somebody doesn't see the vision. There is value in processing negative feedback, unpacking it, and moving forward. Your vision...your job is to never give up."

Kamilah's perspective: "It's a passion. Release what you have, and be the best lover of your own creativity." she said, using the example of song writers or painters, who often have unexpected hits after presenting their art..

In a personal moment, Jameel revealed that he also uses his writing as a form of release. While it was hard to put emotions on paper at times our of fear of retaliation, he confessed to getting a lot of his processes out through writing.

-Reevaluate your eating habits and sleep patterns to maximize your energy to do your project well. (Jameel)

-Create a task list, begin with a small amount of goals, and then commit to them daily for writing, and create a structure. (Kamilah)

-Help to align with your purpose, and see if you have someone in your network you can pitch your work to.

-Take advantage of social media, and following new people in your field, and network, search hashtags, and seek to find out what people are doing, and what they're about. (Jameel)


Kamilah noted that you have to be very cognizant of who you are signing with and connecting with, read your contracts, and do your research before committing to a publishing. Speak with others who have been through the journey, and ask about what you're getting yourself into. Don't be afraid to get legal, maintain creative control of your work.

Jameel: Brand yourself, and don't be afraid to wait to put our your project. You will feel a set of relief after you put your last period, but try to take the time to build your audience and remember that being a writer is more than just writing, it's a business, with more than just a cover and putting an ISBN on your project.

Angelot: Navigating self-publishing depends on your goals. Be careful about the type of company, compensation, and the journey itself. You have to love the process, and love the team of people you have around you to make this happen. Writing the book is the easy part you have to figure out your own marketing plan, and contingency plan.


-Look into requirements for book awards, grants, and other opportunities for being a self-published vs. traditionally published author.

-Pay attention to distribution needs, and access needed for libraries, bookstores, etc.

-Create a marketing plan, identify your target audience, and don't be afraid to share what you're working on.

-Wear your confidence!

-The more you do, the easier it becomes.

Thanks again to the Albion Branch of the Toronto Public Library for hosting our program, and to panelists Angelot Ndongmo, Kamilah Haywood, and facilitator Jameel Davis for sharing their expertise. A special thank you to everyone who registered and attended the workshop, it was a pleasure to share the afternoon talking about our collective love for writing.

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

Friday, February 14, 2020

Media Day at the Canadian International Auto Show (2020) in Toronto

Audi SQ5
These are indeed "Transformative Times" (the theme of this year's show)...what's not to love? Beautiful cars under brilliant lights, the excited faces of car enthusiasts, and dozens of opportunities to take in the design, feel, and essence of creativity through North America's favourite auto brands at the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS).

Kya Publishing was thrilled to take part in the CIAS auto show this year for their Media Day on Thursday, February 13, and were reminded of the innovation in the auto industry and the ways technology and science inform, influence, and guide our transportation options.

Taking place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (both North and South buildings, with a shuttle available between the two) from Friday, February 14, through the Family Day long weekend in Ontario, and finishing up on Sunday, February 23, the auto show caters to car lovers and the industry that moves them. Spanning over 650,000 square feet of attractions and exhibits, it is the largest auto expo in Canada and also the largest consumer show. Over "1000 cars, trucks, SUVs, concept cars, exotics, classics, muscle cars, and fully electric and autonomous vehicles" will be featured.

In an official message, Susan Gubasta, the President of the 2020 Canadian International Auto Show said, "We host one of the most exciting Family Day events in Canada," and that the show's features and program "appeal to the young--and young at heart--all 10 days of the Show."

The North building primarily hosted Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Fiat, and Ram in the centre of the space, in addition to Mazda and Nissan, all outlined on the event map for attendees. In the South Building, a large Chevrolet display, and plenty space for the latest from Ford and Toyota as well. Also on the 800 level of the South Building, the food court, and Ontario Regiment Museum (saluting vehicles that were key to Canada's military missions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries).


The Auto Exotica Hall showcases luxury and exotic dream cars from North American personal collections, there is the Canadian Motorsoport Hall of Fame, and also the Cobble Beach Classics (vintage classic collection of vehicles) featured, in addition to the Oblivion Retro Car Show. There is a retail zone, Nursing Lounge, and Playcare Centre, as well as an e-Sports Zone, with opportunities for entertainment and needs for all members of the family. And get this: child care is free!


