Thursday, December 27, 2018

REBEL SALUTE // Reggae Festival Hosts Local Media Launch in Kingston, Jamaica

Sponsors, dignitaries, recording artists, and members of the Jamaican local media gathered at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica on the evening of December 27, 2018 to launch the concepts and features surrounding the annual Rebel Salute roots reggae festival that takes place each January on the island. What began as a birthday celebration for legendary reggae vocalist Tony Rebel, near to January 15 of each year, has evolved into one of the prime festivals in Jamaica, now preparing to present the 26th year on January 18 and 19, 2019 at the Grizzly's Plantation Cove in Priory, St. Ann.

Far from the Pegasus ballroom, we participated in the media launch via live-stream (available via Facebook, Instagram, and online at here in Toronto, Canada, to take in the greetings and introductions from the various sponsors and participants who have helped to support and maintain this festival over the years. The 2019 iteration of Rebel Salute promises to be the best yet, with an outstanding lineup, and a range of products, services, and features for the reggae patrons.

"Every January, thousands of reggae music lovers make the pilgrimage to Rebel Salute for a world-class event that delivers a spectacular experience of authentic roots reggae, wholesome culture, and healthy living," according to the event website. This "family-friendly festival promotes the positive aspects of reggae music, and by extension the best of Jamaican culture."

Proclaimed to be "the greatest show on earth," the launch detailed the ticketing and highlights of Rebel Salute. Taking place over two days, tickets to the festival are currently on sale at a number of ticket outlets on the island ranging from Total gas stations to Fontana branches, as well as through online outlets (formerly YardTicket), and

The prices are as follows (listed in Jamaican Dollars):

General Pre-Sale: $5,500
General Gate Admission: $6,000
VIP Pre-Sale: $10,000
VIP Gate Admission: $11,000

Features also include the option to camp out at the venue under the stars, and Jamaican cuisine that adheres to a strict vegetarian menu (no meat at The Cove), a drug-free environment, violence-free surroundings, and no alcohol permitted. In addition to the ital eating, there will also be "an abundance of culture of the Jamaican people." The art and craft village, and the "Herb Curb" exposure is a unique feature of this family-friendly gathering of "healthy livity".

The media launch reminded viewers and in-house participants that Rebel Salute will be a world-class event, profiling the wholesome culture, healthy living, and a spiritual renaissance. Like other high-profile festivals in Jamaica there has been a range of legends on the stage from Jimmy Cliff in 2005, Movado in 2011, plus Steve and Damian Marley in 2012 to name a few noted by the MC. A memorable performance from Koffee was noted, as she has had a steady career incline since.

The host Johnny "Live" Daley thanked many of the sponsorsaccommodation partners, as well as introduced musical performances from the likes of Bushman, Turbulence, and Capleton. Turbulence, recently returning from a 4-year stay in Kenya, in a post-performance interview at the launch, says that "people can expect the unexpected" from his performance at Rebel Salute, as he continues to promote his new album entitled The Remedy.

On behalf of the Strictly Roots brand, Michael Dawson spoke of his support of Rebel Salute, as well as promoting his brand that strives to take the waters from Blue Mountain and use them as a symbol of a natural lifestyle, and bringing information to patrons about their roots.

An EPICAN representative spoke about Jamaica's first seed-to-sale cannabis brand, with a store and marketplace now located in Kingston. Also a sponsor of Rebel Salute, he said that at EPICAN "we think it's our sacred duty to support reggae music."

Mark Pike, from Enterprise Jamaica said that in the two years that Enterprise has been present in Jamaica, they have supported the Rebel Salute for both years. "There's a rebel in all of us," he said, noting the importance of Jamaicans at home and abroad connecting, and the role that Enterprise plays in that process. In celebration of Rebel Salute, along with Reggae Month in February, the world's largest rental brand will be offering discounts to attendees.

Representatives from law enforcement ensured optimum safety and protection during the event, and also sent a reminder that participants and vendors should adhere to all guidelines, outlined in the best interest of all present.

The Honourable Olivia Grange, the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport was in attendance, along with the Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams, and other noted Jamaican dignitaries. The Minister began her address, in response to an anecdote from the MC, with a salutation to reggae artist Buju Banton, who was recently released from serving time in Florida. "Buju has served his time, and he's now a free man and we are 100% in support of him. He's one of the most talented artists that Jamaica has ever produced," said the Minister. "Welcome home, Buju. We love you."

"Tony Rebel succeeded in capturing the best in artistry and consciousness in an unabashed presentation of our Jamaica and African heritage," the Minister said. "Presenting the dignity our African ancestry has represented in Rastafari culture, with Africa at the centre of our cultural and creative consciousness."

Cordell Green, the Executive Director of the Jamaica Broadcasting Commission, introduced the evening's guest speaker just before 10:00 p.m. Queen's Counsel Paula Llewellyn, Jamaica's DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions). Speaking about her position as the first female DPP on the island, as well as referring to recent visits to the island from DJ Khaled and Drake. Her most important message: for the artists to be aware of their influence.

"I am all for artistic expression, but remember that no one is above the one is below it, either," she said, reminding the artists and those in attendance that music is an important tool for messaging. A steady voice for justice, as Jamaica's only female director of prosecutions, she stressed that folks must always "know the rules of the game" and honour their talents.

"We own the authenticity of reggae: nobody can take that away from us," she said. "But I would like The Preservation of Reggae to also include an acknowledgement, that with this awesome gift, and with the awesome power, you must have a recognition that responsibility must be intermingled there. That responsibility means that you have to be careful--not careless--as a practitioner and an exemplar of what being a reggae ambassador is all about."

