Monday, August 29, 2011

MTV VMA 2011 Recap

I am an awards show junkie, I admit it. I love the fanfare, the following day's entertainment news buzz, and I love to see musicians try their best to put on a good show, out-shine one another, and out-perform even themselves year after year.

And while the Grammys, the American Music Awards, and maybe even the Billboard awards carry more clout and's always the MTV Video Music Awards that ends up being the most entertaining and dramatic.

Overall....meh! Not the greatest show, but entertaining nonetheless. It left me feeling like OK...the music industry is filled with beautiful, well-dressed people BUT the substance seemed to be lacking. And of course, it's MTV what do you expect right? But still...even the artists I really loved just seemed to be characters on this program, where the outfits, the antics, and the news kinda spoke louder than the lyrics and the music.

Kevin Hart: as the official non-host of the night, I think he was kinda wack. And he's a funny dude regularly, no doubt. But last night he was reaching...and I wasn't feeling his attempt at humour. Some of the little sketches were semi-laugh worthy...but overall, I think his presence was unnecessary.

Katy Perry & Russell Brand: for some reason, I think they were two of my favourites last night. I think Katy is adorable, and I really have enjoyed her music this year, particularly "Fireworks." She's pleasant, she can sing, and her career seems to have been on a steady incline...without her getting too in-your-face or annoying. As for Russell, I think his tribute to Amy Winehouse was great. He's usually too irritating to tolerate, but I actually didn't tune him out this time.

Beyonce: so she's pregnant. (Whoop-di-do???)...I mean, that's wonderful! Beyonce's a "machine" her husband Jay-Z told the media the other the timing of her pregnancy is really no surprise. Good for them. She works hard, she plays hard...and I guess she'll probably still keep the momentum going until she's ready to bring her baby into the world. Like Alicia Keys or Mariah, I don't think a lil pregnancy will slow Beyonce down one bit. Nice dramatic touch with the microphone-drop reveal though. Superstars do everything big! She completely stole the show with that.

Nicki Minaj: no, no, no. Enough is enough. You're eccentric. We get it. You're wild and crazzzzzy. We get it. But as someone commented on Twitter last night...someone better call her girls from Queens, or send her back to Trinidad for a couple months so she can get a reality check and relax herself. She looked like a hot mess and like she was trying too hard to be unique. Major fail.

Adele: what a pleasant woman. I have heard nothing but great things about her and her music, yet for some reason I still haven't fully explored her albums. After seeing her sombre and simple-yet-beautiful performance, I'm now motivated to pick up one of her CDs and see wha gwan.

Kanye & Jay-Z: likewise...I haven't yet listened to "Watch the Throne" but it's safe to say it's about time I check it out. Their performance was a bit weird. I guess their "presence" alone is enough. They walked out with a little fire and sparkle, and just kinda stood around from what I could see. The stage crasher kinda distracted everyone from what was going on, so truth be told...I can barely remember the song, or if I even like it. Again, I'm I need to pick up the album and get up to de times.

Amber & Wiz: weird couple. She's a beautiful girl, no doubt, but second time around...kinda starting to look like a you-know-what. Like what do you do? What is your purpose? A big butt and a smile look great on the red carpet...but what's her talent again? The celebrity "power couple" only works when both members of the team are pulling their this couple just looks like a downgrade for starters...and kinda irrelevant otherwise.

The Cast of Jersey Shore: entertaining on TV...not so entertaining outside of their show. They're almost a bit of an much as I love to watch Sammie and Ronnie n them regularly, I think they always seem to make a mockery of themselves in any other scenario outside of the natural habitat of their reality show. And enough with the tanning already...why are they all SO DARK!? Almost ridiculous!

Lady Gaga: I kinda figured she would go to the opposite extreme this time. I was thinking maybe just a real old classic Hollywood look, or something so completely "normal" that it wasn't even worth mentioning. I guess her Joe Calderone move was something to that effect. Staying in the same simple costume all night, and being completely out of character. Entertaining? Not really. Shocking? Not so much. Dramatic effect...definitely. People are talking, and really...what more could she ask for?

Britney: I don't mind Britney. She's definitely a pop star, I'll give her that. But if you're going to honour someone...HONOUR them! Having Gaga give a mock-introduction to her was almost disrespectful as one can be to "Britney." But still, they could have thrown in a little video montage, or had someone else give her a proper speech and introduction. And speaking of speeches...was she not allowed to give a real one? At least one without having Gaga-as-Joe breathing down her neck? Kinda weird.

