Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Basdoee: An Anthology Written For and By Black Canadian Youth

The news reports are buzzing again. There have been multiple murders of black youth under the age of 16 this month in Toronto, and it's bringing issues of identity, support, and responsibility back into the public eye. It hurts. No one wants to see a young person lose their life to violence...but it REALLY hurts us to see one of our young brothers or sisters become another statistic of a problem that's difficult to identify, and even more challenging to solve.

But it's a conversation that needs to be had, so despite the tragedy, I embrace the discussion. I embrace the opportunity for the media, and politicians, and educators, and community members to speak about the circumstances that create violence, and the possibilities of eradicating particular types of activities and stereotypes from the 'black' Canadian experience.

I found a book, through Toronto Public Library's Black History Month recommendations, and it touched my soul. Entitled "Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth," Fiona Raye Clarke did an awesome job writing excerpts, and editing the overall collaborative project with her peers.

This book was written by young Black Canadians essentially FOR young Black Canadians. It is a collection of poetry, short stories, and academic writings on their experience, and giving an "honest portrayal of Canadian-Black relations."

Published in 2012 by General Store Publishing House, Fiona Raye Clarke's goal was to provide an outlet for youth expression, and also to create Black History Month awareness through different forms of writing from Black youth from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, with their own unique perspectives.

The theme was common, however, despite their differences. Understanding. Pride. Progress. Respect. Historical awareness. Preparation. This book resonates with passion and the literary power of communication. The emotions are evident, but the words are carefully presented. This is a product of a conscientious group of Canadian youth, who are using their talents to document their feelings and inspire others.

Fiona Raye Clarke, a University of Toronto graduate (currently pursuing a law degree), has been an active volunteer in Toronto's Black community, as well as a role model for her peers and a dedicated public speaker. Committed to increasing awareness of the the struggles and successes of Black Canadians, she created this book as one of the few collections of its kind.

Starting with a list of key dates in Black Canadian history, from the first African in Canada (Mathieu Da Costa) in 1604, to the announcement of the first Africentric high school in Toronto in 2011, she sets the tone of her book right away: knowing your history, and applying it accordingly.

The foreword was provided by Rosemary Sadlier, the president of the Ontario Black History Society, who has also been dedicated to the exposure of Black History Month materials and enhancing the understanding of the occasion. While both Sadlier and Clarke make it clear that Black History Month is just a small part of the understanding of a wealth of history and knowledge, they both are ensuring that the stories and successes are not lost. They are doing an excellent job keeping the events and accounts of Black Canadian history relevant, accessible, and a part of the contemporary Black Canadian identity and experience.

Clarke chose the word "Basodee,"  from her Trinidadian-native dialect, with a translation "half-conscious and disoriented." Exploring the need for Black Canadian youth to create a sense self, of belonging, and to start a dialogue about experiences (both good and bad), she recognizes issues of police harassment, marginalization in schools, silence in the media, very early in the book. She recognizes why some youth may be disoriented, acknowledges many of the common challenges, and sets the reader up for a journey of exploring the themes and emotions that surround these realities.

Michael Grandsoult's essay on the miseducation of the youth is a factual look at racism in the education system, to academic segregation in Canada, to curriculum disparity, and the subsequent disengagement of youth from schooling.

Clarke continues with her own article on Afrocentrism and marginalization, concluding that the low performance in schools is often directly related to the student's low self esteem, and lack of cultural pride in their educational experience.

In 2008 and 2009 there was plenty media buzz about alternative Africentric schooling through the Toronto District School Board, which was met with mixed reviews in the media and common conversation. With the implementation of the first K-grade 5 school in September of 2009, Clarke--and many others--were proud for this accomplishment, yet acutely aware that this was only one of many strategies that would need to be implemented to see sufficient changes in the youth community and culture at large.

Freddy King and David Delisca offered poetry, Adhimv Stewart offered lyrics, and Somali-Canadian Huda Hassam wrote a letter to herself with reminders like "embrace your contradictions" and "don't apologize for your upbringing," as the book continued on to explore the identity crisis of Black Canadian youth and their coping mechanisms.

Clarke's piece on "How I Became Black" took at look at her particular experience, as she described her journey to self-realization from adolescence to the present time. She explored how one could achieve the internalized "Black" identity as a result of what was referred to as nigrescence, and she also outlined her exposure to various literature, travel, and exploration as she came into her identity.

Issues of transnational identity were also explored, and personalized with an interview with a young lady Bella from Burundi. Clarke followed up with a short story about a school girl in Trinidad named Shelly-Ann who was dealing with her own identity crisis while battling demons of suicide, abuse, and self-hatred.

From poetry, to stories, academic articles, to lyrics, the book stays at an interesting pace by providing so many rich expressions through the words of this group of talented young writers. Phrases like "why does my philosophy deserve any apology" by Danian Walker, and "parts of Toronto were bloated with unfulfilled immigrant dreams" by Tendisai Cornwell were powerful.