The DPP commended Rebel Salute for exemplifying positivity, and stressed that: "There is nothing wrong about Jamaica that what is right about Jamaica can not fix. Rebel Salute is one of the iconic things that is right about Jamaica."

Just after 10:30 p.m., the Fire Man himself Capleton was there to perform, electrifying the crowd with call-and-response, afterward telling reporters that he is "inspired through creation" and "has a passion for the music," putting his all into it to make sure it's great.

Festival-head Tony Rebel noted that he enjoys bringing new talent to the stage each year, and said that he is "feeling good about the young artists. We need a constant flow of different artists exercising the same style--within reggae--but maybe have a different way they do it. It's always good to fill the space with  young artists coming up."

In conclusion, Tony Rebel said that Jamaicans must stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, and to share with each other. "Jamaica is still wonderful. Jamaica is still beautiful. Jamaican people are still some of the greatest people, and most talented people I know. Every country has their challenges, yes...but come! People here still will accommodate you, people here still will love you, and people will keep you safe too."

"It's a spiritual mandate to preserve the healthier aspects of our culture," said Rebel. "Let's listen to music that can motivate you, and music that can inspire. That is why everybody makes the trek in January, because they see it as a spiritual renaissance. The camaraderie of Rebel Salute, you don't see it no where else."


"I've been doing this for 25 years: trust us. We are going to make sure that you get the best that you can get," said Tony Rebel before releasing the names of some of the festival's performers.

Some of the announced artists included: Patoranking (from Nigeria), Mykal Rose, for the first time The Wailers, the Wailing Soul, Dawn Penn, Wayne Marshall, Marvin Moore, Marcia Aiken, Anthony Malvo, Wayne Wonder, Luciano, Shalom, Perfect, Capleton, Leroy Gibbon, Terry Ganzie, Chessie, Mighty Diamonds, Marva Gillespie, Koffee, Mr. Easy, Jah Boogs, Annu, Bushman, Queen Ifrica, Leroy Smart, reggae band Chalice, Agent Sasco, Horace Andy, Ken Boothe, Half Pint, Mr. Vegas, Nesbeth, Turbulence, Louis Culture, Echo Minot, King Kong, Jesse Royal, Yellowman, Chi Ching Ching, King Sound, and Bounty Killer.

He also said they are giving Buju Banton space, that he is always invited, and all things are possible. Additional artists to be announced in the upcoming days via Instagram, Facebook, and the Rebel Salute website. Said Rebel: "When I say that I am going to give you more names: don't doubt me!"

The four-and-a-half-hour media launch concluded with a performance from Tony Rebel and some of his special guests, with vibes high and so much to anticipate with just a few weeks remaining until the big event. It was a pleasure to watch from Toronto, and connect with the passion of the culture that makes the island of Jamaica so influential.

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

Book Review: "Becoming" by Michelle Obama

In a time when international politics can make your blood boil, your heart sink, and make you question your faith in humanity and democracy, reading the words of Michelle Obama are a welcome and reassuring voice of hope, logic, and dignity. Her book "Becoming," released by Crown Publishing Group (a division of Penguin Random House) last month immediately topped every best-seller list. Naturally.

Michelle Obama has become a face--and spirit--of strength, comfort, and progress for many of us watching her career, her movements, and her family over the past decade or more. She represents the grace that is fitting for a First Lady, as well as a relatability required in a trusted friend or mentor. Throughout her years in the White House, and even now her years beyond the intense political spotlight that the highest office in America holds, she is still someone worth emulating and praising.

Like most, I knew Michelle Obama as the super-healthy, Ivy League-educated, fun-loving, intelligent, and fierce matriarch of the beloved Obama family. I've seen her speak on behalf of her husband to crowds of thousands at rallies, she's jammed with the likes of Ellen and others on national television, and she made it hip to be fit and health-conscious. She showed us all that despite being under the most excruciating pressures and unshakable spotlight, that she could still function as a lovable and classy lady, with the nation's best interests always firmly placed in front of her.

It was great to now go back in time and learn the fine details of the life of Michelle Robinson Obama, to see her family upbringing, the nuances of her childhood, and how she always worked hard, believed in education, and had a spirit of steel as she navigated her way from the south side of Chicago, to a corporate legal position. I never knew the in's and out's of her life until now, and I truly feel that I am better of now that I am up to speed. Her parents and her brother Craig are a tight group of solid folks, and a great example for all.

A few particular things in this book stood out for me, in defining the overall character and legacy of Mrs. Obama to date. First and foremost: her love for her husband and family, and her ability to use the bigger picture as the compass for her decisions and actions. I also admired her dedication to education, and how her parents stood behind her 100% as she achieved her academic goals...yet never let this define her. When she found herself in a high-paying, comfortable job as a lawyer, and was on track to becoming a potential law firm partner...she still followed her instincts, and returned to community work. She never chased the money: she chased her passion.

To this date, I also admire her resiliency, and the way she conducted herself with utmost dignity and pride. Even a couple weeks ago at the funeral of George H.W. Bush when she (albeit, tight-lipped) greeted U.S. President Donald Trump with a polite "good morning" and a handshake, I had to give her credit for not cussing out his b*******t (insert Jamaican expletive here), and instead taking the high road.

When they go low, we go high! That's her catch phrase, and as many times as I've heard Michelle and even Hillary Clinton repeat it in unison with crowds, to see her LIVE it is a true marker of her seriousness. Michelle Obama is a thinking lady, and every action is a result of planning, calculation, and with the intention of influencing the greater good.

I won't even tarnish my feel-good vibe right now, griping about the circus clown and his entourage of fools that currently take up space in the nation's capitol, and make my blood pressure soar with every headline. In fact, I couldn't have read this book at a better moment in history because I need to be reminded of how even in the worse possible circumstances, with the right mentality and the right heart, you can push through and survive anything.

