Sunday, September 30, 2018

Caribana 1976 (Toronto's Caribbean Carnival)

Photo by John Mahler, Toronto
Saturday, July 31. The day started with torrential downpour, while masqueraders and calypso bands gathered in preparation for the 10th annual Caribbean parade: the largest celebration of its kind in Canada. It was the summer of 1976, and many of the young West Indian revellers had only been living in Canada for a few years. This was a highlight in the community. A time of honouring their roots and performing their cultural traditions proudly on the streets of their new home: Toronto.

Photo by Jack Dobson
Caribana was, and remains, a special time for Toronto's Caribbean community because of the force with which the parade's participants declare their space. Originally intended as a gift to the city of Toronto on behalf of the West Indian community, the festivities have undergone numerous changes in management, in name, in route, in relevance, and in generational trend. But one thing that has yet to be altered is the spirit of the event.

Calypsonian Lord Kitchener
It is in great contrast to the modern day Toronto Caribbean Carnival in many ways, however, the essence of the parade remains the same: the smiles, the dancing, the use of costumes, and the importance of presentation. The film of Caribana 1976 posted at the bottom of this article was recently converted without audio, but has been edited to contain the year's Road March, declared at Trinidad's Carnival celebration earlier in 1976: "Flag Woman" by Lord Kitchener, in what would be his final Road March title. Following Lord Kitchener, are the sounds of Shadow, with "Bass Man," the Road March from 1974's Carnival. The voices of the calypsonians remind us of the true spirit of calypso and carnival, and shall serve as a reminder of the beautiful tradition of carnival and the Caribbean islands of its origin.

P. Mills McGibbon with D. Crombie
It was a significant year in Toronto, 1976. the beloved Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister, the Governor General was Jules Leger. Bill Davis was the Premier of Ontario, and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario was Pauline Mills McGibbon. David Crombie was the Mayor of Toronto, and the city had proudly opened the CN Tower to the public: then the world's tallest freestanding structure at 1815 feet tall. This was the year the Toronto Blue Jays were created, and the first time the CRTC were given powers to regulate television and radio in Canada.

Parliament had voted to abolish the death penalty that year, Canada was hosting their inaugural Olympic games that summer in Montreal, and everyone's favourite morning snack--The Timbit--was first introduced to the world.

Richard Pryor
In the theatres, Rocky, Carrie, King Kong, Car Wash, and Freaky Friday were hits during 1976, and the popular game show Family Feud debuted for the first time on television, as well as The Muppet Show. Good Times and The Jeffersons were already hits, and cars like the Chevy Laguna, Pontiac Firebird, and Ford Mustang were popular on the roads.

The Manhattans
Playing on the radio, you could hear "Kiss and Say Goodbye" by The Manhattans during the summer of 1976, the #1 song on the Billboard charts in July, following a two month run from Diana Ross with "Love Hangover." Also a happening track that year: "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band.

P. Trudeau with F. Castro
Just south of Canada, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States of America in 1976, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed the Apple Computer Company that year. Nasa unveiled their first space shuttle, the Enterprise, and the Concorde aircraft entered service. In entertainment, the Seattle Seahawks played their first football game, and the NBA and the American Basketball Associated decided to merge as one. In Cuba, Fidel Castro came into power.

In Jamaica, the native land of the Caribana 1976 filmographer Earl W.L. Robinson, things were not so celebratory. In 1976 there was a National State of Emergency declared by Prime Minister Michael Manley, in the midst of great political turmoil, violence, and unrest. The Prime Minister feared the government would be overthrown, and thus the State of Emergency lasted for a full year. Tourism on the island was impacted, as many suspected that Jamaica was being "destabilized by foreign and domestic conspirators." It was arguably the worst crisis on the island in their 14 years of independence, and a matter of deep concern for those, like Robinson, who had recently emigrated to Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

"Smile Jamaica" concert 1976
As 1976 concluded, reggae artist Bob Marley was shot outside of his home on Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica, which only intensified unsettled feelings amongst Jamaicans and reggae music lovers around the globe. In an effort to ease the tension of the country, Michael Manley curated the "Smile Jamaica" concert at the National Heroes Park where Marley performed, just days after the shooting. This is when the infamous handshake between People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) leaders took place on stage.

