Friday, February 22, 2019

The BUJU BANTON FOUNDATION // Reggae Music Inspires Philanthropy in Jamaica

We have all seen the footage of Bob Marley and The Wailers at the National Stadium in Kingston, on April 22 of 1978 joining the hands of then political rivals the PNP's Prime Minister Michael Manley and the JLP's Edward Seaga. The photograph made international headlines, the video is a classic glimpse at the state of reggae music and Jamaican politics in the 70s, and the overall sentiment is that it was an historical moment that will forever be cemented in the archives of monumental musical episodes on the island. "Love, prosperity, be with us all..." Bob said to the crowd of 32,000 spectators gathered.

For those who were too young to be present in Kingston that spring day, and for those who were living abroad in Canada, the U.S., or the U.K., an intense moment like this has yet to take place in the reggae community. There has been excitement and controversy, musical hits and glorified performers: the industry has seen its fair share of peaks and crashes over the decades, but rarely was there a moment that unified the majority of interests at once, and turned all eyes in the direction of one sole figure with a message of prosperity much like the One Love Peace Concert.

And then Buju Banton's Long Walk to Freedom Tour was announced, tickets went on sale, websites crashed, and the internet went abuzz. The beloved Gargamel posted his first personal photo, video, and captions on Instagram and fans and supporters everywhere were swept into the same wave of anticipation: the first performance from the artist, after years of incarceration was finally near. March 16 became a close possibility, and a source of focus, interest, and inspiration.

It's the kind of anticipation that is more than just wanting to listen to a song on repeat, or attend a stage show. It's more than just following a talented musician on social media, and watching music videos on YouTube. The anticipation that Buju is currently inspiring, with his inaugural return performance just a few short weeks away, is one that is bigger than anything we have witnessed in recent history. For the fans that came of age with Buju---and those that were too young to witness a living Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, or Jacob Miller--this experience will be generation-defining.

The concert will definitely be a statement, as Buju performs old favourites and will speak and interact with the supporters, countrymen, and reggae lovers who have prayed for him, rallied for him, posted hashtags of #FreeBuju in his support, and kept his legacy alive and rising during his decade-long absence from the public scene.

This particular statement can be interpreted musically, but also, due to the surrounding energy and interest in the voice and reasonings of Mark Myrie, the statement being made right now in reggae music as a result of Buju's influence is also headed in a philanthropic lane.

Along with the early December release of Buju and the January launch of his tour, came the introduction of the Buju Banton Foundation mid-January, the charitable arm of his powerful movement, and a tangible location for fans and supporters to invest their hope for the future of Jamaica. The Foundation is a fitting manifestation of all that Buju and his music have represented over the years, with an opportunity for fans and friends to take part in his development not only as an artiste, but also as a leader in the reggae and island's culture.

Buju is one of few Grammy award winning reggae artists, with a familiar face and smile that resonates across genres. He has broken records with his singles, he is a household name across the Caribbean and supporting nations; coupled with his talent, his personality and lyrics have charmed a nation into loving endorsements. In addition to making new music, creating positive messaging, and touring for his fans, Buju's public next steps also include taking care of the communities and the generation of young Jamaicans that will be responsible for ensuring that his legacy, his country, and their surroundings continue to develop and excel.

The necessities of living: food, clothing, healthcare, and education are the key offerings of the Buju Banton Foundation, which was established this year in support of young Jamaicans up to the age of 20, who can benefit from skill-based training, talent development, and educational empowerment.

In keeping with the energy of Buju's return to Jamaica, partial proceeds from the March concert in Jamaica will support the Buju Banton Foundation, and charitable donations will continue to be made as the tour continues into the summer. Proceeds will "align with nonprofits in each island, with part proceeds going to those organizations," according to Joseph Louis (aka Joey Budafuco) of XO Management and Rockers Island Entertainment.

Buju referenced his own experiences as a child, growing up in the inner city of Salt Lane in Kingston, Jamaica, when he was forming the mandate and direction of his charitable organization. Remembering the poverty and hardships that he endured, he also acknowledges the music and messages that helped to bring him out of his challenging circumstances, and nurture him into the megastar he is today. He has been able to utilize his talents, and his voice to communicate on behalf of his community and Jamaican brethren over the years: now he is also able to spark structural changes.

"I know what it is for a child to go without basic necessities," Buju stated. "I also know what it is to be a youth with big dreams and lots of determination. Unfortunately, daunted and unable to achieve your destiny, due to a lack of a helping hand, it is not an easy road, my children. However, Jah has blessed me. I have made it my mission through the Buju Banton Foundation to help by giving light to youth living in the darkness of poverty." His goal: to present equal opportunities for success, and also to provide hope and inspiration.

From his first recordings in 1991, to his last album the Grammy Award winning "Before the Dawn," Buju has been blessed with the gift of storytelling and charisma, talent and influence, and these are the skills that will assist him with giving light to youth living in the darkness of poverty. The same music that sustained him during his eight years without freedom is the same source of messaging that he will transfer to the youth within his reach.