Even this current political climate. Yikes.

The biography of Michelle Obama should be a must-read book for young women, because of the lessons it inherently pushes in how to be lady-like, yet still be a boss. How to take control, yet how to also yield control when necessary. How to empower others, and how to motivate yourself. Particularly from the perspective of a women, it is important to see how Michelle was the ultimate right-hand to her husband Barack throughout their courting, marriage, and time in the White House, yet she still never lost herself in his shine. She was his rock, just as he was hers.

I appreciate how supportive she was of her husband, and how she often even put her own priorities on temporary pause to ensure that the equilibrium of her family and the greater goal were maintained. She wasn't bitter or miserable. She didn't complain or make a fuss. She expressed her concerns appropriately, and with power. Overall, she was a ride-or-die companion to Barack on his journey, and she realized the importance of the moment in history they were creating day-by-day. Michelle didn't pout and leave Barack to figure it out on his own: she lifted him up, and she formed her own team to ensure that her own voice and aspirations were not lost. Her was also her ride-or-die.

All while maintaining a comfortable balance for their girls, Malia and Sasha, growing up under ultra-extraordinary conditions with secret service agents shadowing their every move, and cell phones popping up at every corner to capture their adventures. The legacy of those girls has remained untarnished, and they have managed to come of age under intense scrutiny, yet somehow privately, thanks to the monitoring and careful guidance of their mother.

The book "Becoming" is a long read, at just over 400 pages, but a beautiful and captivating story of love, of romance (I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the courtship of Michelle and Barack), as well as a story of creating a strong family and maintaining balance by also giving back, and contributing to society with intention and good will.

Her book sales have been record-breaking, and "Becoming" is the top seller for 2018, to no surprise. Her book tour had a successful run over the past month, featuring other phenomenal ladies on stage with Michelle, as she discusses her book and the related lessons. Good news was released this week, for those (like me) who were unable to secure tickets to the first leg of Michelle's "Becoming" book tour: new dates have been released for 2019, and tickets go on sale tomorrow (December 15) via her book/tour website: She'll touch down in Toronto next May 4, and I'm sure the words of her book and the example of her spirit have already motivated 19,000 lucky supporters to secure their tickets to attend. Here's the link to order tickets to "Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama." (Word of the wise: log in at 10 a.m. on the dot, or kiss those tickets goodbye!)

I thank God for a woman like Michelle: someone to look to for positive examples, and someone who is keen and still exhibits endearing human emotion. As a mother, an academic, a community-leader, a supportive wife, and as a conduit for change and inspiration amongst many, she has proven to be one of the most effective icons of our generation. Standing next to a formidable character like Barack can't be easy, but she has held her own every step of the way, and has consistently exhibited the qualities and determination of a great leader.

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

How the Albums of Buju Banton Inspired my Passion for Reggae Music

Growing up in a Jamaican household our family always listened to reggae music, but my parents also had a taste that spanned from Bob Neil Diamond at times. While reggae, calypso and sounds of the West Indies were honourably celebrated, so was the music of Blondie, Queen, Ashford & Simpson, and Whitney Houston to name a few. A musical family from Toronto straight back to Manchester, Jamaica, we all had an innate appreciation for all good music: period.

I can remember the Caribbean compositions of ska, lover's rock, and roots reggae as a late 70's baby; it was a natural soundtrack to outings and special events. The rhythms were soothing, and the lyrics even at times humourour to our young ears. For example, when Lovindeer released his tribute of disdain to Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, my siblings and I laughed at the patois-laden lyrics, singing along to the instant hit about the storm that ravished our island, devastating many.

Reggae music is special--albeit not always appreciated--to anyone of Jamaican ancestry. It is our music, exclusively. Now thanks to the recent UNESCO declaration, it is also a global treasure that the United Nations has committed to protecting and preserving for the social impact it has had on its listeners around the world. Reggae music is, at its core, a music for the people and by the people. A music of movement, rebellion, love, and progress.

It wasn't until 1992 that I took a deeply personal interest in reggae music, falling in love with not only the messaging but also the artistry, the performers, the instrumentation, and the culture. The artist that first caught my attention unlike any other reggae artist to date was Mark Myrie, aka Buju Banton.

Entering high school in 1992, I had already lived a brief-but-full life of piano lessons, choir practice, playing the clarinet in the school band, and obsessing over and studying music daily. It was a lifestyle for me even before reggae music became an addiction: music was a part of me. Up until then, I didn't own any reggae music of my own. My father had records, and I had to resort to borrowing the mix cassettes of my older sister. I didn't know the names of the new artists, but I knew the vibe very well. I would duplicate the mixes for myself and use them to DJ our elementary school birthday parties and dances. I was intrigued by the essence, but had yet to study the players.

Mr. Mention was the first reggae album I ever purchased, back at the Pickering Flea Market, and to this day remains one of the best reggae albums of all times, as far as I'm concerned. With tracks like "Love How the Gal Dem Flex," "Have to Get You Tonight," and "Who Say" instantly catching my attention, I would play the A side, and the B side, and back to the A side on indefinite repeat. It was "Bonafide Love" featuring Wayne Wonder that captivated me most of all. I had fallen in love with the voice of Buju Banton, with the fun and charismatic tone of his lyrics, and the rhythms have never left me to this day.

I had every track on the Mr. Mention album memorized, and as a writer, the young Jamaican swag and the loveable charm of Buju Banton also helped to inform my taste in events, individuals, and behaviour. After Mr. Mention came a series of singles from the Stamina Daddy album, released in Jamaica in 1992 containing songs like the title track "Stamina Daddy" and other favourites like "Gold Spoon." It was also around this time that I discovered the Toronto-based Friday Night Reggae Mania radio show with host Ron Nelson, and I would anticipate the weekly mixes including Buju Banton, which also led me to other artists of the era. Reggae music had captivated me, and the entire culture began to expand around me.