Trinidad 1976
Across the Caribbean, other islands were going through times of transition, establishing independence and building culture and enterprise in 1976. Those who remained in the West Indies were diligent and dedicated: those who ventured abroad to establish life in a foreign country were determined and tenacious. Away from home, the sunshine, and familial ties, the West Indians in Canada did all they could to feel at home. For the summer of 1976, this was perhaps the most nostalgic moment for all of them, parading down Lakeshore to the sounds of calypso and reggae, running into old classmates, and rejoicing with new comrades.

This footage, from the 1976 Caribana parade on University Avenue, was captured by Earl W.L. Robinson on 8mm film. In the ten minute clip, you can see the exuberance, the joy, the rhythm, and the inclusiveness of the Caribana parade as young West Indian immigrants and their friends party alongside their new Canadian peers and neighbours.

Here is a brief glimpse of that joyous moment in time, and a window into the Caribbean Canadian heritage, that remains an influential part of Toronto's annual summer celebrations:

(direct link:

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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

In Awe of the Legendary Quincy Jones

We all knew who Quincy Jones was, primarily because of Michael Jackson. That was all we needed to know to determine that the man was an amazing musical mind. He produced not only the historic "Thriller" album in 1982, but also the "Off The Wall" album in 1979, and the "Bad" album in 1987. As far as anyone was concerned in the 80s: Quincy Jones was a mastermind. Those accomplishments alone are more than enough to have him cemented into music's elite echelons.

Since then, I can't say that I've ever questioned Q's excellence. I knew that he was the producer of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I knew that he had produced and performed with many (if not all) of the greatest musicians of our time and beyond. I can recently recall him being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2013), and also receiving the Kennedy Center Honors in 2001. Everyone knows, he's a vault of talent. It's no secret, although all of the details may not have been widely known.

What I didn't realize--and now am painfully aware of, thanks to the Netflix documentary Quincy that was released on September 21--is that Quincy Jones is unbelievably extraordinary. Like, ridiculously phenomenal on so many levels. After watching the movie, I was near speechless. Many times during the film, I had to shake my head in awe. At his orchestration. The way he composed scores. The instruments he played. The projects he was behind. Simply amazing.

I consider myself to be a music lover, and someone who studies, appreciates, and respects all genres for various reasons. I admire vocalists, and appreciate instrumentalists regularly. I revel at songwriters, and celebrate performers. But what Mr. Jones has is something special, that transcends genre, generation, and trend. He is a bonafide genius, and I'm thankful for the production "Quincy" that his daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks created in his honour.

Released at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, "Quincy" is a two-hour journey through decades, relationships, sounds, and emotion, as the young (and handsome!!) Mr. Jones is enters the world of live bands and composition from a young age. It is his love for music that guides his entire life, and continues to bring him to special spaces and keep him in the highest of high regards amongst musicians and civilians everywhere.

The most beautiful thing about this man is his humility. Despite the talent, the awards, despite the endless list of credentials, and having worked with the greats from Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra, to Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and today's contemporary stars. Despite travelling the world, and being an expected and comfortable presence amongst leaders like Barack Obama and Colin Powell, as well as the Civil Rights leaders of the 60s and 70s. Despite having his name attached to some of the most powerful Black films of our time (Roots (1997), The Wiz (1978), and The Color Purple in 1985) by scoring the musical soundtracks...despite this all, he still remains humble and grateful.

I was unaware of the brain aneurysm he suffered in 1974, and the multiple surgeries he endured to overcome this setback. This, and many other details about his life described in the movie, only made my respect and appreciation for him multiply. Easily.

Again, he had me at Thriller. That was enough of a contribution to music, to culture, and to my own personal memories to keep Mr. Jones on a pedestal. This film was important because it put Quincy in a spotlight, and really aligned his accomplishments and contributes to contemporary culture in a way that makes you realize that individuals like him are rare. He is truly a legend, that few can compare to.

It reminds me of the power of not only music, but also legacy and persona. It demonstrates how important the arts is in creating culture and complementing history. There's something about the musical scores, and the artistic contributions he has made over the span of his 85 years that made me feel happy to be alive, and aware of every minute that we are given to create, to compose, and to enjoy life...through music.

There is power in a legacy like Quincy's, because his talents bring so much joy. For decades, he has delivered happiness in various forms, and contributions like that can't be taken for granted. The arts are a magical force, and when used correctly, they have the great power to move, inspire, and uplift.

It was an amazing documentary, and a powerful story to say the least. I'm happy to be alive in a time when his living legacy is tangible and available as a blueprint for other artists. I hope that this movie served as an inspiration to those who have been blessed with talents, and that they recognize the importance of using them wisely, and creating a valuable example for those to follow.