Overall, Fiona Raye Clarke did a great job bringing together an eclectic mix of young Black Canadians with strong voices, passionate hearts, and similar goals for progression and understanding. This collection is a great addition to the Black History Month story, with the past and future uniting to make sense of scenarios, and propose intellectual solutions.

It's a step in the right direction of continuing to document our experiences, and share the story of Canada's reality. A great number of cultures--even despite having a similar skin tone--and a great number of challenges, wishes, methods, and goals for inclusiveness and excellence.

Congratulations to Clarke, Tendisai Cromwell, David Delisca, Michael "Mikeraphone" Grandsoult, Bilan Hashi, Huda Hussan, Wendy Hayes, Belkla Galina Ingabire, Freddy King, Yasmine Mathurin, Elias Nabutete, Adhimu "Mindbendfer" Stewart, and Danian Walker for a necessary piece of work.

"Thus, Black Canadians must come together around the commonality of their skin colour and make use of practices such as Black Consciousness to empower themselves in the struggle for racial equality--an ideal that, unfortunately, has not been achieved in the present or past context of multicultural Canada." ~Fiona Raye Clarke

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oh, Beyonce: Life IS But A Dream

Mrs Beyonce Carter is fabulous. There's no other word to describe her. She has an amazing voice, she's gorgeous, she's a wicked dancer, she's humble and soft-spoken, she's a talented songwriter, and she'll go down in history as probably THE best female performer of our time.

But the documentary....meh!

I wanted to love it. I wanted to be moved to tears, and motivated, and inspired to go conquer the world (GIRLS!), and I wanted to walk away from the TV (um, YouTube...no HBO for me!) and feel like I had a new found respect for the singer.

But...meh. I kinda feel the same. If not sliiiiiiiiiightly disappointed.

After all these years, and to hear that Beyonce was finally gonna let us the fans in, and show us a side never seen before. And there would be exclusive footage, and we'd see the baby's face, and hear all her deep dark secrets...no such a thing. This documentary "Life is But A Dream" that inconveniently aired on NBA All Star Saturday night (in the heat of the skills challenge and dunk off) was average at best.

Again, not because Beyonce is lacking anything as an artist. In fact, her artistry was actually the one thing I will walk away from this experience with more respect for. I could feel the artist in her. Her thoughts, her perfectionism, and her dedication to her craft. Whether you're a writer, or a painter, or an actress or performer, I think all artists can relate to that constant internal struggle of needing the right environment and series of processes to bring you to your optimum performances.

I got that message, loud and clear: she is the consummate performer, and this is why we all love her so much. This is why I drove to Detroit in 2004 to see her on tour (when they weren't coming to Toronto), and why I hit up that Ticketmaster at the crack of 10 o'clock last week (after two failed pre-sale attempts) to make SURE I copped some tickets to the July 21 date of her "Mrs. Carter Show" tour this summer.

She is the best at what she does.

But the documentary....whatev.

Like honestly, it just seemed like pseudo-artistic glamour shots of her "keepin it real" looking into the computer. A little bit contrived. Like I appreciated her attempt to get up-close-and-personal, and give us a behind-the-scenes look, which for the most part we did...but it still didn't come off like the most natural production in the world.

It was weird, having her narrate her story...a lot of talking, but still really not saying much. OK, so she gets sad, and she's human. Understandable. And I get that she wants people to see that she's not "perfect" and that she's flawed, and that she's just a regular girl like you and me. No really...she is...? But I kinda felt it was a lot of beautiful imagery...but not really going anywhere.

I'm not trying to hate, I just think it was much ado about nothing.

Don't get me wrong...the story of the miscarriage was terribly unfortunate, and I could feel her struggle "breaking up" from her dad's management. There were some moments of genuinely raw emotion and sadness. And there were moments of extreme joy and love (especially for ol Jay-Z), which probably made the most passionate scenes of the film. Her speech at Jay-Z's birthday dinner, and just the few seconds of watching them interact, it was clearly evident that this man has her heart, body, and soul. And rightfully so...they are a power couple if there ever was one. Rubbing shoulders with the Obama's and at the top of the respective games, Jay-Z and Beyonce are the bomb.

But the movie...um....

I wasn't convinced. I'm sorry. Like I said, I love Beyonce, she's fab...but the film itself was just weak. Could have been an MTV special, or a one-hour program on E! network. Not sure if it was "film" worthy, and premiere worthy. Although for Beyonce, I guess these series of confessions and invasion were pretty dramatic for her.

But we, the fan, have been watching this shit for years. We've seen celebrities exposed inside and out. Breakdowns, and divorces, and murders, and we've seen them hit rock bottom, and we've watched them pick themselves up and excel again. We've seen overdoses, and marriages lasting decades...or days. We've seen public heartbreaks, and public triumphs. Been there...DONE that.

So for Beyonce to be like: look at me, I'm human. I cry sometimes. I really and truly think it's great that she's FINALLY able to let us in. But on the dramatic scale or effective scale...kinda not really making a mark. Classy, yes, to keep the information still at arm's length, but also slightly anti-climactic, to say the least.