By 1993, I was an official connoisseur. Not quite old enough to attend reggae events in the city of Toronto, I was instead glued to my radio, and committed to keeping up with reggae news and events through Ron Nelson and also through the interviews and performances on our Canadian music station Much Music, with host Master T and the range of artists he would have in-studio for mini-concerts and discussion. When Buju's album Voice of Jamaica was released that year, I was full-speed-ahead into songs like "Red Rose," and "Deportees," as well as the more conscious tracks like "Tribal War" and fun loving hits like "Make My Day."

If I had a mood, there was a Buju Banton song that would fit it. If I had a vibe, there was a track to match my energy. Now in my second year of high school, I also became an avid story writer, knocking out a few books a year was my regular speed, and I was inspired by the sounds of reggae music in particular. While the adolescent novelist was consumed with friendships, and childish thoughts, through the imaginative dialect of reggae music, I was able to begin to explore more mature concepts, and now also give my characters a distinct Jamaican edge that I wasn't particularly exposed to from my conservative-Christian family.

To no surprise, my characters were always Jamaican-centric. My male characters had a distinctly dancehall-inspired swag, and this was the culture and the environment of which many, many stories were birthed. It was a culture I longed to explore, and the older I got, and the more knowledgeable I became about the music, the more I learned, and the more I wrote. The more I experienced, and the more I enjoyed through this music.

It was around this time that I was officially old enough to make my own life decisions, and found myself with a driver's license and a full social agenda that always included me partaking in reggae music in one way or another. I began to date. I began to attend parties, my curfew slowly extended...and my passion for the music and culture automatically grew with these new freedoms. By the time 1995 hit, and the Til Shiloh album was released, my dedication to reggae music was solidified. A close friend of mine with a never-ending list of connections in the music industry, invited me downtown with her one Saturday afternoon when Buju Banton was in town for a concert. Still only 17, this was my introduction to the cross-city travelling and entertainment that would consume my late teens and twenties. But at this particular moment, it was a true experience. We ended up at the Much Music studio on Queen Street, and had what would turn out to be one of the most memorable afternoons of my life. To this day.

Standing on the sidewalk, we saw a tall, slender, dark-skinned young man with a white bucket hat, solemnly sipping on a cup of tea with his foot perched behind him against the wall of the Chum building downtown. Buried in the collar of his winter coat, he sipped, and shivered. We stared. He stared back, with a mischievous smile. Is that Buju? I had to wonder, but his casualness and independence made us think otherwise. It wasn't until members of his entourage and band approached that we realized we were in the company of the great Buju Banton that entire time.

He laughed at us, because we were young and timid, but he also said hello, obliged us with photographs, autographs, and a his drummer even handed me a signed copy of his 12" single "Sensimilia" for me to take home, along with "Til Shiloh" tour stickers. With our Buju Banton swag in hand, we also made acquaintance with Wayne Wonder, and stuck around Much Music to watch Buju's performance of his album. In an unfortunate turn of events for me, I was not allowed to accompany my friend (already 19 years old) to the concert that evening, but I was content to go home with my personalized memorabilia, which only further cemented my appreciation for the artist.

Favourites on the Shiloh album: most definitely "Champion" and "Murderer," as well as "Not an Easy Road" and "Wanna Be Loved." It's safe to say that next to Mr. Mention, this album definitely holds a special place in my reggae heart: it is permanently made significant in my memories.

By the time Inna Heights was released in 1997, I was finishing high school and entering my first year of post-secondary in Windsor. Buju transition from groovy and upbeat dancehall tracks, into more conscious, spiritual, and message-driven lyrics that were a definite mirror to my own personal consciousness and internal growth as a Black woman, and as an independent thinker. Songs like "Hills and Valleys" and "Destiny" were chart-topping hits, as well as personal favourites, for the inspirational words as well as the soothing riddims.

Buju was evolving, and as a fan, I was evolving as well. He was one of few artists that I had consistently listened to over the years, and I appreciated the direction he was heading in as I was transitioning into a new reality of living on my own in another part of the province, as well as stepping into higher education and self-reflection. Tracks like "Circumstances" and "Give I Strength" were like fuel, while songs like "Love Sponge" and "My Woman Now" still provided the light-heartedness and loveable personality that was expected from Buju.

At this point in my life, there was no comparison. Reggae was the be-all and end-all of music as far as I was concerned. I could still enjoy R&B, hip hop, pop music, and house, but it was reggae music that filled my dorm, my headphones, and heavily influenced my lifestyle and preferences.

The next few albums from Buju Banton, while still powerful, seemed to be released in succession over the years without my knowledge of the entire body of work as a whole, but instead by a few memorable tracks. The Unchained Spirit album in 2000, and 2003's Friends for Life definitely made it to my Napster download list, but I was not as quick to purchase the albums as I had been in previous years.

It was a different time. Cell phones emerged. Digital music was taking over. Technology was pervasive, with chat rooms, email, and other distractions taking the place of the old-fashioned cassette/CD Walkman movements that I was used to. Now, I had a plethora of music available to me as I downloaded songs 24/7 with a vengeance and built my CD collection proudly. Mix CDs were popularly consumed from the flea market, or through copying, and I spent so much time in the club and at the dancehall that I was drawn to what was new, what was hot, and what the DJs were playing. While Buju's popularity was definitely consistent, and his rank in the reggae hierarchy unchanging...his tracks were not as popularly played in the venues I frequented, as upbeat sounds and digitized riddims were taking over.