The day of his release, reggae fans young and old shared the good news and rejoiced upon his return. Photos and video clips quickly circulated from the time he boarded the plane in the U.S., until he set foot back on Jamaican soil. Fans watched as he strolled through the airport, and took photos with supporters. We stayed attentively aware of his every move as he settled in, met with family members, and prepared for the next stage of his career. Every move, every photo, every visitor, and every announcement has been warmly received by Buju Banton fans and supporters around the world, and for that reason, the concert on March 16 will be nothing short of monumental.

The Buju Banton Foundation is more than a charity, it is the manifestation of Buju's legacy, his energy, and his vision for the future of Jamaica. By investing in the children, and bringing the gift of possibility and hope to those who might not otherwise access their potential, Buju is planting knowledge and fundamental tools and using his voice and influence to foster their growth.

Other reggae artists have also used their platforms to inspire change over the years, through charitable initiatives. The Shaggy Foundation hosts a Shaggy and Friends concert in support of the Bustamante Children's Hospital. Iba Mahr brings attention to the needs of the Linstead Public Hospital with his Sound Di Alarm Musical Festival each year on New Year's Eve. The Beenie Man Foundation was launched to support youth and individuals affected by sickle cell disease, and Bounty Killer's Foundation recently donated beds to the Kingston Public Hospital. This is a time when strong and dedicated leadership is key, and having industry leaders in reggae music use their public profile to help others is a great trend to feed into.

Whether it's directed at an at-risk youth from an impoverished neighbourhood in the islands, or a young adult growing up with similar discouragement in the U.S., Canada, or other locales, Buju's influence will be felt not only through his musical performances, but also through these important gestures and organizations.

The 90-minute set that will take place at Buju's upcoming Long Walk to Freedom concert on March 16 in Jamaica will be the first time Buju officially touches a performance stage since his last show in Miami in 2011, "Buju and Friends: Before the Dawn Concert." Special guests that have been announced for March include Buju's son Jahzeil, and a solid lineup of reggae's finest: Chronixx, Cocoa Tea, Etana, Ghost, Romain Virgo, L.U.S.T., Agent Sasco, and Delly Ranx. Also returning to the stage with Buju, the Shiloh band and surely a few unannounced special guest performers and personalities.

At the root of this historic moment: the music. Despite the hardships and injustice, the poverty and even the riches, the people of Jamaica have had reggae music as a tool for change, for evolution, and for communication for decades. It is a beautiful thing to be able to witness the power of reggae music still in 2019, and it brings renewed hope that the genre is still a conduit for change and influence, and that it still has the potential to inspire culture-shifting development and progress.




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

Saturday, February 16, 2019

REGGAE MONTH // Honouring the Melodies of Bitty McLean

Every time I take a flight, there is one artist that I listen to for take off and landing, and the relaxing duration of travelling in the sky. In the peak of my vacation anticipation, one artist alone can match the musical high I aspire to achieve, and provide the perfect soundtrack to my journey. Bitty McLean is my artist. Bitty McLean has the one voice that can always put my mind at ease. Every time.

He personifies everything that is great about reggae music, and music in general, and has proven to consistently produce and perform a style of reggae music that can speak to the deepest reggae lovers both in Jamaica or abroad. Through various eras of changes and trends, industry hype and confusion, the music of Bitty McLean has remained wholeheartedly great, technically sound, vocally strong, reggae music.

A British Jamaica, born in Birmingham, England 46 years ago, Bitty has one of the purest and most identifiable singing voices in reggae music today. A uniquely clear tone, with a distinctly sweet essence, it resonates tremendously in any dancehall, stage performance, or even in studio sessions.

Videos of his sessions solidified my obsession with this artist, as he rehearsed for performances with the legendary Riddim Twins, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and an array of instrumentalists. I have yet to see Bitty perform live; while he tours Europe and has appearances in the U.S. (he in now embarking on U.S. tour), his visits to Canada have been rare. Even without the pleasure of being able to hear his voice live, I still drown myself in his recordings and still get excited to hear him sing. A reggae lover from birth, it is Bitty who has resonated most with me because of the genuine soul that is put into his music.

Admittedly, I wasn't tuned into when he was climbing the UK charts in the 90s, at the time of  his first release "Just to Let You Know." While fans from Germany to New Zealand were falling in love with the young British singer, and a series of top ten hits rang out through the airwaves, I hadn't yet connected with the sounds or the story of Delroy "Bitty" McLean. At least not by name.

His covers of "Dedicated to the One I Love" or "It Keeps Raining" were familiar to me, but I was also a teenager caught up in the dancehall stylings of my other favourite artist Buju Banton, or his counterparts like Spragga Benz or Bounty Killer. While dancehall was trending with unique bright fashions, music videos of dancers in Jamaica, and the appeal of sound system culture...over in the UK, Bitty was still bubbling the ska and rocksteady songs that continue to drive the rhythms of his productions.

The beauty of reggae music is that from one island, so many variations of reggae rhythm and soul have emerged. The same island that gave us Bob and Dennis, also gave us Buju and Bounty. The same island that produced Alkaline and Stylo G, also inspired the growth of Exco Levi (5-time Canadian Juno Award winning reggae artist) and Birmingham's Bitty McLean. No matter where in the world the artists reside, the spirit of reggae music is so strong, and manifests in a multitude of ways.