Lexus LF-30 Electrified (concept)
Before opening up to the public, the Media Day featured a full day of activities, beginning with the Media Breakfast bright and early at 7:00am, including remarks from the CIAS President and various media partners like the Toronto Star and Along with CAA, Castrol, Continental tires, TD, Canadian Black Book, Kijiji Autos, KPMG, and Shell, the other presenting sponsors, leaders and member of noted associations, and special representatives from over 40 car brands were present.


Awards were presented throughout the day for Car (Mazda 3) and also Utility Vehicle (Jaquar I-Pace) of the Year. Other awards from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) included:







Audi R8 Coupe
From 9:00am until the early afternoon, each of the presenting car manufacturers presented their special reveals and also concept vehicles, where applicable. From Volkswagen to Subaru, and Cadillac, to Genesis, the scheduled media tour allowed for individual presentations and the focus of attendees.


Of special note, Audi Canada had five Canadian Reveals, presenting the RS Q8, the e-Tron Sportback, the Q4 E-Tron, the R6 Avant, and the RS7. The new E-Tron electric wagon, an all-wheel drive single-speed electric midsize SUV, provides about 329km of maximum city/highway range at full charge. Starting cost: $92,100, it is Audi's first all-electronic vehicle now in its second year of production. It was first introduced as a concept at the 2009 Frankfurt auto show.

Audi RS7
The popular Audi A4 sedan has a new look for 2020 with a new grille and headlights, and the Audi A5 and A6 were both unchanged for 2020. I love each and every Audi I see, regardless. It is the brand that speaks to me, and from the S5 Sportback, to the A8 and the beautiful Q8, I can't get enough of this vehicle. The Audi section is where I spent most of my time in the South Building, with other favourites--Lexus, Infiniti, and Land Rover--conveniently positioned nearby. I've been driving a Q3 now for a couple of years, and would love to one day upgrade to that gorgeous E-Tron, and reduce my carbon footprint while looking great on the road. And maybe that red S7...for the weekends. You know.

A few recommended purchasing tips, and list of 12 fundamental features to shop for in 2020 and beyond (courtesy of the CIAS): a 360 Camera System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Apple Car Play/Android Auto, Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic High Beams, Blind Spot Monitoring, Electronic Stability Control, Evasive Steering, Launch Gear, Multi-Zone Climate Control, Smart Suspension, and Telescopic Steering.


A treat for me: I was able to connect with Madeline, a representative from Automotive News, who was stationed outside of their annual Automotive News Canada Congress taking place. Back in 2001, I was fortunate to be accepted as an editorial intern at the trade publication headquarters in Detroit, and felt as though that up-close-and-personal experience I had with the automotive industry--in Motor City at that--was a key reason why I continue to love and admire the design and industry of cars.

Acura NSX
Their conference features those who "represent the brightest in the Canadian automotive industry," and included presentations from Jason Stein the Publisher of Auto News, as well as representatives from Volvo of Edmonton, Infiniti Canada, and the Royal Bank of Canada, and opportunities for networking and connecting with peers. It was a chance for industry leaders to "provide insight and analysis" before the Auto Show.

I can remember attending the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, and the urgency and excitement watching the Auto News staff work to prepare and present their findings. Needless to say, while technology existed at that time, cell phones and wireless device were not as convenient for information transmission at the time. I had collected manuals by hand, and took notes to assist where I could, as well as shuttled staff members to the convention centre and office.

Audi A3
I credit that experience with also allowing me to drive and explore a wide range of vehicles, for drop off and pick up, when their editorial review staff were planning to test drive and report on the cars. Being able to drive in the top Mercedes (who were not participating in this year's event, FYI) models and even a Hummer (which was a BIG deal back in 2001) were highlights of my time attending graduate school in Detroit, and working in my first "official" paid editorial role. Great to see them, reminisce, and pick up a hard copy of their publication again...for the nostalgia. Automotive News is also where I received my first "official" published bylines.


The cars and special events of the CIAS continue for ten days, including presentations and announcements along the way. For example, this morning (Friday, February 14) the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada took part in the official opening of the CIAS, with an announcement about the construction of Ontario's largest and most connected EV fast-charger network, developed by Ivy Charing Network at 73 locations across the province.