Dancehall was changing, and while I went along with it for the most part, I also found that it no longer moved me the way it used to in the 90s. I transitioned into culture music, into other genres, and I didn't have the same daily pull to Buju Banton as I once did. I was getting familiar with other artists. I was starting to travel. I was distracted by life, and without deliberately seeking his music out, I found that I didn't encounter it as much.

In 2006 his album Too Bad was released, which had a few big tracks like "Driver" and "Too Bad" that brought Buju Banton back up to a party vibe, in the forefront of reggae, and into my visibility again. It was around this time that I caught him live at a Redemption event in Toronto (in July of 2007), and had the pleasure of hearing the new songs live, as well as some of the oldies-but-goodies. Old enough to now attend his shows, and now living full time in Toronto again, this particular concert was definitely not going to pass me by.

At the Kool Haus venue on Queen Quay, Buju and his live band put on a great show, and I was happy to have had the opportunity to be in his presence again. He was different, however. Again, I felt it to be a bit of a transition period for Buju...or perhaps just for myself. There was a slight disconnect, but because he was Buju, and because he remained my favourite reggae artist, I enjoyed the show to the fullest, and to this day am happy that I was able to attend.

By the time his 2009 album Rasta Got Soul was released, again, I didn't consume the album as a whole, but instead as individual tracks, where they made an impact. Overall, however, I was distracted from the genre of reggae music because I didn't appreciate the direction dancehall music was headed in, and I missed the light and danceable riddims from the 90s...drawing my spirit, and my social circumstances to the world of soca music. In time, the dancehalls were replaced with fetes, and my appreciation for Buju remained in the 90s and early 2000s where I believe he had the greatest musical impact on me.

Of course, there wasn't a time you would head out to a club event or festival without hearing a few Buju Banton songs. To this day. A party isn't a party without at least one or two Buju songs. It's an expectation to say the least. He is a legend, and always a part of my musical experience one way or another. To hear about his legal troubles was something we as fans weren't prepared for, because as much as he was a star and public figure...he was also the voice and face of righteousness. We had seen and heard him transition over the years and embrace his maturity through music. With the realization that we could no longer receive new music from him, I think many of us as fans were in a state of shock.

I'm unsure what all of the songs from his 2010 album Before the Dawn were like, but right now I have committed myself to listening to the words he published just before his voice would be taken away. Now, with his release in just a few short days, I feel the timing couldn't be better. Reggae music has remained a constant part of my life, however, it has definitely transitioned and impacted me in different ways over the years. While roots reggae and lover's rock, culture songs/artists and singers will always be impactful, it was the genre of dancehall that had me questioning the future of reggae music at times.

Like many, I wonder what type of musical sound the newly released and Buju will share. I am curious to hear how his voice sounds, and the thoughts he has been compiling over the past years as his life has been filled with conflict and character judgements. As many of the artists of his time have faded away, and many new artists have emerged larger than life and extremely influential in reggae music and culture, I would like to see how the balance of power is distributed with the legendary Buju Banton back in the studio and ready to perform again and share messages with his listenership, eagerly awaiting his perspectives.

It's a great moment in reggae music history right now, again, as the UN recognizes the international impact the music has has on society, and also as the genre of reggae music prepares to welcome back one of the most important musicians of our time...if not, of all time. His message to fans on November 15 of this year gave us an indication of where his medz are, and we can only look forward to his wisdom, his insights, and what his return will mean for the future direction of music and how this treasure is sustained for the next generation. The anticipation is amazing, and I am excited to see him perform again live soon...on Canadian soil, or abroad. I am ready to lean in his direction, trusting his musical judgement over the years to steer me in the right direction of listening to and appreciating for my native music.

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

Hearing this song always brings me back to my introduction of Buju, and the joy his music brought to my young soul:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

SOUND CLASH CULTURE // Chris Dubbs Discusses the Future of Sound Clash with Chin (Irish and Chin)

Toronto dancehall fans have been fortunate: for the past two years, the World Clash sound clash competition has been hosted right here in the city. Two years ago, Caribbean entertainment specialists Irish and Chin adjusted the process of their international event so that the winning sound would receive the honour of bringing the World Clash to their hometown to defend their title.

With the 20th anniversary of World Clash taking place tonight in Toronto at the Tibetan Cultural Centre, reggae music lovers from Canada and international supporters who have travelled into the city to witness the show, will be treated to an evening of competition between the two-time champion King Turbo sound, and the Rumble Series champion sounds representing their own home towns, hoping to bring the event to their city next year in celebration.

Tonight, clash fans will get to hear the best of the best from Rumble Series winners from across the globe: Jah Works (Japan Rumble), Empire Sound and Mour Dan (UK Rumble), 3 Sevens (Caribbean Rumble), Deebuzz (European Rumble), Dynamq (U.S. Rumble), and Mystic Sound, the winner of the Canadian Rumble.

It is a process now well executed. From promotions, to music, regulations, and participants, the international brand that is World Clash has been 20 years in the making, and now a staple in the reggae and dancehall community. Based out of New York City, Irish and Chin have crafted this event to represent sound system lovers and practitioners, noting that this event is frequently regarded as the "pinnacle of their career" for participating sounds.

Yesterday evening, November 16, during an interview on The Vibe Drive with Chris Dubbs on Toronto's VIBE 105.5fm, Garfield "Chin" Bourne reiterated the importance of including international sounds, and sustaining the energy of the culture he has always loved. In town for the big event, he noted that there were other sound clash fanatics who contacted him, letting him know that they, too, were flying into Toronto to take part in the 20th year celebration of the event.

Each city and country has its own vibe and their own way of appreciating the music. "The energy is mixed," Chin told Chris Dubbs. "In Japan, there is a great acceptance for the culture, and the fans come out in the hundreds. The UK also has a strong sound clash culture," he said. "The Caribbean has a strong culture, but it needs to be developed." Mentioning that the focus in the Caribbean tends to be on Jamaica, the original home of the sound clash, Chin also believes that the enjoyment should span across the greater Caribbean. "We want to give the Bajans and the Trinis a chance as well," he said. "Every place has a different energy, and a different dynamic."