Bitty's father was a soundman, and heavily influenced by the music of his day before moving to England in the late 1960s. With him, he brought a collection of music that ranged from John Holt to Nat King Cole, and he also brought the passion that permeated the spirit of his son Delroy (nicknamed "Bitty" by his grandmother, having been born prematurely and small), the youngest of six children. Under the guidance of his parents Eaton and Leonie, Bitty took this inherited dedication to reggae music and sound system culture, and naturally entered a career in this direction.

He would often sing on his father's sound, as a youngster, and the sound system culture of England provided opportunity for him to get on microphones and share his gift within the growing West Indian community there, but Bitty was also committed to the craft of music production, and enrolled in college to study sound engineering and composition. Through this training, he landed a job with the notorious British reggae band UB40, where he worked as an assistant engineer.

In an interview with Band on the Wall in 2016, Bitty confirmed that doo-wop and rocksteady music were his first loves, and he recommended that all contemporary artists invest in the work of the veteran artists like Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown, Marcia Griffiths, and Beres Hammond to name a few, to invoke the true spirit of the genre. In his household, Bitty came of age listening to Johnny Clarke and U-Roy, Burning Spear, and other easy-listening vibes. It was this rhythm and blues, jazz, and ska influence that would go on to shape the style of his recordings going forward.

To date, he has released 8 studio albums beginning with 1994's "Just to Let You Know," up to his most recent release "Love Restart" that was just introduced in August of 2018. Consistent throughout his albums over the decades: a purity and musicality that is rare, in an age of digitally influenced crossover hits and blurred genre lines with composition.

I fell in love with the 2005 album "On Bond Street," that Bitty mixed on his own. This remains my favourite album because of the deep instrumentation present in each and every song. I can listen to that album on indefinite repeat. Every track and every vocal is beautiful, and it soothes my soul. This album, like the majority of Bitty's work, simply reminds me of what pure reggae music should sound like. Haunting harmonies. A heavy and hypnotic bassline. Sharp drums. Crystal clear horns. Crisp piano keys. Spiritual organs. All of those symphonic elements, coupled with Bitty's vocals (that have remained consistently smooth over the years) make for excellent music.

I listen to Bitty's music on flights and at times of relaxation in particular, because of the way it grounds me. It reminds me of my Jamaican heritage, and the spirit of my ancestors who conceptualized such beautiful sounds. Despite being Canadian born, just as Bitty was also born outside of the island, his music is so deeply rooted in the origins of the genre that the tribute of his work deserves commendation. I admire his ongoing commitment to keeping the music strictly reggae, with no attempts to gain hype of crossover impact, but rather rejoices in his dedication to the music itself.

His preference in contemporary reggae music is to gravitate towards the singers, and he felt as though there was an imbalance in the music in respect to singers versus dancehall deejays. Listing Etana, Tarrus Riley, and Queen Ifrica as a few of his current favourites, Bitty also pays his respects to Sly and Robbie for their contributions to the music of reggae, as well as their leadership and friendship through a range of collaborations. A lover of music, Bitty has declared that success is not his vision. His mission is to contribute what he can to the reggae music platform, and to stand firm in his unique abilities.

Some artists purposefully make you want to dance, and others encourage you to rebel. There are artists committed to clever lyrics or aggressive recommendations, and there are those who are conveyors of history. I view Bitty's role as a reminder of the essence of reggae, the vibe of Jamaica, and the creator of a music that has the ability to physically make you feel at peace. Lyrically, there is a focus on love, and also a reminder of one's spirituality.

As a writer, I tend to gravitate towards music that puts me in a creative frame of mind without disrupting my flow or my thought processes. Whether I'm travelling to warmer climates, or sitting at my desk trying to finish a novel or edit a piece of writing, this is the music that has the ability to instantly transport me into a positive frame of mind. One that inspires me to also communicate my vision efficiently, and with a positive energy that always reminds me of the grace of our Jamaican people. It reinforces my commitment to supporting the culture and those who ensure that the original beauty and vibes of our beloved island are transferred between generations.

Bitty McLean has conveyed the best elements of Jamaican music and culture with utmost integrity and talent over the years, and I am thankful for the ways in which his music has transcended time and allowed me to live in an age where he is still creating, still recording, and still contributing to this powerful tradition.




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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

REGGAE MONTH // Honouring the Strength of Queen Ifrica

There were so many amazing reggae artists performing at the Rebel Salute roots reggae music festival this year that by 7 a.m., I was barely awake...but still engaged in the stage performances. Used to arena concerts events ending by 11 p.m. here in Toronto (or 3 a.m. for reggae performances in club venues), it was an exercise in stamina to be actively observant of everyone who touched the stage at Grizzly's Plantation Cove in Priory, Saint Ann. With my digital SLR camera in hand, and cell phone serving as a secondary recording device, I didn't want to miss a thing. Looking back at my footage upon returning to Canada, it was evident to me that I had just experienced a once-in-a-lifetime cultural moment in Jamaica, and I felt blessed to have witnessed the performances and exchanges up close and personal.

