Thursday, February 25, 2010

Proud to be a Black Canadian

Between Black History Month and the Winter Olympics, I've had so much inspiration and pride running through my veins this month.

I love the country of my birth, and hearing the anthem and seeing the festivities in Vancouver makes me feel thankful to live in this great land.

I love my people, and observing and participating in specialized programming this month has reminded me of the power and potential of the black Canadian community.

It all began with an invitation to take part in the Toronto Public Library's event "Big Voices, New Voices" where I was in awe that I was sitting on the same panel as the legendary Dr. George Elliott Clarke and Austin Clark, along with another new writer Yvette Trancoso, and journalist Dalton Higgins.

Yvette and I were introduced as new voices in black Canadian writing, and had the opportunity to share our thoughts on what it means to be a black writer in Canada.

The following weekend, Dr. Clarke (in photo) wrote a review of my novel "Video Light" for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald which was an absolute honour for me.
I would have been satisfied with that. But the month just kept getting better...

I attended and briefly spoke at the the opening ceremony for the University of Toronto's Black Students' Association, I attended the Royal Bank of Canada's Black History Month program at the Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor...and then in an intimate setting at Harlem Restaurant (Richmond/Church) I participated in "Dialogue" on the 21st.

"Dialogue" was a discussion about my book "Video Light" where readers had the chance to come together and discuss the themes, characters, and relevance to our every day lives. Moderated by Dwayne Dixon of Linkage Movement, we had a comfortable space to explore what it means to be black in Canada...right now.

Last night I returned to the Toronto Public Library's Bram & Bluma Appel Salon to hear CBC radio host Garvia Bailey discuss "A New Black Literature" with author and journalist Dalton Higgins and writer and actor Trey Anthony. Already inspired by the work they have contributed to black Canadian culture, I was encouraged to hear them speak of things that are always on my mind:

Black Canadians are hungry to see images and reflections of themselves, be it on television, in print, or on stage.

There are a few more events that I plan to attend before the month's end, and I'm not sure if my soul can take all of this excitement, eagerness, and passion. The performances I've seen, the voices I've heard, and the proud Canadian flags waving across Vancouver this month have reaffirmed my commitment to contributing to these images and reflections.

Yes, my stories are extremely fun for me to write, they're a pasttime, but I can't help but feel that there is a bigger social infrastructure that I am hoping to have them fit into.

The Urban Toronto Tales are stories about my peers, about black Canadians, first generation Canadians, urban Canadians...about people we know, places we go to, and things that we do.

As Dalton Higgins said last night at the Toronto Public Library, we need to be unapologetic about the work we are creating. And so I'll say it loudly, and I'll say it proudly: I do believe my writing has a purpose. Not just for entertainment, but just for the sake of validating the black Canadian experience, and reminding the greater Canadian public that our stories are relevant, they are important, and they do need to be documented.

The best thing about February is it's just the beginning...I look forward to having these good vibes stay with me for the remanining months of the year.

"Video Light," "Friends with Benefits," and "Request to Rewind" from the Urban Toronto Tales collection are available through my website,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Is Love?

With Valentine's Day passing, it's a question that many have asked, yet few have a concrete answer to.

Guest Blogger Cornel Vernon shares his perspective:


Will we ever know
When each individual has their own idea of how it should go?
A preconceived fantasy that only lives in the mind,
But when reality hits that dream unwinds.

Like a ball of string that gets caught on a nail,
Although it rolled like a snail,
The truth still prevailed.

The snag on the nail never let go of the string,
The ball has disappeared my heart starts to sting.

There's only a trail am I willing to go back?
To mend this string and face another attack?
My hurt has been broken into millions of pieces,
But I will pick them back up cause they're sweet like Reeses.

The string still remains,
It's tattered and stained never to be lifted but the path will be viewed again,
Not to follow but only to remember,
Life is four seasons,
And I'll be gone til November.

~Cornel Vernon (2010)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Still Advocating for Mariah Carey (concert review)

I have to give credit where credit is due and say that Mariah Carey continues to be an extremely talented vocalist and performer. Her Angels Advocate tour visited the Air Canada Centre in Toronto last night, February 9, 2010.

Yes, I am biased. And while I have spent many moments defending my admiration for the 39-year old songstress, I realize that the evidence is exceptionally clear when you hear her perform live: Mariah Carey's voice is beautiful!

Even I have my doubts sometimes when televised performances leave me questioning her strength or if she's still "got it"...but hearing her live again solidified my faith that this woman has one of the most powerful voices in the industry.

I'm not taking away from the other R&B divas of our generation like Mary, Whitney or Miss Beyonce, but just trying to give credit where credit is due. I understand that the uber-cleavage and the questionable antics of Mariah tend to be distracting/annoying to some (most?), but when you take in the music, the lyrics, and her overall catalogue of work there's no two ways about it: she is still a star.

OK, so the concert started a bit late and even I was checking my watch and rolling my eyes as the start time was delayed by almost an hour. And yes, I was extremely aggravated with the special camera police they had roaming the aisles, pointing flashlights in people's faces (wtf??) and badding up innocent young girls who were trying to take nostalgic photos of their idol.