Chin, who started out in music as a selector in U.S., was always a fan of hardcore dancehall. Growing up in the vibrant New York dancehall scene, patronizing locations like the Biltmore Ballroom, and Amazura, he knew from early that this was a culture that he would be committed to. Just like music has changed over the decades, however, so has technology, the industry, and the cultural ambassadors that communicate and share the sounds.

"We need to modernize the sound clash tradition," said Chin, internationally regarded as a leader in the culture. "We need to work to make it more attractive." He recommended a change to the emphasis on dubplates, and instead focusing on talent, hype, energy, and crowd enjoyment during sound clashes. Chin would like to see the sound clash evolve into more of a musical competition, awarding those who have the most vibes, instead of those who have the most expensive vibes (via dubplate). "We should bring back 45's, and encourage sounds to be creative with their music. Find people who can be themselves."

Both Chris Dubbs and Chin agreed that the youth are an important factor in the culture's relevance and longevity. Thankful to have Chin on The Vibe Drive reggae radio program to discuss sound clash culture and the related processes, Dubbs believes that everyone has to play their respective parts in supporting and sustaining the evolution.

"We are extremely proud that World Clash has stood the test of time," said Chin in a World Clash news release. "Our goal is to have the World Clash brand and the phenomenal art of sound clash continue to wow international audiences for years to come." He added: "I am equally interested for new sound system stars to achieve notoriety and success, while new fans are introduced to the allure and thrill of sound clash."

Congratulations to Irish and Chin for their contributions and professional conscientiousness!

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Jamaica Music Conference 2018 // Constructive Conversations: Dialogue. Decisions. Development.

This weekend, Kingston, Jamaica will be bustling with artistic activity and progressive energy focused on the future of Jamaican music, as the Jamaica Music Conference (JMC) hosts their 6th annual edition of this education and networking event. The JMC's theme this year is "Constructive Conversations: Dialogue. Decisions. Development." with the goal of continuing to "provide a platform for independent music professionals to discuss challenges, opportunities, and solutions in the music industry."

The JMC will take place from Thursday, November 15 through Sunday, November 18 at a range of venues across Kingston. Hosted mainly in the Edna Manley College and at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus, locations around the town from beaches to restaurants are also on board as community partners for this important celebration.

The population of Jamaica is currently around the same mark as the population of Toronto: just short of 3 million people. Nearly twice the size of Canada's largest city, at 10,000 square kilometers, the power and international impact that Jamaican music has had on the world over the past few decades is undeniable. Not only has Jamaican music shaped the identity of the island, but it has also been the unofficial ambassador of the country's values, vibes, and visions.

While the island has changed considerably from the days of Bob Marley travelling the globe sharing lyrics and rhythms of hope and prosperity, the culture and impact of reggae music has also changed--naturally. The sounds have evolved, the industry has new players, and the musical landscape has become digital...and instant. With this evolution, and the emergence of social media and global communication, the essence of Jamaica is easily transferred and the sounds of the island becoming more universal as well.

On the evening of Monday, November 12, Coleen Douglas, the Media Coordinator of the JMC was featured on the weekly radio program "The Vibe Drive with Chris Dubbs" on Toronto's VIBE 105.5fm, to speak about the upcoming conference, and
motivate those who are interested in the music industry to be aware of the event, and the ways in which attending will be beneficial to aficionados of all backgrounds. Douglas noted the universal appeal of reggae music, and stressed that it was a common topic of discussion that would be explored at the JMC.

With recent mainstream chart-topping songs from pop artists like Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran, rappers like Drake, and obvious influence on a number of rhythms and movements, the topic of "cultural appropriation" was mentioned as an element of concern to the Jamaican music industry, as well as something that potentially has an effect on the music's prosperity.

Douglas mentioned that the passion for reggae music oversees is evident, and as a result, the various panels and meetings taking place during the conference would specifically address how to market and communicate music internationally, and also how to utilize the influence of the sounds and style of Jamaica to the benefit of the industry at home.

"We want to encourage others in the diaspora to come home," said Douglas, speaking of the conference's impact on Jamaican ex-pats who are always welcome to attend and lend their perspectives on the ever-growing music industry. "We want them to visit Jamaica not just for a holiday, but to take part in the development."

Chris Dubbs, who has been an on-air radio host in Toronto for over ten years, has consistently been committed to promoting the genre of reggae music in Canada, as well as the surrounding culture. Canadian born to Jamaican parents, Dubbs realizes the role of the reggae music practitioners in helping to not only share the music of Jamaica, but also to provide access to resources and opportunities for growth.

"I'm hoping to continue to use my platform to promote the development of the reggae music industry here in Toronto, but also back in Jamaica," said Dubbs. "As radio professionals, we have a responsibility to play the music and give it air-time and exposure, but also to strengthen the industry itself by spreading positive messages and making sure that the artists and the listeners have access to the music and the supporting industries that will help our culture grow."

During their interview, live-to-air on the Vibe Drive on Monday evening, Coleen encouraged brainstorming, and asked that listeners and reggae music lovers utilize the Jamaica Music Conference online platforms to communicate with one another, comment on initiatives, and also share their thoughts on the industry and what is required to make it successful for everyone.

"The Jamaica Music Conference lends to tourism opportunities," said Douglas, declaring that the town of Kingston (aka Music City), was not only a hub for artists during the JMC weekend, but also other industries that contribute to the growth of Jamaica's cultural infrastructure. She stressed that music "connects" individuals, from merchandising to the tourism industry, and that the JMC, the music industry, and related events have a "ripple effect on the full economy" of Jamaica.