God bless him, and his amazing life. I will continue to be inspired by Quincy's journey.

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

Monday, September 24, 2018

How the Films of Sanaa Lathan Have Positively Influenced Black Women

Sanaa Lathan is an inspiration: her movie choices, her artistic talent, her tabloid anonymity, her beauty, her grace, and what she represents. She is my favourite actress, and someone who has consistently been a fabulous on-screen representation of class and Black female self-awareness and identity.

"Brown Sugar" has been my all-time favourite film from the day I saw it, in 2002. A budding journalist fresh out of university, the character Sidney Shaw represented everything I wanted to be. She was a high-profile magazine editor, embedded deep in hip hop and "urban" culture. She was slightly "tomboy-ish" and passionate about her work, yet strong in her convictions and pure in spirit. I would watch the movie repeatedly and think to myself: now here is an example of a strong Black woman who hasn't lost sight of what drives her. The combination of music, writing, and pop culture meant everything to me. "Brown Sugar" was my blueprint.

Then there was "Love & Basketball" was my favourite movie in 2000, until "Brown Sugar" was released. Again, there was a passionate female character who was dedicated to pursuing her life goals and ambitions. Driven and talented, Sanaa's character Monica Wright was witty and strong, yet also still maintained a sensitive and loving side. Within her relationship, she never compromised herself or her aspirations. She was focused!

Other movies that resonated with me were "The Best Man" that came out in 1999, and focused on the fictional novel and its impact on a group of childhood friends, including Sanaa's character Robin. As a story writer, this movie is particularly funny because I think all of us who engage in fiction writing are often questioned about the origins of characters, storylines, and intent. Not only was it amusing as a writer, but it was entertaining because of the interaction between the characters and their complex relationships.

The movie "Something New" was released in 2006, and featured the impeccably organized Sanaa Lathan as Kenya, who was forced out of her comfort zone and into an unexpected relationship. It was one of the more charming and memorable films about an interracial relationship featuring a Black female lead: something we rarely see in life and on screen.

This weekend I had the pleasure of watching "Nappily Ever After" on Netflix, and Sanaa starring as Violet Jones, a beautiful Black sister who was dedicated to maintaining an exquisite exterior, and through a series of events and heartbreaks ends up discovering her inner beauty and understanding the effects of her hair and related activities on her development as a woman. Now just days old, this movie has already had an impact. Black women everywhere are identifying with the scenarios, the thought processes, and outcomes of this character's life and related choices.

Before knowing her name, Sanaa was a young familiar face in African-American centred productions like "Moesha" and "Family Matters" on television. Now, with a range of films and Broadway accolades in her repertoire, she has become a beloved member of the Hollywood elite. She is a certified role model, an impressive thespian, and a legend of her craft and our culture.

I take entertainment and the arts very seriously, because these are real-time representations of social opinions, trends, and ideologies. After watching "Nappily Ever After," I re-confirmed that the players behind the scripts, and the faces behind the messages are equally as important when it comes to very specific representations on screen.

Admittedly, I am biased when it comes to how I consume film, and 9 times out of 10 I will support a majority-Black cast in any form. Growing up, I had an exclusive collection of Spike Lee and John Singleton VHS movies, and believe that these narratives very specifically formed the way I tell stories, the way I view storytelling, and the images that I endorse and communicate. Pop culture, embedded in example and recommendation. These stories meant everything to me. They still do.

With all due respect to the multi-cultural wonderfulness that exists in music, film, books, and other entertainment outlets, I will always gravitate towards stories of and about "Blackness" in various forms, because I know how deeply I have always craved these stories, and how much of an impact they can have if used correctly.

From Brown Sugar, I witnessed a young Black woman taking on a power role at a top hip hop publication. It was everything I'd hoped to become, and yet nothing I had ever seen with my own eyes. Being able to visualize this lifestyle was an important part of how I envisioned my own career, and for that reason I will keep this movie memorized and dear to my heart.

To see Sanaa's commitment to a particular type of female character speaks not only to her talent as an actress, but also her awareness of what these particular images mean to women like me, and younger women who still heavily rely on media images to form their ideals and identities.

One of the greatest things about Ms. Lathan, is that for over 20 years she has managed to keep her personal business out of the media spotlight. While we know the day-to-day happenings, beefs, relationships, and other details about most of our females in high-profile careers, Sanaa has kept her private life private, and has let her work speak for her values and behaviours. This has allowed her work to speak for itself, and to represent the messages she is communicating to her audience and fans.