Back in 1991 I was addicted to Madonna's "Truth or Dare" documentary. I had it on VHS and watched it repeatedly. This movie to me was beyond fascinating. I loved the backstage interactions with her, the dancers, the backup singers Donna and Nicky, and yes...I could probably still quote 99% of that film because it has such an impact on me as a youngin.

Now we all know Madonna is as theatrical as they come, and the queen of imagery and creating personas and manipulating the press. We know this about her. But even in her semi-British-like accent, and her over-the-top antics, and her protests, and drama, and everything terrible yet wonderful.."Truth or Dare" the movie was still a work of art.

It was an act, but we knew this. We knew Madonna was putting on a show, and creating a crazy look at life on her Blond Ambition tour. We knew a lot of it wasn't natural, but that was part of its appeal. It was staged, but it was still sooooooooooo entertaining, and so authentically "Madonna."

I loved that movie because it painted a picture of life on the road, and despite the theatrics, there was something really human and likable about Madonna. The bond she had with her crew was so real. Like Beyonce, her performances were amazing, but the back story was also great. Getting through the tour, struggling with illness, and romance, and interpersonal conflict with team members...it was full of life and a never before scene glimpse at the world of a pop princess. There were other characters, and other points of view.

So to watch Beyonce talk about her creative struggles, and essentially how happy and blessed she is...don't get me wrong, it's lovely. I'm glad life is working out for her, and she deserves all of her successes because she's freaking awesome. But newsworthy...not so much. And she was the only one really speaking, so it really was almost just like a diary. It just kinda confirmed that Beyonce is incredible. Her life is fabulous. Sometimes she cries...but God always hooks her up in the end, and she's confident in that.

No "story" there. Again, could have been an hour episode on Much Music with equal impact.

Cute-as-can-be Katy Perry came out with a documentary "Part of Me" last year that I kinda stumbled into accidentally. THAT one moved me! I didn't know much about her, but I loved to see her footage, and her quirkiness, and her love for her fans, and her connection with those around her. I kinda missed that in Beyonce's doc...it was really just about her. Not the fans, or even anything else...just her need to be seen. And heard. Kinda.

It was heartbreaking to see Katy cry over her breakup with husband Russell Brand, and triumphant to see her still keep going for her fans and through exhaustion. There was something really tangibly motivating and inspiring about that documentary that I can't explain, but it made me feel GOOD after watching it.

I've seen it done well before. For a pop princess, it's always going to be easy to impress your fans. For the true Beyonce lovers, that documentary was easily 90 minutes of bliss, staring into her eyes and marvelling in all of her fabulousness. It was nice to hear Beyonce sing, my goodness! That girl can sang, I'll for sure give her that. And the clips chosen of her singing in the studio, at the piano, and even in the car were phenomenal. Sometimes all of the hype makes you forget just how incredible her voice is. Really clear. Really classic.

And on top of that, a treat to finally see that cute ass Jay-Z-looking little baby girl Blue Ivy. OMG. Adorable.

So don't get me wrong, I was definitely glued to the documentary today, just like I was semi-glued to that Oprah Next Chapter interview last night (while flipping back to NBA All Star Saturday, of course) where Lady O here and Beyonce...pretty much talked about the same thing. Not much. Real generic. No expose here!

I get it: what's not to like. This girl is a wonderful girl. She empowers women, she makes us wanna dance and bounce and her songs are really really unstoppable hits that make you feel GREAT about yourself, and life. Beyonce is a superstar, there's no doubt about it.

So I appreciate her directorial efforts, and attempts at cinematography...and then at the end, when she came full circle back to the tree, and the blue ivys and stuff I alllllmost had to stop an eye-roll. A little predictable, and a little cheesy at times...but she made her point. She's human! She's more than just a perfect performer! She is a perfect performer who also sometimes cries, and sometimes feels insecure, and talks to herself "in the computer" a lot. Just a regular girl...right?

Beyonce is as Beyonce does, and if she wants us to continue to believe that she's the greatest female performer of our generation by showing us this "groundbreaking" documentary, then dammit, that's what we'll do. The world is at her fingertips right now, and she has created a visual image of exactly HOW she wants us to view her. We don't even have a choice!

It essentially doesn't matter what we think, because she (as her own manager, now) has full control of her exposure, of her story...and frankly...she wouldn't have it any other way. So if she thinks this film is a masterpiece...it was written. Regardless of what the critics say, she will remain on top!

She has done a great job controlling herself and keepin' it classy over all these years, and as a woman, it's really nice to see her work hard, to see her stay relevant, stay in control, and really have the power and independence to shape her career the way she wants it to be. That is for sure commendable.

So despite the weak documentary that won't be receiving any Oscar nominations any time soon, all hail Beyonce, still! And I mean this was all sincerity. Good for her: she's making her dreams come true on her own terms. What more could anyone ask for?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Evening With John Singleton

John Singleton is awesome.