I have so many memories from that weekend. The feeling of pride, enjoying music amongst the Jamaican patrons, and lingering backstage with the likes of Capleton and Yendi: Jamaica's elite. I was excited by the energy of the stage activity, and intrigued by the hustle and bustle of the journalists capturing images and positioning to collect interview footage. I have yet to experience a similar vibe in Toronto, it was wonderful.

Via Jamaica Observer
The musical testimonies of Ugandan Bobi Wine and Nigerian Patorankin made me smile, and the energy of Bounty Killer and Agent Sasco rejuvenated my jet-lagged body as soon as the bass shook the grassy hill inside the Media Pit. One performance in particular, however, has lingered with me from Saint Ann, through Sangster International Airport, back to Toronto, and has led me to really meditate in a way that only music could provoke. This performance was the one put on by the First Lady of Rebel Salute: Queen Ifrica.

The Rastafarian native of Montego Bay, the Fyah Muma Queen Ifrica (aka Ventrice Morgan) is well known for being a woman of truth and fearlessness. Throughout the span of her career, her lyrics, her public appearances, and statements have been nothing but poignant and straightforward. Since the 2009 release of her first album "Montego Bay" (VP Records), she has been a source of cultural commentary and musical soul through songs like "Times Like These," "Keep it To Yourself," and "Far Away." Her latest release "One Hold" is circulating heavy this week, and encouraging women to love and hold their man. The video for "Black Woman" is making statements as well.

When I heard one particular song that night at Rebel Salute--"A Nuh We Dis"--I had to really pause, and think about my perspectives of Jamaica, as a Canadian of Jamaican descent, and really listen to the dialogue taking place on stage. It was the most powerful moment of the show, in my opinion, when Queen Ifrica sat down at the edge of the stage and addressed Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness directly, asking him to listen carefully to the lyrics of the song. As a representative of the people, she wanted to communicate the concerns of the citizens who were often unheard: her messages were of hope and based on a want for structural changes and more opportunities for progress on the island.

Visiting Jamaica annually, or even a few times each year as a Canadian/foreigner, it is easy to take for granted the everyday realities of Jamaican living. For a week here and there, I am blessed with the opportunity to leave the cold/responsibilities/routine of Toronto life and indulge in all of the greatness Jamaica has to offer. Family, the foods, the music, the hills and greenery, the beautiful beaches, the hustle of the towns, the hospitality, and most importantly the irreplaceable spirit of the Jamaican people. With each trip to the island, the love only intensifies. Especially now that I've lived 40 solid years in Canada and realize just how rare and precious some of life's intangibles are.

This particular visit, with Queen Ifrica's anthems as the soundtrack, I really processed the power of the music of Jamaica and the true impact it has had internationally. Many of us are privileged enough to have direct connections to Jamaica through parents or birth, but there are millions worldwide who are also drawn to the island just out of genuine passion, curiosity, and understanding. I believe the main draw of all is the lyrical content and the musical rhythms that speak to people's hearts from Canada to Japan, New Zealand, to Germany.

In that moment, I watched Queen Ifrica address the crowd from just a few feet away in the Media Pit, capturing a few photos and some video footage for myself, and as I listened to her pleas and declarations...I absorbed the distinct chorus of horns coming from the audience. A persistent tone indicating that the people were in agreement with her words. The people were hearing her...really hearing her.

This was late Saturday night when the Prime Minister, opposition leader, Ministers of Culture and Labour, as well as a few other dignitaries were seated in the Media Pit to take in one of the country's biggest and most significant events. I realized that to be there was an honour, and to be amongst the country's leaders and top influencers was a privilege. In that moment, as Queen Ifrica sang, my spirit led me to leave the stage area and instead walk back out to the gathering of patrons in the general audience zone to feel their energy. I heard the lyrics up close, and I wanted to experience them from a distance.

Via Loop Jamaica
I walked through the paths and fields of the spacious Grizzly's Plantation Cove, and watched on the large screen when Prime Minister Holness stood from his seat, and approached Queen Ifrica for an embrace. I thought about how wonderful it was that the exchange was taking place so directly, and that there were so many music lovers present to witness it. I thought about how her words were ringing across the Plantation and neighbouring sea and how many people were watching the Rebel Salute online, and how many voices she was echoing with her confessions.

Ifrica explained the plight of the everyday Jamaican citizen, and how every soul deserved to live in comfort and peace. She was concerned about Jamaica's place on a global scale, and how the rest of the world perceived her people versus the reality. She wanted Jamaica to be an example of greatness and to reflect the core of the people. She spoke up for the youth, and for women, and for blackness, and her lyrics and her words reminded me of a cry for help: she was communicating these needs through Jamaica's most powerful tool and agent of change, reggae music.

Those who have followed Queen Ifrica's career could not be surprised by this, because her community work and the content of her songs are always performed with direction and intent. She has always been an artist of action, and never one to censor herself.