Through her movies, we can see that the independent woman is a recurring character, and often conflict between self and career, or self and love, or self and family are common. While the female characters are always strong in their convictions, we see them put to the test through choices in relation to the world around them. Whether falling in love with her best friend in "Brown Sugar," or an unwillingness to step out of her comfort zone in "Something New," we are able to go through these journeys in self-awareness with Sanaa's characters, and watch her navigate the decisions and outcomes.

With the addition of just enough humour, light-heartedness, and historical reference, challenges are presented, navigated, debated, and inevitably resolved...all while the female character maintains her dignity and strength.

Sanaa is a woman dedicated to her craft, who received a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley, as well as a Master of Arts in Drama from Yale University. This formal training, in addition to an impressive filmography shows her to be selective yet deliberate in her processes and choices.

"Nappily Ever After" was such a pleasant movie, and I imagine that I'll have it on a steady rotation, much like her other films that have moved me over the past two decades. On trend with the natural hair movement for black women, and crafted in the spirit of women's empowerment, it is a film that women of all ages can enjoy and relate to in regards to their hair, their relationships with family and image, and also in terms of romantic relationships.

I commend Sanaa Lathan for being "that face" for me over the years, on film. A face that I can trust to communicate progressive messages only. A face that in all of its beauty, is not afraid to be vulnerable and doubtful. She has consistently represented growth and strength for black women, and I imagine all women can appreciate the messages her work has sent out. As an artist, this consistency is a reminder that her body of work speaks for itself, and is an awesome represnetation of her spirit and her intention.

Thank you Sanaa for being an amazing role model, and for contributing these pieces of work to our cultural archive. I look forward to enjoying the ongoing evolution of her projects and messages, as well as seeing her continue to take on production roles and continue to break barriers and carve paths for the black women who follow humbly in her carefully navigated footsteps.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Less "Beef" & More Unity, Please!

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy the entertainment industry in all of its mess and glory. I watch TMZ and E! News daily (along with other news programs, of course), and I am usually pretty up-to-the-times on the wha gwan with the creative folks in the public eye.

I love to be entertained by talented folks! I admire their hard work. I admire their perseverance and thick skin. I admire their movies, their albums, and their fashions. I love art, and the process of producing art.

That being said, I could do less with the "beef" culture, and how it has permeated the otherwise inspiring talent that I consume on a daily basis. I think at this point in pop cultural history, it's time to usher in an era of support, positivity, and progress. It's almost a necessity, given the political unrest that the majority of these cultural icons are currently living in.

We've all been entertained by the stories over the years. If you're a reggae lover, it goes back to Bounty Killer & SuperCat war-ing in the mid-90s, and continues on to include rifts between Bounty and Beenie Man, Shabba and Ninjaman, artists like Aidonia and Busy Signal, Spice and Macka Diamond the female representatives jumped in the ring on the 2012 Sting stage in Jamaica, and controversy has continued to the Vybz Kartel and Mavado beef, etc. etc.

Fans are loyal, and we often stand by our artists. We stand behind the singers that move us, the actresses we admire, and the models we endorse. It's almost like a part of the legacy, when you have a sect of individuals who are passionate about your art and will defend your honour. This happened with Michael Jackson and Prince, even with Lady Gaga and Madonna, and has really been a part of the entertainment journey.

I believe it was Kevin Hart that once declared that the industry is created that way: artists are built up, praised and glorified, and when they reach a level of status and come the haters. In comes the controversy, the deep secrets, and the "haters." And it is in this moment when your stamina as a professional artist is really challenged. It is within the turmoil and the rumours when one must either build up a strong armour and keep pushing on...or you fall. You fall victim to the negative energy, you buckle under the pressure, and you let the side noise take the place of your passion and artistic objective.

We can all probably list dozens of other artists that were the subject of public battles. In hip hop alone we have Nas vs. JayZ, Remy Ma vs. Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent vs. The Game, Lil Kim Vs. Foxy Brown, and of course the most historic beef of them all: Tupac vs. Biggie. Whether fictional or the real deal, we are brought into the drama as spectators, and left to judge artistry, authenticity, and worthiness between the public figures.

It is as though only one can reign, and to imagine unity and co-existence is unacceptable. This has been our bad training, and I think I speak for many when I say that I'm exhausted from it! I didn't realize how exhausting it was, until I saw the photo of Drake and Meek Mill "squashing" their beef once and for all. It was a reassuring publicity moment, and I couldn't help but hope that this was the beginning of a beautiful trend.