I had my moments of irritation, but when Mariah hit the stage, and I was able to conceal my snapshots and actually keep my camera (unlike MANY around me who had their cameras taken away) was all good.

Mrs. Cannon sang the old hits that I grew up on like Hero and Always Be My Baby...and she also sang some of my favourites form her new album (Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel) like Impossible and Obsessed.

Her troop of male dancers were great, and I probably would have been entertained just watching them bounce and gyrate all night. Their moves (and looks!) made up for the fact that Mariah was barely dancing at all. She pranced, she sat, she sipped champaigne...and tea (she was sick) and the show moved around her, and her gowns.

At the end of the night, the production staff also filmed video footage for her new song "100 percent" to be aired during the upcoming Olympics, with backup vocals from a local gospel choir. Don't be surprised if you see me in a camera shot when it airs...they were everywhere.

I had fun, what can I say? Again, my instinct is to defend my appreciation of Mariah and her music, but it is what it is. For the past 20 years I have enjoyed each and every album she's put out (yes, including the Glitter CD), and I've admired her song-writing skills, and the fact that she had managed to stay relevant after all these years and at the top of her game.

If nothing else, I have to respect her longevity, her writing skills, and the voice that even in the midst of a cold, still sounded as good as it did when I first bought my first Mariah cassette back in 1990.

Classic Mariah, where it all started:

If you'd prefer an "unbiased" opinion on the show, here's what Toronto's newspapers had to say about Mimi :

Toronto Star
Eye Weekly
Toronto Sun

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Avatar, Grammys, and the Entertainment Industry

People are unemployed. Natural disasters are tearing countries apart. There is political disappointment, social instability, and international unrest in every sector of humanity. It's nearly impossible to find silver linings when turning on the daily news leaves you feeling hopeless and discouraged by the reported events.

Reality is draining, to say the least.

However, in the midst of the confusion and chaos, the disgrace and disgust, the sadness and sorrow...there is a multi-million dollar industry that continues to thrive. There are actors and athletes and other creatives minds working hard to ensure that we are entertained/distracted from this reality.

I'd like to dismiss the activities and events that appear to be superficial when there are "important" things happening in the world...but as an artist myself, I can't help but appreciate the efforts and the incredible work that these individuals put into their craft.

I am impressed by the products, I am inspired by the music, and I am almost dependent on the energy that their works provide.

After weeks of hearing praise and commentary about James Cameron's latest project, I was finally able to see the movie Avatar in 3D. I'm not a fan of the science fiction or fantasy genres, but like millions of others, I was completely sucked into the beautiful world of Pandora and the technologies that made it so tangible.

It took me a good half hour to start to believe in the movie and care about the characters, but even after the hours passed, I found myself so engrossed in the fictional land that I was almost sad to take off the glasses and continue on in the less-colourful real world.

I was in awe at how colour, texture, light, and really just a basic storyline, could inspire so many powerful and positive feelings. I will most definitely go and see this movie again to fill in the blanks that I missed during my first viewing.

And while my heart was breaking for the people of Haiti, I was so touched by the musical performances during the Help for Haiti telethon on Friday, January 22. John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Stevie Wonder at the and talent at its purest form. I love the passion that these artists have maintained for years, and how dedicated they are to improving their craft.

Again, some view the entertainment industry as not important, but I do believe that sometimes all it takes is the right song, the perfect lyric, or an insipring performance to ignite hope and even spiritual awareness in many.

That being said, the Grammy awards this year was also pretty great. I was so impressed with how female performers have stepped up their game. Woman can no longer lip-sync, dance around scantily clad and hope that it makes for a thrilling display. When Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Pink stepped out on that Grammy stage they were determined to prove just exactly why they are at the top of their game.

When you love what you do, and you're good at what you do, you can only hope that just by simply...doing it, that others can appreciate and value it. Those performances, and others that night (like Drake, Wayne and Eminem) forced me to recognize that once upon a time these were all simple, every day people with a dream that probably seemed out of this world, that they were determined to pursue by any means necessary. And they chased these dreams with a spirit that wouldn't quit until they stepped on the floor of the Grammy stage. And even when they make it to that stage, they still insist on fighting to maintain their status.

This is why I love the entertainment industry.

And I can't forget the athletes. God bless them. Again, in the same fashion as filmmakers and performing artists, they had a dream, they had a talent, and they had a desire to work for a living doing nothing less than what they believed to be destined to do.

These are the people that provide my daily inspiration. Yes, there are politicians, and researchers, medical experts, scholars, spiritual leaders, activists, and other writers who also influence my actions...but the entertainers are the ones that have the immediate effect.

It only takes minutes to find that perfect song, put in a favourite old movie, or take in another form of art. Instantaneously, the transfer of creative energy has power.

So today I am grateful. For life, for health, for contributors to society, great and less visible...but I just wanted to send a virtual shout-out to the entertainers, from Avatar to the Grammys, from the Raptors to the writers...for giving me the necessary inspiration and powerful energy that I need to continue my own work.