I've known this since the 90s when Boyz N The Hood first came out, and captivated me and millions of other viewers around the world, when we saw our first representation of "realistic" young black people on the big screen.

But to see him up-close-and-personal about 20 years later, to watch that same classic movie on the big screen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre, AND to have Mr. Singleton right there in the room talking about the slight sounds of a baby crying and traffic in the background as Riiiiiickkyyyyyyyyy!!! gets shot. Now that was an phenomenal f*cking experience.

And I use the "f" word loosely, because it was a common term this evening, in different variations, because John Singleton is a raw, real, and to-the-point kinda brother. He cussed, he told candid stories, he recapped his career with the right amount of class and braggadocio...and he reminded me exactly why to this day, he is the creator of about 3 of my top 5 movies of all times.

Boyz N The Hood. Baby Boy. Poetic Justice. We watched clips of them all tonight, and I was so inspired to hear the stories behind the stories, and hear the voice of the man whom I have admired for the last two decades.

Presented by the Canadian Film Centre and Clement Virgo Productions, "An Evening With John Singleton" on this 12th day of February in 2013 was yet another great Black History Month event for me, and a great reminder of the minds and artists that have helped to shape the psyche and entertainment of our generation.

Singleton was introduced by Clement Virgo, a Canadian filmmaker (and Jamaican native) who has written, directed, and produced films such as "Poor Boy's Game," "Lie with Me," and "Save My Lost Nigga' Soul," along with directing episodes of The Wire, The L Word, and Soul Food.

This was the 4th in a series of Black History Month features from the CFC, with previous guests including the great Spike Lee, and Lee Daniels. Admission from the events have provided scholarships to black filmmakers to attend the Film Centre (through the CFC's Diversity Scholarship Fund), and has served as an inspiration to aspiring artists and fans alike.

Garvia Bailey, the 9-year CBC radio veteran, and host of "Big City, Small World" led the discussion with Singleton, and took him through the processes and side-stories of his journey in film and navigating Hollywood. She did a great job leading him through a comfortable, entertaining, and informative conversation.

What resonated with me was how COOL Singleton was. With a "motherf*cker" here, and a "n*gga" there, he definitely kept it real and definitely was candid about his experiences from a young student filmmaker, to the Hollywood heavyweight he is today. He remains authentic to who he is.

Even if we all knew bits and pieces of his journey already, it was still fantastic to be able to sit amongst his admirers and listen to him tell his rendition of his biography live. He's a funny dude. And it's not that he was "telling" jokes, but his mannerisms, his language, his forwardness and confidence made it evident why he has become who he is.

You can tell he didn't compromise. He didn't do anything less than exactly what he believed he should be doing. Whether others agreed or not. And it is this boldness that made him the first African-American (and the youngest, at age 24) to receive a Best Director Academy Award nomination, and that make his films like Higher Learning, Rosewood, and Four Brothers the classics that they are today.

John Singleton is undoubtedly a trailblazer, because he was courageous enough to tell a story of black America that had not yet been seen, yet so many could relate to. Even living in the Toronto suburb of Ajax...I could RELATE to Boyz N The Hood as an adolescent/teen. The characters, the energy, the music...there was something so familiar about the characters and their emotions that made it hit home with many of us. We FELT that movie. We still do.

And I remember studying the movie in a film class, back in the late 1990s at the University of Windsor and thinking...wow, this film has really made an impact on the world. And again now, another 10 years later, we're still discussing it's relevance, and it's significance in film and pop culture history.

Singleton clarified that he was only depicting a "certain type of black life"..but regardless of who's reality it was, it was a film and an image that meant a lot of things to a lot of people. Filmmakers everywhere were inspired by this young twenty-something who had taken Hollywood by storm with his movie, just like Singleton admitted to being blown away by Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing."

We don't all have someone to inspire us, but when you do...it's a powerful thing. Singleton looked at Spike Lee as a man doing what he also planned to do with his life...and he never looked back. He told the crowd, Spike Lee made a black movie with "Do The Right Thing," but he was determined to make a "blacker" movie..and he was motivated and encouraged by the possibility of it.

He discussed the casting of Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson and the late Tupac Shakur, and preparing for Baby Boy, starring Tyrese Gibson, Snoop, and Taraji Henson. The camaraderie, and despite the fact that he was just a young man himself, how he had to find the courage to still be authoritative and run a tight ship on set.

"I made that niche for myself," he told us, proudly claiming the genre of films that he has excelled at, and that few have been able to do quite like he has. A natural storyteller, John Singleton wrote his characters based on the emotion and circumstances of personal experiences, along with the determination to tell the stories of the faces and neighbourhoods around him.

Just like Spike Lee told clear stories of Brooklyn, John Singleton was waving the cinematic flag for Los Angeles. And in his "trilogy" of Boyz N The Hood, Poetic Justice, and Baby Boy, he did just that: shone a light on South Central LA without reservation. A California native, he stayed true to his experiences, initially, and made sure we saw his town through the eyes of an insider.