Queen Ifrica expressed concern with the black woman in particular, and how a true queen should conduct herself, projecting messages of self-love, and a Jamaica rooted in family and traditional messaging. Rebel Salute was just one of many stages where she has used her platform to inform and educate her listening base. At a previous Ghetto Splash concert, she spoke about restoring pride in raising children and taking care of home. Ifrica has performed at events from the Child Development Agency, and has served as a youth counsellor and champion for child rights where abuse and incest are concerned. Songs like "Daddy" and "Keep it To Yourself" have clarified her positions in these areas: she is fighting for the decency and strength of Jamaica's women, youth, and overall spiritual character.

As she sang "Times Like This" and spoke about how she misses the heroes of Jamaica, I had to reflect on the culture in which my parents grew up in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s before moving to Toronto, and how the reggae artists of their time were wholeheartedly committed to using their musical platform to internationally convey purposeful messages.

This year Queen Ifrica is making a distinct mark in Canada through a collaboration with Toronto-based reggae artist Kafinal: they have been nominated for a Juno Award in the category of Reggae Recording of the Year. "Talk or No Talk" is an entertaining dialogue between the two artists about whether or not to get involved in people's business, where infidelity is concerned. It's great to see Ifrica being recognized by Canada's musical industry, because I believe she is a voice of purpose that will lead change in the way reggae music is performed and perceived...by female artists in particular.

With Queen Ifrica's dedication to strengthening black women, representing black women as intelligent and nurturing beings, as well as staying on top of important social issues and otherwise "taboo" social subjects, she is demonstrating that it is OK to not only be yourself, but also that it's OK to be yourself when it is difficult to do so.

It's too distracting to point out the controversy, or to make mention of those who may view Ifrica's declarations as aggressive and politically incorrect. What I received from her live performance, and from looking into her lyrics, her interviews, and her objectives as an artist is that Queen Ifrica is committed to enlightening Jamaican people, and her listening audience-at-large. She wants to support the Jamaican family and see improvements made to the political and economic systems of the island. She believes in love; she is a woman of faith and stands firm in this. She is proud of her complexion, her views, and she will not be silenced as long as she has a voice to communicate.

This is her mission: encouraging love, encouraging family stability, and celebrating principles of unity and support, tradition, and legacy. It is unfortunate that this overall premise has been met with  protest over the years due to a few specific statements and personal beliefs.

Female artists in reggae music are few and far between, so it is important that we uplift those with positive messaging, and that we endorse those who are confident enough to use their platform in the way reggae music was intended to be used: as an agent of political and social change and encouragement. I believe that Queen Ifrica is one of few active female recording artists that has made me stop, think, and wonder about how I am using my particular voice and what type of platform I am creating for myself, and intend to stand on. Not just in entertainment or media...but in life. Queen Ifrica has made me really consider how far I would be willing to go in speaking my truth and communicating it, regardless of the consequences.

Her strength on that stage, standing firm in her truth while looking Jamaican citizens and leadership boldly in the eyes at Rebel Salute, has given me strength. Reading about her history and listening to her experiences has reiterated the importance of developing your character and believing in something. I am grateful that my first trip to Rebel Salute resulted in this important lesson in the power of reggae music, and the natural force that it possesses in sound and in purpose.

Queen Ifrica, your presence is appreciated.




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

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

WRITING THE BLACK NARRATIVE // How to Tell Your Cultural Story


History is constantly being documented year-round from various perspectives, voices, and parts of the world. As writers, we recognize the longevity of our work in print, whether it's online or in a library, we know that our words will last far beyond the moments they are created. As readers, we have looked to the words of our predecessors to learn from their environments, find out how they persevered through circumstances they were placed in, and we gain wisdom from their written knowledge and shared processes. Through fictional accounts, or non-fiction instruction, the words are powerful and lasting.

As a group of Black writers, we thought it fitting to gather during Black History Month at the Toronto Public Library to reach out to our peers who are also crafting books and memoirs, poetry and other writings, and provide a space for us all to share the importance of writing cultural stories, and the importance of letting your personal experiences and perspectives shine through.

Our listing, via the Toronto Public Library read: "WRITING THE BLACK NARRATIVE: How To Tell Your Cultural Story // An interactive panel discussion with writers Stacey Ann Berry, Kamilah Haywood, Selwyn Jeffers, and Angelot Ndongmo, sharing experiences and strategies for writing culturally-specific narratives. Writers will also provide individual workshops and share tips and resources for starting, sustaining, and publishing writing projects in a variety of genres. Facilitated by Jameel Davis (Elevated Waves Publishing, Cleveland) and Stacey Marie Robinson (Kya Publishing, Toronto)."

With the combined efforts of the participants and the library's promotional efforts, we had over 30 registered attendees at the North York Central Library (5120 Yonge Street) on the afternoon of Saturday, February 2, 2019 to take part in this celebration of our culture, and session dedicated to stressing the importance of documenting our voices.

THE PARTICIPANTS

Co-sponsored by Toronto's Kya Publishing and Cleveland's Elevated Waves Publishing Corp, Stacey Marie Robinson and Jameel Davis facilitated the event to include a range of genres and an opportunity for participant feedback. Jameel, an African-American, and Stacey, a Jamaican-Canadian, continued conversations they were having with peers after the Toronto Urban Book Expo that took place in August of 2018, and decided to bring these conversations to an audience.