It's Black History Month, so I would be remiss to not mention that I was the only Black woman on the premises (MTCC staff aside) that day that I could addition to being one of very, very few Blacks present in general. The featured experts, journalists, and other media personnel I observed were mainly White males, and Asian folk. I make note of race only to say that...I noticed.

Infiniti Q60S
Of course now that the show has opened today, the attendees will represent the fabric of Toronto, with a range of ages and races, and a diverse intersection of car lovers.

Despite having a wonderful experience during Media Day (and not during the morning of opening day when I would usually attend...I've been attending regularly since high school, in the 90s), it was a gentle nudge of a reminder that at the top and making the decisions for many of the industries that drive our trends, preferences, and light up our eyes...perhaps we are not as represented or powerful (or visible) where and when key decisions are made.

Audi RS 6
The older I get, the more I realize how much these representations and the visibility of others "like me" matters. Without placing blame, or complaining...I realize that it simply is what it is. But I also encourage the young, the parents, and the inspired to continue to learn, continue to research, and study, and excel in the science and technology industries. There are so many wonderful things happening out there ,and it would be a shame to not have a voice or a hand in the construction of the future of transportation. As noted by the CIAS with their theme for this year, "Technology is changing the way we do almost everything..."

CIAS President Susan Gubasta, also aware of the lack of diversity, noted that the event was "proud to be offering a platform for education and careers in the automotive industry." She went on to say: "I'm proud to introduce 'Women Driven,' a brand new evening networking event that will introduce women from diverse sectors to the automotive industry," which will be taking place next week Thursday, February 20.

Perhaps the auto industry isn't as closely connected to other pressing social issues of race, visibility, and representation. Perhaps I will continue to have my love for cars as a passion and hobby, rather than a social movement. My contribution to this particular cause, at best: attending, documenting, and sharing my experiences the way I know how...through communication.

Overall, even as the one Black girl in the Convention Centre, I had an outstanding time and really appreciated the spacious walking room and opportunity to take photos un-obstructed. I might go back again next week to catch what I may have missed, and to repeat my visit to Audi Heaven. If nothing else, capturing those photos and videos made me feel like I definitely belonged, because my love for that brand could easily match those of the men around me...regardless.


Here is a link to the album of photos I took yesterday, of select favourites from the Media Day preview:

Here is a video featuring my visual highlights: *****************

Location: Metro Toronto Convention Centre (South - 222 Bremner Blvd, or North - 255 Front St W)

Dates: Friday, February 14 (12:00pm to 10:00pm) through Sunday, February 23 (10:30am to 6:00pm)

Times: 10:30am to 10:00pm (with the exception of opening and closing day, special times above)

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

"What Would Kobe Do?" Reflecting on the life of a legend... (1978 - 2020)

It's terrible. It's completely devastating. It's been less than 24 hours since first hearing about the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and it still somehow doesn't feel real. We have experienced the passing of many public figures as of late...but this one hits different. He was born the same year as me, 1978. We have watched him progress in real time, and he has always been at the forefront of my generation's experiences.

Yes, I miss Whitney, and Michael, Prince, and even Nipsey. Tupac and Biggie...we have had other "celebrities"/public figures pass away for various reasons, and most of the incidents have been heartbreaking. Before their time. Whether they are celebrities or "common folk"...death is never an easy road to navigate. We're not talking about family, or a personal friend here...but we are talking about someone who has had the blessing of influence, and mass appeal, and someone who possesses exceptionally transformational gifts. And for that reason, we mourn. Openly.

I'll start off by sending condolences to the Bryant family, and the friends and colleagues of Kobe and Gianna who are really, really going through a hard time processing this right now. Even as strangers and fans from a far, we are going through a hard time processing this right now. Especially for Vanessa, and those beautiful girls. The trauma of losing a father/husband and sister/daughter on the same day is too much to even speculate about.

I'm a Kobe fan. I've been a Kobe fan for a while. I have made concerted efforts to attend Lakers games whenever possible, and I have loved every minute of them. For example, this is a clip I took on my old Kodak camera when I attended my first Lakers game, at the Air Canada Centre almost ten years ago to the date: January 24, 2010.

Last night I went through my old photos, and video clips of my encounters with my second favourite NBA team (hometown Raptors first), and I was feeling blessed that I was able to witness greatness live. That type of experience means a lot to me: the energy is tangible to me. I've included a few of those video clips within this post.