Reggae, an important element to the culture of the Caribbean island, is being used as a point of interest to this discussion and others. During the 4-day JMC weekend, the panel discussions and educational sessions will be complemented with community service opportunities, nightlife events, as well as "fun in the sun across Kingston." This will all occur to a backdrop of the "information exchange between the who's who of reggae and mainstream music entertainment, and up and coming talent," according to the JMC.

The conference expects just under 1,000 attendees this year, of all ages, including a range of artists, writers, musicians, producers, event promoters, DJs and sound systems, journalists, managers, and other industry practitioners from here in Canada, as well as across the U.S., Europe, and Caribbean.

Topics for panel discussions and presentations will include women in music, making money from digital content, and music publishing basics. to name a few. Special guest participants and performers include Marcia Griffiths, Freddie McGreggor, and Tifa, amongst other experts from music and academia. On schedule for entertainment this weekend: a celebrity football match, a "clean" sound clash, an open mic showcase, and morning meditation and yoga sessions on the beach with well known facilitators like Kamilah McDonald and Jason Worton. A full agenda of the activities and sessions is listed on the JMC website.

"Reggae is Jamaica's gift to the world," said Douglas. "The Jamaica Music Conference gives us the opportunity to improve life, offer practical ideals, and move forward."

Registration for the event is open at, and additional information can be obtained by connecting with their social media outlets on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: "Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me" by Charlamagne Tha God

Charlamagne has transitioned nicely from a radio host into the role of a best-selling author. With television and online messaging also a part of his professional equation, he has become the consummate communicator! Now also one of my favourite folks to read, I was quite pleased when I saw news about his latest book on Instagram back in August, and found myself counting down the days until the release of "Shook One." I was so impressed by his first book "Black Privilege" released last year--he is a voice of reason and expertise in many areas that I love and enjoy: media, Black culture, music, and now publishing as well! He is also a voice of honesty, with a story of determination and a really awesome perspective on social issues and cultural personalities.

Released by Simon and Schuster on October 23, "Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me" is a reflection on Charlamagne's experiences with anxiety, and how he has met, survived, and persevered through these challenges throughout the course of his life. Already the co-host of the top hip hop radio program in the U.S. (and most popular hip hop radio program worldwide, I believe: The Breakfast Club on New York City's Power 105.1fm), Charlamagne has definitely earned his rank at the top of his game.

Not only is he now an author, he's also a social media influencer (as evidenced by his fabulously entertaining and informative Twitter and Instagram accounts), executive producer of his production company CThaGod World LLC, in addition to hosting his podcast The Brilliant Idiots. Over the years, he's become a familiar face on all media platforms, and seems to be on his way to becoming a multi-platform media mogul like Ryan Seacrest or Steve Harvey--listed as two of his role models in the industry.

To the rest of us, consuming media, social media, music, and all other forms of entertainment on a daily basis, Charlamagne is someone we can expect to keep it 100, with an objective-yet-informed perspective. He used to be someone easily heated, always controversial, and often provocative. We've all witnessed the dramatic celebrity interviews and even the hilarious conversations that have brought him to journalistic excellence as of late, and now he's taking his voice of leadership to another level. His voice continues to be informative, and now also very personal.

The book "Shook One" begins quite fittingly with some words of wisdom from Brad "Scarface" Jordan and the Geto Boys' song "Mind Playing Tricks on Me." Speaking about paranoia and anxiety through lyrics was an acceptable form of communication in the early 90s, used as a way to "open up the conversation" about issues of anxiety and related mental ailments. Charlamagne reflected on this track in his introduction, as one of the most important methods of talking about an otherwise taboo issue in the hip hop community. Also mentioned as effective: "Streets is Watching" from Jay-Z and "Feel it in the Air" from Beanie Sigel.

To continue the narrative of addressing paranoia, Charlamagne crafted this book as a tool to face and overcome fears and occurrences of anxiety "rather than being handcuffed by them." He wanted to be innovative in preaching the "masculinity" of taking care of your body, as well as your mind. He wanted to remove the restrictions, and let the subject be openly acknowledged. Even with Black men. Especially with Black men.

Perhaps a book like this could have been helpful in the days of the Geto Boys and throughout the development and growth of hip hop. Needless to say, rappers have always represented the collective voice of internal thoughts and shared experiences. Individuals find solace and comfort in the words of familiarity from rappers and their counterparts, using music to express passions and realities, as well as communicate fears.

"Anxiety and blackness seems to go hand in hand. It's like African-Americans have permanent PTSD that dates back to slavery," Charlamagne summarized. He calls this being "Blackanoid," and explained this "epigenetic inheritance" as passing trauma to a child and subsequent generations (i.e. the damages of slavery). He says that "over time the effects of racism have a corrosive effect on us" causing lasting and chronic damage in some cases.

You'd think that with all this "Blackanoia" and other effects of social trauma, that therapy would be a commonality amongst Black folk. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to Charlamagne, "not a lot of black folks want to run to a white person with their problems. Especially when the majority of those problems stem from a system organized and run by white people." Fair enough. Of course not all therapists are white, but the majority in that field in the U.S. are, and the best therapy tends to happen between a client and professional with a shared understanding of cultural cues.

This discussion of anxiety and therapy, throughout the book, happens in the context of Charlamagne's life. From talking about his parenting, his daughters and wife, finding a work-life balance, and dealing with other common issues of adulthood, professionalism, and living in this disturbing social media laden Trump era, he also offers recommendations, clarifications, and plenty of justification for his readers to seek their own answers via a psychologist or mental health professional. Overall, he advocates for therapy and in-depth communication, suggesting that once personal issues are confronted that "the pain that used to feel so heavy suddenly begins to lift."