Now other films like Higher Learning, Rosewood, Four Brothers, and 2 Fast 2 Furious allowed him to step outside of his created niche, and into a broader scope of different cultures, locales, and experiences. His list of subsequent credits are impressive, with direction and writing on Shaft as well, he has also produced movies like Hustle & Flow amongst many others.

All "film" credits aside, my love for John Singleton is rooted in his writing. The stories of Baby Boy, Higher Learning, Poetic Justice, and Boyz N Da Hood have stuck with me, consistently. I own the movies, and can watch them ad nauseum. I never tire of Jody. I never tire of Doughboy. I never tire of Professor Maurice Phipps, and of course Justice and Lucky will always have a place in my heart.

Singleton left Los Angeles for south Florida for over two years, to be able to tell the story of Rosewood. He noted that the "hood" life surrounding his movies, his stars, and his peers was getting to be too much. Life was imitating art, and combined with success, money, status and visibility, his surroundings were full of tension and occasionally even danger.

His journey has been an interesting one so far, needless to say. He told stories of Richard Pryor, chilling with Michael Jackson, getting to know Tupac, and even talked about his friend Quentin Tarantino's "black fetish" and his interpretation of Django (he loved it, by the way) and the surrounding controversy.

What resonated with me most from this event, were Singleton's last thoughts. He said that he doesn't mind being considered a "black filmmaker." He said that not all black people who make films consider themselves to be "black filmmakers" out of fear of what others will think, but it is something he is settled in, and "I am who I am" he declared.

He also fondly thanked Spike Lee for making a lot of the bold media statements that he has (and Singleton, in turn didn't have to). A close friend of his, who he just spent time with last week, Singleton said that he loves Spike Lee because he always says what's on his mind, and that "not enough people are that candid."

Singleton believes that it is possible to have a signature vision, and that your legacy can be achieved as long as you stay "true and passionate to who you are as a storyteller." It is his truth and his passion as a storyteller that definitely motivated and encouraged me to find my own voice as a young writer. Hearing him live today has encouraged me again to continue to follow my own "signature vision" and not be afraid to stand boldly in it.

What a night! Watching Boyz N The Hood with John Singleton in the room. For real though...what's better than that? It was an honour to even be in his presence, and I so appreciate what the Canadian Film Centre put together tonight: an opportunity for me to continue to receive inspiration from someone who has already shaped so much of my writing identity over the years.

Dalton Higgins Writes Canada's Hip Hop History, From Master T to Drake

Author Dalton Higgins never thought he would see it happen in his lifetime: the hottest rapper in the game coming from...our Toronto?

For those of us that grew up in the Canadian city, we would probably agree. For years we saw our talented local rappers hustle, grind, and work hard on their craft, only to be snubbed by even our national radio stations, television stations, and awards shows. Sometimes even snubbed by each other.

But it happened. Hit after hit, radio stations around the world were playing Drake songs, Drake collaborations, and everyone from Jay-Z to Jamie Foxx was singing his praise. Loudly. Torontonians everywhere couldn't help but feel a sense of pride. Drake's success and acceptance was our success and acceptances. Canadian hip hop had finally broken the barrier, in the most spectacular way.

And then on Sunday night, our hometown hip hip hero Aubrey Drake Graham took home the Grammy award for best hip hop album: "Take Care." The award wasn't televised (despite hop hop being a huge part of the music landscape, and huge money maker in the music industry), but the news was still celebrated. After 12 nominations since 2010, Drake had music's top honour to add to his repetoire of successes.

In a category with hip hop legends Nas, and The Roots, hit makers Rick Ross and 2 Chainz, and Lupe Fiasco...it was a great honour.

Who woulda thought?

Regardless of one's personal thoughts about Drake's music and style, or their opinions on how he fits into the bigger hip hop landscape, the truth can not be denied. He made huge movements for Canadian hip hop, and he will go down in history as a big part of this generation's story, and impact on pop culture.

I had the pleasure of attending Dalton Higgins' session at the Toronto Public Library on Saturday, February 9th, 2013, as he discussed his latest book: "Far from Over: The Music and Life of Drake, The Unofficial Story." Released in September of last year by ECW Press, this is Dalton's 5th published novel, and a natural project for the music expert and seasoned journalist.

A music presenter by day, Dalton has been at the forefront of Canadian hip hop for years. In fact, he booked Drake's first major performance in Toronto back in 2007 along with the Urban Music Association of Canada. He was responsible for one of K'naan's inaugural concerts in 2005, as well as played a role in the written works of other Canadian hip hop heavyweights like K-Os and Kardinal Offishall. He has been there from the beginning, documenting each of our Canadian legends on their rise to fame.

He penned a story about veteran Much Music VJ Master T, and has been waving the flag for the publication and communication of our stories for over ten years.

Just hearing his stories, at the North York Centre branch of the Toronto Public Library, it is evident that Dalton is someone who has been at the forefront of the Canadian hip hop industry since day one. He gets it. He understands the history, and having travelled the globe and written for hip hop publications like The Source, he can also see the bigger picture.