Often viewing circumstances through the lens of history, I knew that while in the moment it may have been just another basketball game, I can now see that these casual captures will go down in my memories as significant cultural moments. I am grateful for that.

I am equally grateful for this video I saw this morning, of Kobe playing the piano:

I am grateful for the lessons that Kobe's life has presented to me, to the culture, to young men, and to athletes and professionals, and supporters everywhere. That being said, I read a Tweet today where Kendrick Perkins declared: "What Would Kobe Do?" as a framework for behaviour.
It made me think about leadership, and how many public figures there are for people to look up to respectfully, emulate progressive behaviour, and learn and improve their lives simply by association, whether in person or virtually. I felt proud knowing that Kobe is one of those public figures. He is someone who has already been written into history as a trailblazer and expert of his craft.

I felt proud realizing that his example is a blessing to all of us, and that he will live on in the behaviours and work acumen of those who have observed him and witnessed his evolution from a teenage prodigy to a 41-year-old doting father of four, and family man.

What else can we all learn from the tragic experience of Kobe's passing?

That it's OK to cry. I've seen more grown black men openly shed tears over these past 24 hours than I probably have ever seen in my life. That's big. This event is hurtful, and painful, and it makes no sense, and it's difficult to understand...and it has evoked many, many tears. These men are crying because Kobe lost his life far too soon. They are crying because he was someone that they could look up to, and strive to emulate in behaviour and dedication. They are crying because he represented something great in the NBA, and he lived fairly humbly and respectfully. He wasn't out in the clubs and playing around on social media...he was working. Hard. These men cried because Kobe was a visual representation of the best of "us"...and we all knew it. We felt it. In a world of assholes, jerks, and narcissistic fools, it was nice to see someone confident and proud who worked hard for and deserved every accolade and title of praise he received. We are all crying, because he was an amazing blueprint of hard work and excellent results.

We can also learn a thing or two about that hard work. Kobe went in! Kobe was focused. He was dedicated. He was a perfectionist. There was a time when it was almost a character flaw in the media, because he was so darn great. Borderline cocky with it, but rightfully so. He was the best, and that was that. He was skilled, and there was no doubt. We can all learn about having an impeccable work ethic, and being your own competitor. Coming second best to no one, and continuing to still strive to be better. He was the epitome of focus and striving for excellence. We observed this, and we have seen his work pay off. Repeatedly.

Kobe has taught us all about loyalty. I love nothing more than the fact that he stayed with the Lakers from the beginning to the end of his career. He never looked around and entertained better options. He kept his eyes in the Staples Centre, he focused on his position in Los Angeles as a team leader, and as an industry professional. He was committed to his team, his teammates, and he was willing to do whatever he had to do to make his team excellent. Some may not agree with his methods, and surely there were years when the challenges were great and the outcomes were sparse...but he never jumped ship. He never switched sides. He was loyal to the end, and I respected that so much about Kobe. He is synonymous with the Lakers brand/organization, and there are few players we can really say that about anymore. He was maybe the last of his kind, in that respect.

Kobe has reminded us about our own legacy. It's something we should think about often: what our God-given purpose is in life, and how best we can utilize our individual gifts to serve others and improve our surroundings. This is a reminder that life is not promised. At 41 he just barely stepped into the second phase of his career...who knows what types of brilliance would have emerged from his orbit. Particularly where his daughter Gigi and her basketball career were concerned. I was already speculating about changes to the WNBA and the strides they would make for female athletes in the league. Hopefully, the spirit of these changes will continue, and his family and peers will continue the good work in that area.

Overall, the message of "What would Kobe do?" is a great acknowledgement that his example is one to be admired. One to emulate. And one to be proud of. Yes, he's had his mess ups. He isn't perfect...this goes without saying. But what he did do was show us a unique set of skills and a unique strength of character that we can all look to as a blueprint for success, and an example of dedication. What we can do is use his life and his tangible examples as a means to improving our own lives, our own careers, and our own legacy.

Blessings to those who continue to suffer based on the tragic events that took place yesterday in Calabasas. And blessings to those who will use the spirit of Kobe Bryant to propel them into equal and necessary greatness of their own.

Rest in peace, and thank you Kobe.

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

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 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 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 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.