Dedicated to promoting kindness, understanding and hope, Ohio's own international author and speaker Jameel Davis is committed to sharing his story and empowering others with his motivational talks, inspiring poetry, and books.

Writer and communications specialist Stacey Marie Robinson, is passionate about documenting cultural stories, and she uses this hobby as a tool to fulfill dreams and explore life.

Angelot Ndongmo, a best-selling children's author, and instrumental part of the ongoing development of the Toronto Urban Book Expo was a fitting representative of children's books and communicating the importance of fostering self-love and self-reflection in children, through literature. The author of the Loving Me Series, her books have received international acclaim and places in the hearts of many as a bright and positive tool for cultural understanding.

Canadian urban fiction author Kamilah Haywood, writes stories about urban reality and isn't afraid to tackle uncomfortable issues like abuse within the prison system, and sex trafficking in Canada. Her latest novel "Diamond in the Rough: Part Two" was published through Kya Publishing, and is a gritty look at a fictional experience dealing with incarceration, mental health issues, as well as discrimination.

Also an urban fiction author, Selwyn Jeffers is a screenwriter, blogger, and poet from Toronto who has recently completed his first novel "The Vapours" that also addresses otherwise invisible subjects in Canadian literature. A story about a young man making his way through college, who also finds himself tied up with drugs and an unfortunate underworld of money and deceit: it's a familiar urban story written in familiar Toronto surroundings.

Stacey Ann Berry, an entrepreneur and writer of "Deeper Reflections of Life" is a published author and speaker who inspires her audiences to take a leap of faith, motivates them to make a difference, and helps them to ignite their inner talents. She is also an executive reporter for Soulful Image Magazine, has a column in Where Itz At Magazine, and writes for her blog, Resources for Youth.

THE PANEL DISCUSSION

The questions posed by moderator Jameel Davis were introspective, and targeted for each of the unique participants. Ranging from their inspirations, their thoughts about traditional vs. independent publishing, marketing techniques, and character development, responses were helpful for workshop participants who had the opportunity to engage with the panel, asking questions and taking notes along the way.

Some of the questions included:

What do you think is the future of reading and writing for the Black urban community?

What are the upsides and downsides to being a Black author?

What is the toughest criticism given to you as a Black author?

How do you think you have evolved creatively?

Are there any marketing techniques you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?

What cultural value do you see in writing, reading, and storytelling?

When you develop your characters, do you already know who they are before you begin writing, or do you let them develop as you are writing?

Both informative and entertaining, with Jameel's leadership, the panelists had a chance to share their processes, their opinions, and also cultural observations through the two-hour discussion.

Kamilah defines the genre of "urban fiction" of a literary genre that take takes place in an urban setting, and explores diverse cultural backgrounds. She enjoys taking moments of history, and telling stories through character development and circumstance.

She enjoys writing and noted that her characters often develop themselves along the way: the journey itself is a process that is unpredictable, yet satisfying.

Kamilah sees the importance of capturing stories like her novel "Diamond in the Rough" and other urban fiction stories as cautionary tales, as a look into the life experiences of others, and as a way to project reality and alternative circumstances to those who may not already be familiar.

Selwyn feels that urban fiction is the voice of the people, and a way to express oneself similar to music and poetry. He believes that people in other countries don't know what's going on in inner activities and particular environments, and that literature is a tool for presenting reality. Being a Canadian of West Indian descent, Selwyn also uses his urban fiction as a way to communicate the foods, music, and life lessons that he has drawn from his culture and upbringing.

The premise of his book "The Vapours": Shawn "Banneker" Beckford is a young, handsome, charismatic business student. He uses his charm and social skills to make connections with all walks of life. His connections have led him to being in the middle of the drug trade. Shawn realizes that he's now the gatekeeper for Toronto's underworld. Will he graduate and become a successful businessman? Or will his deadly connections cause his demise?

The tragic passing of two cousins, on two separate occasions to violent circumstances served as a catalyst for Stacey Ann Berry to put her words of encouragement and motivation to print and share message of hope with her family, friends, and growing network. Using writing and spoken word to help overcome these personal experiences, she began to formulate ways of sharing and uplifting others as well.

Stacey was recognized as one of the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women in 2016 and received a Role Model award from Diversity Advancement Network. She is also the recipient of the "Women of Courage - Young Leaders" award from the Endless Possibilities of Hope and Development Organization, and the "Outstanding Contribution to Student Experience" award from York University, Liberal Arts and Professional Studies.


Angelot developed her love for writing through storytelling with her sisters, growing up, as a form of entertainment and escapism. Also an avid reader, she always put reading hand-in-hand with writing, and enjoyed the experiences. Always eager to share her thoughts, Angelot frequently wrote introspective reviews about the books she had read, which caught the attention of others who encouraged her to begin to publish her own stories. Angelot began to consider taking her passion serious, and invested in a children's writing course at the University of Toronto. Encouraging the participants to take risks and chances, she said "don't be afraid to invest in your dream," suggesting that new writers talk with others, network, and ask questions.