I think it's important that a Canadian writer is telling the story of this Canadian artist, Drake. I think it's important that we own stories, and our journey as Canadians, and that we have the ability to tell truthful renditions of our realities in this country.

It's Black History Month, and every year in February we are reminded of our legacy, and motivated to continue in a positive direction in hopes that we too can inspire and encourage those who follow us. So as a writer, when I see Dalton Higgins paving the way for other writers, I think it is only fitting that he also carries a torch for hip hop journalism, the hip hop industry, and that he uses his talents to help complete the historical Canadian documentation of our time.

Higgins called it a "renaissance"...the emergence of chart-topping artists from our beloved Tee-Dot. From Drake, to Kardi, to Melanie Fiona and even Justin Bieber. There is suddenly a surge of international acclaim for the artists from this country.
  
He promises that the book has many candid conversations with Drake's network, and those who have been here from the beginning watching him evolve from an actor on Degrassi, to one of the world's top MCs. With stories and information gathered right here in Drake's hometown, with the people who knew him best, and the individuals who have witnessed the unfolding of history, Dalton uses his journalistic background and passion for music to tell a story that is truly representative of the current generation of urban Canadian culture.

I look forward to reading this book, and again, couldn't be happier that a knowledgeable Canadian is the one who is genuinely telling the inspiring story of Mr. Graham. "Far from Over: The Music and Life of Drake, The Unofficial Story" is available widely in bookstores, and can be purchased online through Chapters and other major booksellers.

Drake just dropped this video this week: "Started From The Bottom..."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Defining Canadian Urban Fiction" ~ Part Three

Saturday, February 2, 2013 was a great day.At the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library, we gathered to discuss a topic that is of utmost importance to Kya Publishing--the definition of the genre urban fiction, and what it specifically means in a Canadian context.

Moderated by journalist Angela Walcott, and featuring panelists relationship blogger Telisha Ng, Christian non-fiction author Tanika Chambers, Life Fiction author D. A. Bourne, TDSB educator Camille Ramnath, hip hop artist General, and children's author Angelot Ndongmo, the discussion took the panelists and attendees through a discussion based on ten questions, and leading up to the final question: "How would you define Canadian Urban Fiction?"


Angela Walcott (left) & SMR
The event began with a welcome address from Toronto Public Library's Joanne Bainbridge, the Senior Branch Head of the Malvern District Branch, who let everyone know that urban fiction is a hot commodity on the shelves! She expressed her interest in bringing more urban fiction to the library, and looking forward to more Canadian contributions to the Rita Cox collection, that is housed at the Malvern Branch. The Rita Cox collection features materials that focus on the Black and Caribbean cultural and historical experience, including the books of Kya Publishing's Stacey Marie Robinson.

After Joanne's address, Stacey welcomed the gathering and introduced the afternoon's objectives: to start a dialogue, to promote and celebrate the works of the featured writers, and of course...to establish a working definition of the genre of Canadian Urban fiction to be used in research, development, and communication from Kya Publishing, and other Canadian cultural advocates.

D.A. Bourne read an except from his novel "Unshaken," Tanika Chambers read from her book "Single, Ready & Waiting," General introduced his music video for "Runaway Slave," Telisha Ng read from her blog "Goddess Intellect," and Angelot Ndongmo read from her books "Loving Me," and "Boy, I'm Loving Me" as well as performed a piece with her drummer. The mood was set, and the talent was declared!

And the "Defining Canadian Urban Fiction" questions began: here's a look at the questions that were asked, and a few of the responses received:

(1) Has the word "urban" become another way of saying "black," and does race always apply when the word "urban" is used?"

-General believes that "urban" is often used as a code word for "black" when it comes to music, events, and classifying a culture...sometimes unfairly
-others felt that the word "urban" is becoming interchangeable, and that the trend is changing with the changing face of the community

(2) Does literature play a strong role in developing identity? Do you have any books that influenced your life and personal identity?

-an audience member said that the books that first influence us are the books that are found in our homes; it is important to be aware of this
-Camille mentioned that not only does it develop you own identity, but it also helps you to be aware of others' identity, and the spaces they occupy as well

(3) What do you know about "urban fiction," and what is your general impression of it? Do you think there will ever be a place for it in the Canadian literary world? Does it need mainstream acceptance to develop?

-D.A. felt that urban fiction were stories of our generation, sometimes reflective of "street literature" and representative of a a variety of experiences with a multicultural edge
-when being reviewed by an American company (Raw Sistaz) that the "Canadian vernacular" was evident to them
-Angelot feels that we do need mainstream support, we need to find our own voices, and also support one another
-It was mentioned that many Canadian book awards (i.e. Giller Prize) do not feel inclusive of urban writing

(4) What do you think urban music, urban radio, and urban culture means to Canada, and why is it so difficult for us to form a strong infrasructure for its development?