Jessie J: I knew the "it's not about the money, money, money" song, but really never knew who sang it until yesterday. But this girl can sing! Fine she barely got any airtime, up there on her couch with her broken foot...but from what I did hear, she really does have a voice. I notice a lot of the British pop stars always have this hint of extra soul...and even a bit of reggae culture in their style and flavour. I look forward to seeing what she comes out with in the future.

Wayne: Hee, hee, hee. So strange, yet so cute. Love this guy's energy and confidence--who else could have put that on...and got away with it? Love how he had just taken over. I just think he might need some real guitar lessons because that "playing" was not fooling anyone.

Chris Brown: I can't lie. As much as I don't want to like Chris Brown ever...this kid is so dope. Every time he hits the stage it's a spectacle, and he never disappoints. He's floating around and landing back on his feet to dance so effortlessly, and I can't help but think that I HOPE this boy has his head right. He's a great singer (when he actually sings live, that is) and he's an amazing dancer. He has crazy stage presence and an obvious star quality...but sometimes he's a little on the irrational side in words and actions. Hopefully his team is strong, because it would be a shame to see him be nothing less than great, in the long run.

Paul Rudd: can't remember what he was doing there, but such a pleasant guy, lol.

So there goes another awards show, another evening of entertainment, and another week of post-show commentary, photos, and speculation.

I enjoy it, what can I say. The entertainment world continues to fascinate me, and rightfully so. Because these individuals are at the top of their game, and isn't that where we all want to be?

All the power to them!

To view a complete list of winners from the show, visit MTV here.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Remembering Aaliyah (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001)

Today, as Hurricane Irene storms over the Bahamas, we also mourn another tragic event that took place on the island ten years ago today.

On August 25, 2001, I was downtown Toronto celebrating my friend Melissa's birthday at a club when the DJ announced the news: Aaliyah Dana Haughton and eight others had been killed in a plane crash.

We thought it was a prank...but at the same time, realized that the DJ wouldn't stop the middle of a nice vibe unless he was absolutely certain it was the truth.

The night was, of course, dampened by the news. In fact, I can't remember if the night even really continued after that. The dancing subsided. People filtered out of the club. How could they enjoy music, after all, when one of music's treasures had just lost her life?

Every time we hear "Rock the Boat," I know we all remember her last music video. Her last hit song that she would enjoy...and the way death was plaguing the urban music community far too frequently, it seemed.

I remember "Back and Forth" when Melissa first bought the CD, and listening to it relentlessly. The plaid shirts. The bandannas over the hair. Baggy jeans. We were all about that style, that era, that moment in time. That was our coming of age, and Aaliyah provided the perfect young woman's soundtrack.

I remember "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number," and how we'd sing it out in adolescent confidence, knowing that we felt much older than our naive years.

But my favourite musical Aaliyah memory was going to a party at the Warehouse (now Kool Haus) in Toronto in 1998 with my friend Sonia. It was probably the second time I'd heard this particular song, and the beat was so dope, and the vibe was so nice, I literally stopped in my tracks to just take it in.

I remember watching everyone bounce to the new hit song, and watching the hundreds of young adults packed in Warehouse enjoying themselves to the tune.

Do you ever have those moments that give you goosebumps, strictly based on musical energy? Do you ever have memories about songs that never go away, no matter how many times you hear them in how many different contexts?

Well, that was my favourite Aaliyah moment, when "Are You That Somebody" was new and fresh, and one of the best songs I'd heard in a long time.

She was only 22 when she died, yet every year at this time, the music community embraces her legend, remembers her humble persona and beautiful voice, and celebrates the musical library she has left behind.

We've never met her. Many of us have probably never even seen her live. But the good thing about that when it hits you, you feel no pain. And all of the sadness, the regret, and the darkness that approaches us whenever we think about people vanishing "too soon" and going "before their time" is easily subsided when the music is played, and the talent is remembered.

Many of these recording artists and entertainers are dear to our hearts simply because of that. Because of their creations, and because of the moments, and the feelings they have left with us as a result of their music.

Whether it's Tupac, or Nick Ashford of the legendary Ashford & Simpson (who just passed away 3 days ago, RIP), music is a power that truly never dies.

We thank Aaliyah for her contribution to our culture, our personal histories, and hope that those in the Bahamas going through their own devastation, ten years later, are safe from Hurricane Irene, and able to quickly recover.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reggae Music for the Soul: Beres Hammond & Wayne Wonder

What more can I say? The artists that touched me in the 80s when I was first old enough to truly appreciate reggae music are the artists that still speak to me.