Where does a lot of that pain come from, aside from the past? Social media, of course! A good portion of this book is dedicated to analyzing something we all realize to be true: consuming the amount of deliberately manipulative information we do on a daily basis can lead to nothing good. While it serves its promotional and informational benefits, there is also a layer of deception and addiction that is plaguing us all.

We know this, every time we pick up the phone to passively view Instagram or pree Twitter. We know this, yet many of us are hooked. Including Charlamagne. He says: "I don't think social media represents our intellectual achievement. If anything, it's collectively making us dumber." He believes the evil forces of visual IG illusion to be a main contributor to anxiety that many suffer from in this day and age.

"Shook One" is a good read, full of gems and interesting anecdotes. The best part to me is how personal Charlamagne gets by telling intimate stories of his own fears and apprehensions, yet putting them in the greater context of his fabulous life and what he has learned along the way to becoming one of the top radio personalities of our time.

His hopes for this book are pure. He'd like to see more authenticity and folks being constructive. He'd like us to continue to seek information, to seek awareness of our roots, and to master the art of finding personal equilibrium. He also would like us to have clinical assessments, and has a psychiatrist named Dr. Ish provide summaries at the end of each chapter to put a medical and scientific conclusion to his own thoughts. Very informative!

The biggest lesson to be obtained from "Shook One" is that evolution is a beautiful thing. I admittedly wasn't a huge fan of Charlamagne initially: he made me uncomfortable. He knew this because I wasn't the only one. He noted that: "For a long time, that's how the world saw me. Cocky. Aggressive. Fearless." But despite occasionally getting a bad rap early out in his career, he acknowledged that we all need healing, and we all need help on some level. This is something that is constant: growth, and evolution over time. Just as important as it is for us to see images of people succeeding, living out their dreams, and following their goals, it is also important for us to witness growth and development. The tools to get us there are priceless, and necessary. This book can be classified as a very timely and relevant tool for self-improvement.

It has been inspirational to see, hear, and read the evolution of Charlamagne, and needless to say, I look forward to reading his next best-seller!

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Kareative Interlude Celebrates their Nu Narratives Literacy Empowerment Program

Proud New Authors
It was an inspiration-filled afternoon when Toronto-based community literacy program, Nu Narratives, awarded a group of emerging young authors on Saturday, October 20, 2018 at the Stephen Leacock Community Centre in Scarborough. The event was dedicated to showcasing the final published works of children from the Glendower and Empringham communities, participants in this summer's program in association with Cultural Hotspot, and presented by Kareative Interlude.

Kareative Interlude is an arts organization, committed to "accessing art as a medium to inspire, empower and heal participants, clients, and audiences. Through art exhibits, performances, artscapes and readings, they serve as a celebration of new narratives and displaying engaging works of art.

The Nu Narratives Literacy Empowerment Program helped young participants to reach their potential over the summer by: exposing them to the publishing process and methods of writing and illustrating a book, and allowing the artists to share their knowledge of story in its elements, composition and themes.

Karea Shee
Children's author, artist, and co-creator of Kareative Interlude Karee Shee, opened the afternoon by stating that we have a "responsibility to have the right intention and meaning behind our stories." She went on to say that "culture helps readers feel confident, and understand who they are."

Attendees were treated to a range of performances at the celebration, with drumming, a live DJ, spoken word performances, motivational speaking, readings, and a panel discussion with community artists. Hosted by Kareative Interlude's Business Manager, Osagyefo McGregor, the theme of the afternoon was connecting the experiences of the youth through writing, and encouraging self-empowerment and leadership through story and community.

Published Author, Michael
The event began with the children participating in a drumming circle, as well as a dance and motivational activity where they introduced themselves and showcased their skills. Each newly published child author had the opportunity to read their story to the audience, as well as take part in a question and answer period with Osagyefo, discussing the strategies they found most helpful before, during, and after writing their books.

Spoken word artist Randell Adjei of R.I.S.E. Edutainmemt was powerful, as he spoke directly to the youth, encouraging them to be proud of their abilities and reminding them to not let anyone else define who they are. "Words are powerful," he said. "If you know who you are, no one can tell you who you are." He encouraged them to etch their names into the pages of history.

The Final Product: A Published Book!
Poet Eddie the Original One was also motivating, stressing the importance of family and fighting for your dreams with a chant: "Family! That's the word!" Cecil, of the African Canadian Heritage Network was passionate in reminding children to "never let them dim your light" and encouraged the youth to learn about Africa, highlighting his message with inspirational music. Robert Small was encouraged by the printing process, and was happy to share access to his annual Black History Month poster (The Legacy Poster) with the group. His nationally celebrated poster is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Camesha Cox, a representative from The Reading Partnership (a literary initiative in Kingston/Galloway/Orton Park area that works exclusively with parents of young children in the area, providing tips and recommendations in teaching kids from ages 4 to 6 how to read) informed the audience about her programming objectives.

Felicia Joly, the author of "ABC's of Wealth: Big Ideas for Little Children" discussed the importance of having books accessible for the next generation, and noted that she was inspired to see how life can be better, through reading. Her Power@Play series uses the alphabet as the cornerstone to sharing engaging rhymes for young minds to learn the core concepts of wealth, success, and power.

The importance of this program is essential to the development of a positive and progressive literary culture for this generation of young artists. Nu Narratives was successful in demonstrating the steps needed for them to take their ideas from concept to publication, as well as instructing them on the "steps they can take to improve as writers, readers, publishers, and leaders."

It was a wonderfully motivating, informative, and heart-warming event, and it was a pleasure to see the young authors present their words. I am looking forward to move events and initiatives from Nu Narratives and Kareative Interlude!

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