-General provided a overview of the history of urban music in Toronto, the importance of support from commercial radio, and how the infrastructure must support the artists and their development
-he also mentioned sports and how many Canadian athletes need an infrastructure here to support their growth, because the talent is becoming increasingly stronger

(5) Do you think it's necessary for us to classify writing by race, culture, or geography? What is the benefit to doing this?

-Camille noted that classification helps us to be able to find resources--as a teacher, she is constantly searching for teaching tools, and it is helpful to specifically know where to find particular voices and experiences

(6) What makes your writing and what you do authentically "Canadian"? How would you like to be classified, and why? / (7) What would you like others to know about Canadian culture as a result of your writing/work, and how much of what is tied to your "urban" identity?

-Telisha noted that most bloggers that she is in association with are American, so be default she is an "ambassador" to the Canadian culture
-her Canadian experiences, as well as her Caribbean influences help to form her unique writing tone
-Tanika also noted that particular locations and items make her writing Canadian, as many of the references are location-specific

(8) What will this generation of children have--in terms of urban and cultural literature--that our generation didn't have? / (9) What Canadian urban identity have you seen develop over the past 10 years, and how are the young being influenced by it?

-Telisha notes that she has seen a strong American influence in the past, but that perspective is changing
-Camille has noticed that children are benefitting from arts in schools, and that they are more of a voice
-General noted that the younger generation are able to see people of various cultures in positions of power, and in roles that the previous generation didn't necessarily see as much

(10) How do you think Canada's "urban" culture will look 5-10 years from now, and what can we do as writers to help shape this?

-D.A. believes that urban culture will dominate, and will be inclusive of many races
-Telisha feels that many Canadian artists who have left for the U.S. to develop, will return to Canada once our infrastructure grows and continues to develop
-Tanika recommends that we wear our Canadian pride and make sure to mention where we're from, where possible
-an audience member mentioned that we should encourage young people to write more, and she believes that Canadian urban fiction and culture will have a stronger place in mainstream international culture

This is just a small look at a rich discussion that took place at the Toronto Public Library. There were so many wonderful commentaries, insightful observations, and passionate declarations made by those on the panel, as well as the audience members. In the next coming weeks, there will be video footage posted via Kya Publishing to share the discussion with the greater writing community, and to keep the conversation going.

As one of our attendees said: "Racism takes a long time [to change], change takes a long time...tell your stories, and continue to break barriers."

Check in with Kya Publishing via Facebook, Twitter, or email to be a part of the ongoing discussion, and the development of Canadian Urban Fiction.



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

"Reggae Divas"...A Story I Wanted To Tell

It's a story I wanted to tell, a genre I wanted to celebrate, and a demographic that I genuinely believe needed to be highlighted and publically celebrated. I love reggae music, I love my Jamaican culture, and I wanted the world to know about the females in the reggae music industry, and what they represent.

I was going to call the book "Reggae Divas" simply to honour the music and the vocalists that help reggae transcend beyond boundaries of gender. I've been thinking about it for years, gathering information, and mentally preparing myself for the exciting journey or research, music, and enlightenment. I set up social media sites, began the conversation with a few artists, their managers, and publicists...and then after a series of events in the past few weeks, I've decided that it is not my story to tell.

As a writer, I realize all content is pretty much open for intepretation and study. As an artist, we receive inspiration from a variety of sources regardless of our cultural backgrounds and preferences. So while I still love reggae music and the industry that surrounds it, I have enough respect for it that I will not continue to tell a story that I am essentially not yet qualified to tell.

A few things sparked this revelation: 1) Watching the performances and surrounding incidents at the Sting 2012 concert, 2) Watching the documentary "Queens of Sound" by Sandra Krampelhuber, and 3) Revisiting the works of professor Carolyn Cooper.

Why?

1) Because of the controversies and excitement surrounding the female performances at Sting 2012, and then the subsequent Twitter battles and back-and-forth "war" that took place in the weeks following. I realized there is an element of "clash" and female-on-female disrespect, and a history and background to the performers, their relationships, and their power struggles that I am not aware of. I love and admire SO MANY female reggae artists, but when I was reminded of THIS part of the culture, I realized that I am not in a position to pass judgement, understand the musical creativity and other elements of clashing, and that it was not something I was an expert in. I didn't enjoy seeing this level of female bashing, and the lack of unity.

2) Because Sandra Krampelhuber did a great job with her documentary "Queens of Sound," and essentially answered many of the questions I was hoping to explore in my book/anthology. She personally sent me a copy of her film (which I am extremely grateful for), and I saw that she asked many of the questions I would have probably asked, and had amazing access to the legends and stars of the genre. My rendition would have almost been redundant, and I can not guarantee that I would have provided any additional perspectives or retrieved any additional answers than Sandra had already done, with great care.

3) Because of Carolyn Cooper -- as a Jamaican scholar, one who teaches and researches reggae music, females in the industry, Jamaican pop culture, social practices, and the music community extensively...I realized that I would never had the same level of innate understanding and passion for the subject on that level. When individuals like Cooper have dedicated their lives to being well versed in the subject, and have helped to bring it into academia and university-level study...I know that their works already speak volumes.