Another tip from Angelot: let go of perfectionism! She said that the worst thing a writer can do is hold themselves back, and she encouraged those in attendance to walk boldly in the direction of their dreams. She has loved being an independently published writer, and enjoys the personal approach she can take to sharing and marketing her work.

Her dedication to writing stories for black children in particular came from her love for children, and how much she loved to see them empowered to love themselves just as they were. While reading children's stories as a child, she would often wonder why all of the "other" characters were having all the fun, with the black children often just an afterthought or side character. "I wanted our kids to love how they look; they need representation, and to be connected to the human experience," said Angelot.

ADVICE FROM THE AUTHORS

The writers shared a few of their personal experiences with marketing and book promotion with the audience. A few recommendations were:

Stick to your vision!

Have a social media strategy!

Plan for the future!

Remember that with each new generation comes a new set of readers; spend the time to commit to ongoing marketing. 

Attend networking events, workshops on public speaking, leadership seminars, and be open to different methods of obtaining information like setting up informational interviews, and interviewing other authors for their words of wisdom.

Be persistent, and don't take no for an answer!

Get out there and meet people; a lot of readers want to know about the author's personal story as well!

RESOURCES FROM THE LIBRARIAN

Elizabeth Lai, the librarian of the North York Central Branch also had a few words of advice to share with the attendees, and stressed that new authors should do their research and understand the titles and types of books (and content) that has already been published in their desired genre. She distributed a range of reference notes with links to Toronto Public Library databases and tools.

ANCESTRY DATABASE: Ancestry Library Edition (must be accessed from a library computer)

ACCESSING ARTICLES AND ONLINE RESEARCH: available for TPL cardholders here, from the Toronto Public Library website

UPCOMING ARTS PROGRAMMING AT NORTH YORK CENTRAL LIBRARY: additional events were also presented from Elizabeth, including the February 13 presentation about John Coltrane, the February 13 workshop on the Making of African Art in Contemporary Settings, and the Gumboots Dance presentation. .These and other cultural arts programs are listed on the North York Central page of the TPL website.

WORKSHOP

Following the panel discussion, attendees were invited to break off into individual groups with each of the writers, for personal discussion, one-on-one consultations, and a relaxed setting to explore ideas and questions.

New connections were made, advice was shared, voices were heard, and all writers and participants present were able to leave the presentation with new information and inspiration to move forward with.

A special thanks was extended to the Toronto Public Library and all of the participating authors for their commitment to creating and executing this Kya Publishing and Elevated Waves event!






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


Friday, February 1, 2019

REGGAE MONTH // Honouring the Passion of Bushman

Every February since 2008, the government of Jamaica formally recognizes the celebration of Reggae Month on the island. Two of the genre's most influential musicians, Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, were both born early in the month, making it a fitting time of year to pay tribute to the music that helps to define Jamaica's identity domestically and internationally. Organized by the Jamaican Recording Industry Organization (JaRIA), Reggae Month features a variety of events from lectures to parties, showcases and documentary screenings, to pay homage to the music and also encourage its continuity.

The best place to be: Kingston, of course. Here reggae lovers can participate in any of the annual special events like the Open University public lecture series, or JaRIA Live a series that presents emerging reggae artists to their potential fan bases. For each Wednesday in the month, Reggae Wednesdays features live concerts, and the following night Vinyl Thursdays is a great way to take in music as well. For the casual patron, the Friday evening after-work Reggae Mixer is always a nice way to end off the Reggae Month weeks. These events, sponsored by JaRIA take place at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre.

As long as you're in Kingston for the month of February, it should be easy to find yourself in a sweet reggae music space, from stage shows in Trench Town to the waterfront Downtown Kingston, top artists are sure to stop by and celebrate their love for reggae as well. Also recommended: Weddy Weddy Wednesdays and Dubwize mid-week, or the Kingston Dub Club on Sundays.

A recent trip to Rebel Salute reminded me of just how many powerful reggae artists there are, still in the prime of their career, still making hit songs, and still performing at the top of their game. Jamaica is an island filled with talent, and reggae is subsequently (and quite naturally) a genre that has transcended borders and geographic expectations, and expanded across continents in the style and vibe of its origin.

Favourite artists change and increase in respect over the years, while others become less accessible, or remove themselves from social media and limelight, existing only on old recordings and memories. Each year I am moved to see the creativity and brilliance that comes out of Jamaica, with new artists easily capturing my heart, and adding to the ever-growing list of musicians who have solidified my enjoyment of reggae music. This year in particular, I have been moved by Bushman.

The sound of his baritone voice alone, both in speaking and performance, resonate volumes. Bushman has a rare deep vocal essence that is easily recognizable, and one that communicates his lyrics both forcefully and musically. Some of his memorable classic songs like Call The Hearse, Fire Bun A Weak Heart, and Worries and Problems still heavily influence the roots reggae culture and fans and music aficionados can look forward to the release of his album Conquering Lion at the beginning of February through his independent label Burning Bush Music. The video of the first track being shared from the album: "How You Living" is currently being circulated on line.