Without getting into political discussion, it goes without saying that leadership is key when it comes to setting the tone, determining the trends, and being a consistent example of behaviour and perspective. With good leadership comes a healthy culture, in the workplace, in political office, and of course: in hip hop and entertainment.

So I had to give thanks for Drake and Meek Mill for circulating that visual representation of unity. For what it's worth, it made me feel good about the direction of the hip hop culture for a minute.

I know hip hop, and TMZ are not the end-all and be-all of the world we live in, but I do also realize the impact that pop culture and the millions of messages we all consume on a daily basis have on our psyche. I can also appreciate that whether it's your local DJ, your high school teacher, the mayor of a city, or the president/prime minister of a country, everyone that has a voice and a platform also has a level of responsibility.

Over the decades, I can distinctly remember the images, the messages, the songs, the movies, and the books that inspired and motivated me. There are individuals that I may never meet that had a great impact on how I see the world, how I conduct myself, and what I believe in. Along with community leaders and family members, there are so many opportunities to inspire I have to give credit where credit is due, and breath a sigh of relief for the pleasant images that pop and urban culture provided me with this week.

What moved me the most was seeing the level of class that Serena Williams had this week, despite being unfairly treated at the U.S. Open. I loved the way she stood up for herself, I love the way she spoke, the words she choose, the tone of her voice, and how she made sure to push her message across. There was the greatest female athlete of our time reminding the tennis officials that she was a woman of grace, an honest professional, and a clean role model for her daughter.

I watched as Serena comforted Naomi Asaka in her moment of glory (albeit confusion), and as the two legends stood side by side and smiled through their tears. That image is what I use as an example of unity despite competition. Respect despite controversy, and support regardless of status.

When history reveals itself in another twenty to thirty years, we will see how these moments define a generation and influence the recipients. We will hear how the narrative plays out and see what it fosters. More greatness. Increased progress. Less anxiety. Many factors contribute to the mood of this moment in history, so it is my wish that those who have the "power" to influence and endorse and set trends use this opportunity wisely. For our future, and for our daily experiences. Every image, every word, every action counts.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Six Soca Songs that Made Summer 2018 Sweet

This music, by design, is created to generate good vibes. Great energy, radiant sunshine, and positive sensations go hand in hand with soca music in the summer time...or in summer-like climates, year round. Every new season of this island music comes with a different feeling, and can be ultimately judged overall by the body of songs and performances once the Caribbean carnival calendar is complete.

There are a few keys years in soca that stand out in my memory: for example, I distinctly remember the 2011/2012 season being one of them. The Antilles Riddim STILL sounds brand new to me, it's that powerful. Kerwin's "Bacchanalist" and Machel's "Vibes Cyan Done" are classics in my memory.

Since then, some eras were lukewarm, and others were pretty hot. In my humble opinion, 2018 has been fire. Big up the artists, the producers, and the DJs for circulating these upful vibes all year long. This year's soca has integrated marvellously with the big Afrobeats and Dancehall tunes as well, which has made it extra special.

As this year's carnival season winds down, I look forward to hearing what's coming up for 2019, but want to take a quick look back at a few of the songs from this particular soca season that continue to move me, and will frame the soundtrack of Summer 18's experiences:

(1) TAKE OVER - Kerwin DuBois
This one takes the top spot; the riddim, the groove, the video, everything. Big up Kerwin for consistently delivering hits that speak to me!

(2) SPLINTERS -Shal Marshall
Shal hit me hard with this track: everything about it is heavy.

Voice is a true songwriter, and has an amazing ability to capture feeling, message, and inspiration along with a sweet groove. Every time. This song deserves all of the accolades it received.

Fire. This song feels like excitement, and is classic Kes excellence.

(5) NO WEAPON - LFS Music
The lyrics and empowerment in this song is what caught me, plus it's extremely vibsey.

(6) CRIMINAL WINE - Patrice Roberts and Lyrikal
The video captured me, because Patrice and Lyrikal together is nothing but sexiness! This song is wonderful!

OK, so there are more than six. There are more than ten. There are plenty...I digress. This entire "Pim Pim Riddim" is dangerous.

Clearly, this list only represents a portion of the songs that spoke to me personally, but the season overall was fabulous and I know that the memories it inspired will be equally vibrant when accompanied by the sounds.

Truly looking forward to the next season of soca songs, embracing the legends of the genre, and seeing if anyone new pops up on the scene. It is this anticipation that frames the entire soca-listening experience: it's ever-exciting.

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