Now, this is not to berate my writing abilities or my genuine intentions to tell the stories of Jamaican females in reggae music. It is my thorough understanding of my limitations as a writer, and as a music lover, and supporter of Jamaican culture. While my heart is in the right place, and it is still quite a possibility that with a lot of hard work, research, and face-to-face time spent in Jamaica with the subjects that the book "Reggae Divas" is still an option...I still choose to resign this project. I will leave this story in the hands of those who know it intimately.

For example, individuals like the brilliant Carolyn Cooper. I've read her work before, and continue to be inspired by her. In her 2004 book "Sound Clash" she comments on females in reggae music, and says that "Self-righteous critics of the sexualized representation of women in Jamaican dancehall culture, who claim to speak unequivocally on behalf of "oppressed" women, often fail to acknowledge the pleasure that the women themselves consciously take in the salacious lyrics of both male and female DJs who afffirm the sexual power of women."

Cooper combines her academic strenghts, along with an acute understanding of the culture and products of the reggae music industry. She has brought the dancehall into the classrooms of universities, and as the subject of many scholarly works and discussions.

As a writer, I think it is our responsibility to tell stories accurately, and to be genuine when we communicate them. We must also know our strenghts, as well as our limitations. We must know what stories we are capable of telling...and those that are not our story to tell. I feel good about this personal revelation to NOT write "Reggae Divas, and will continue to support those who ARE dedicated to telling these stories. And telling them well.

The Jamaican media, Jamaican musicians, scholars, authors, theorists, and even individuals like Sandra who live in other parts of the world, but their hearts still beat to the sounds of reggae music and Jamaican culture.

I love Jamaica. I love my people. I love reggae music. I would not be who I am without it. However, I am also intimately connected to my Canadian roots and culture, and believe I am better equipped to tell the "Jamaican" story from the "Canadian" perspective, for this is the life that I live...daily. This epiphany has been strengthened by the awareness of Black History Month, and the dedication that we all must have to documenting the stories of our surroundings, and our heart.

I will continue to use the divas of reggae music to cultivate the vibes, the energy, the passion, and the culture that I need to pursue my other writing initiatives. With utmost respect and honour for their work.

I absolutely love Etana, and Marcia Griffiths. I can't get enough of Alaine's voice, and think that Cherine Anderson is vibrant and fabulous. I have been listening to Rita Marley's "One Draw" since I was a child, and again...love it more and more with passing years. Althea & Donna's "Uptown Top Rankin" speaks to me on a level that makes me comfortable with being ME, and I think the Chin sisters (Tessanne and Tami, pictured with Celine Dion) are beautiful singers. I loooove to hear Tanya Stephen's "Goggle" and Lady Saw's "Hice It Up" and "Ease Off, Breeze Off" in the club and they brought so much vibes and energy to me growing up. And a little Tifa, Stacious, Macka Diamond, and Spice are great for when you're in a fierce mood, and want to let off steam!

The world of female reggae artists is full of talented, energetic, vibrant, intelligent, and fabulous women! Yes, there are moments of shame and questionable words/actions...but it is all a part of the culture, the flare, and representative of the diversity of the island itself.

Here is a list of the females of reggae music, past and present, who I have compiled. I will continue to honour them. Continue to listen to them. And continue to wish them well as the faces and voices of a country and land that I love.

Alaine / Alibra / Althea Forrest & Donna Reid / Altyah / Angie Ange / Anna Fisher / Audry Hall / Barbee / Black Queen / Brick & Lace / Carlene Davis / Carol G / Carol T / Cecile / Cedella B / Cherine Anderson / Cherry Natural / Claudette McLean / Cynthia Schloss / D'Angel / Dawn Penn / Denyque / Diana King / Erica Newell / Etana / Hortense Ellis / Irie Love / I-Threes / I-Shawna / Janet Kay / JC Lodge / Joanna Marie / Jovi Rockwell / Judy Mowatt / Kim Nain / Kris Kelli / Lady G / Lady Saw / Lady Venus / Leba Hibbert / Lorna Bennett / Louisa Mark / Macka Diamond / Marcia Aitken / Marcia Griffiths / Michie and Lou Chi / Millie Small / Miss Thing / Nadine Sutherland / Natalie Storm / Natasia / Nikki Burt / Omega 4 / Pam Hall / Pamputtae / Patra / Phyllis Dillon / Queen Candace / Queen Ifrica / Queen Omega / Queen Paula / Raine Seville / Rita Marley / Rochelle B / Sandra Joy Alcott / Sasha / Sharon Marley / Shiela Hylton / Shema / Sister Carol / Sophia George / Spice / Stacious / Susan Cadogan / Sylvia Tella / Tami Chynn / Tanya Stephens / Tessanne / Tifa / Timberlee / Twiggi / Winsome B / Worl-A-Girl

While I may not choose to write about them at this time, I know for sure that their music and legacies will still help me to write. I will remain inspired.

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