Last night (Saturday, August 20, 2011) I had the pleasure of taking in Wayne Wonder AND Beres Hammond at the Redemption presented show at the Sound Academy.

This music speaks to me like no other. Here's a few clips of the outstanding performances by both gentlemen. Two of the most beautiful, pure, and unchanging voices in music. Period.

Video by Stacey Marie Robinson.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Words of Sister Souljah

I finally finished reading Sister Souljah's 3rd book "Midnight," and I have been blown away, yet again by this woman's ability to write, create, and inspire.

I've only had a few books in my life that I've read that have really moved me. And I instantly know when a book has moved me because I can't put it down soon enough to begin my own writing.

As a writer, I ironically find it extremely difficult to "get into" other author's books. I find it easy to purchase a book, and easy to begin a book and find interest in it...but all it takes are a few pages for me to realize that I'm either in it to finish it...or that it will join a long list of creations on my bookshelf that may never get completed.

And this is no disrespect to the brilliant writers who have created their's just that there is something that I internally seek out of the writing of others that somehow Sister Souljah has fulfilled in me each and every time I pick up one of her books.

Terry McMillan has this effect on me. Iyanla Vanzant has this affect on me. These sisters SPEAK to me so clearly that through their words I realize WHY I am a writer, and what type of emotions I aspire to evoke out of others if they so choose to read one of my books.

Reading her 1999 release "The Coldest Winter Ever" had me absolutely convinced that I'd never read anything better. That book continues to be the bomb in my eyes. Until I discovered her 1995 release "No Disrespect." I remember reading that book on a trip down south, not minding the hours of layovers on the trip because I was so hypnotized by her personal story.

"Midnight" has been in my possession probably for almost a year. I'd read a few pages, and then put it down. Read another few pages, and then put it down. Admittedly, I didn't get it...for a good while. I was expecting the fast-paced action of "The Coldest Winter Ever." I was expecting the drama of "No Disrepect." What I didn't realize that the meaning of this particular novel, the lessons, the spirit of it, and the overall impact it would have on my was far greater than I would know.

I fell in love with Akemi and Midnight's love story. It was so unconventional. So adolescent, yet so wise. So authentic. I was so drawn into their story that I could almost feel their emotions myself.

The sign of a great writer. I felt like I knew these characters personally. Their hearts. Their ambitions. Sister Souljah provided such depth to them, and understanding of their motives and passions that it was impossible to not want everything to work in their favour.

I love what the book said about love, about a man's protection of his family, about pride, awareness, and concientiousness. I love that the character midnight emcompassed the soul and wisdom of a man three times his age, all before reaching the age of 18 himself.

I loved Souljah's portrayal of the Islamic faith, and the tenets of their Muslim upbringing and current lifestyle. I loved the beauty of her descriptions of their spirituality, and could feel the power of Allah--even as a Christian--and why it was such an important piece of this family's being.

I enjoyed the way in which she made Akemi and Midnight communicate, despite the fact that they could not speak through language. Her words clearly illustrated their love for one another, and it wasn't so much in the words as it was the energy of the text.

Most importantly, I think "Midnight" is an excellent coming-of-age story for any young man (or woman) to read, as it highlights the importance of values, committment, and a strong work ethic. Midnight was able to exist as a combination of the hardest brother...yet still possess the softest heart. And still achieve personal success.

Love, love, loved every minute of it.

And can't wait to read the follow-up novel, "Midnight and the Meaning of Love" that was released this past April.

Sister Souljah is definitely an inspiration to me, as a woman, and of course, as someone who has mastered her literary communication skills.

Born in the Bronx, Souljah (aka Lisa Williamson) is a graduate of Rutgers University's American History & African studies programs. A community actvist, MC, and motivational speaker, she has been a presence in the African-American and also political circles for decades.

She has taken her experiences, and infused the lessons of life into her novels...indirectly, yet so strongly.

These are the women telling stories of our generation...and I honour them. I am thankful for their words, and thankful for the intention with which their writings are constructed. None of these stories are in vain. Not from Terry, not from Iyanla...or from the other authors who have taken a slice of "urban" reality, and told a beautiful and spiritually uplifting story with it.

Checking online immediately for the next step in the saga of Midnight. If her past three books are any indication of the next book, then I think I'll be able to ride this inspiration for the next few months, and knock out a few chapters of my own book as a result.

Grateful for her words.

By Stacey Marie Robinson, Toronto-born writer and founder of Kya Publishing.