Bushman (aka Dwight Duncan) hails from the parish of Saint Thomas, and has been a passionate musician from a young age. Growing up in Prospect Beach, he was recognized both in elementary and high school for his musical talents, and participated in drum cores, choirs, and even played bass organ. Before we knew him as Bushman, his moniker was Junior Melody, where those in Saint Thomas knew him as a selector with Black Star Line sound system, and through voicing dub plates for local sound systems like King Majesty, Lee's Unlimited, and Mello Construction. It was this exposure to producers and the reggae music industry that brought him to meet up with Steely & Cleevy who would then help him record his first tracks.

Bushman's first album, Nyah Man Chant was released in 1997 from Greensleeves/VP records and continues to be a classic in any reggae music collector's lexicon. After Nyan Man Chant, albums Total Commitment (2000) and Higher Ground (2001) were also released from Greensleeves, with production from King Jammy. Subsequent albums followed: My Meditation, Signs (2004, VP), Get it in Your Mind (2008, Burning Bushes), Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor (2011, VP), and his latest project Conquering Lion.

His voice, talent, and contributions to reggae music are evident, but last week Bushman was placed in the forefront of reggae media for poignant statements made to OnStageTV after his performance at Tony Rebel's Rebel Salute music festival. One of the last performers to touch the stage, at the end of an exhilarating two-day event, Bushman expressed his disappointment with the timing of his scheduled appearance, as well as the nature of the style of reggae music that seemed to consistently receive more attention. Shedding tears on camera, the video of Bushman declaring his love and aspirations for the creation of reggae music went viral. His personalized hashtag, #StandWithBushman also made an impact on social media, as he encouraged reggae music lovers to dedicate themselves to preserving the purity and progress of the music he has committed his life to.

Days after Rebel Salute, Bushman sat down with OnStage TV host Wynford Williams and spoke about his journey as an artist, as well as the recent controversy. Evident from the dialogue, as well as Bushman's position throughout his discussions and appearances since Rebel Salute, this artist is not only passionate about his music, but also the genre and future of reggae music as a whole. When changing his stage name from Junior Melody to Bushman, he took heed to the West African definition of "bushman" which described a "medicine man." Bushman told Williams that he considers himself to be a provider of musical healing/medicine, and that his music has the ability to help physical and mental pain subside.

Via Jamaicans Inspired
This is the reputation of reggae music worldwide: it is a music of healing, of blessings, and progress. A music rooted in rebellion, yet focused on the truth: Bushman knows the power of his tool, and despite not releasing any new music as of late, his mission has never changed. At fault: social media, and the emergence of reggae lyrics with less targeted messaging. While Bushman's roots reggae music has what he called "timeless social commentary," he is also very much proud of the integrity and purpose with which he creates.

The discussion of dancehall culture is always a hot topic, and one that attracts not only a variety of tastes, but also a range of perspectives. Bushman voiced his hopes for black women to be wise and smart, and for the youth to grow with self-awareness, self-value, and self-respect. It is his mission to educate, and connect with his fans through performance that had Bushman so full of passion after Rebel Salute.

His manager, Vanessa Barnes-Duncan, noted that he had a strict regime of training, fitness, and rehearsal in the days leading up to his third consecutive Rebel Salute appearance, and Bushman was more than ready to communicate with his fan base. It was nearly 10:00 a.m. when he touched the stage, but his performance left an impression and the misfortune with timing (which has been addressed with Tony Rebel), that has led to this increase in exposure for the artist.

Realizing that his production platform and visibility were not as strong as he would have liked, over the years, Bushman still remains humble and grateful for every opportunity he is given, and for the re-release of his album "Conquering Lion" across all digital platforms.

I will continue to be a Bushman fan, but my attention to his perspectives and my respect for him as a leader in the reggae community have increased. Voices like his are necessary. They need to be amplified. "Where are the morals of the people?" he expressed in his interview. I believe that if we continue to listen to artists like him, we will soon be reminded this year. He personifies what is powerful and needed in the reggae music industry, and the energy and momentum of this month are surely going to work in his favourite. We hear you Bushman, and your messages are reminding us of the truth about the soul of reggae music. We hear your requests for the regulation of lyrics and musical influence over the youth; it is through these public musings that change is conceived.



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

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Spirit of Jamaican Culture Showcased at the Rebel Salute 2019 Music Festival

Thank you, Rebel Salute. My love, appreciation, passion, and respect for Jamaican music and culture has increased tenfold after my recent excursion to attend the roots reggae festival in Priory, Saint Ann, on Friday, January 18 and Saturday, January 19 at Grizzly's Plantation Cove. As a Jamaican-Canadian music lover and communicator, my presence on the island this year reinforced my dedication to supporting the culture and progress of Jamaica and its people.

I've been to numerous live shows before, and I happily invest my money into the live experience of my favourite recording artists. Beginning with Michael Jackson in 1984, to Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye, Janet Jackson, and Prince...if I enjoy their music at home, I definitely want to enjoy it in a performance venue as loud as possible, surrounded with thousands of other fans. It's the natural progression of appreciation for the art form and the creators of the experience. This includes soca artists like Kes, Machel Montano, and Bunji Garlin as well: live energy is a must.

THE POWER OF LIVE PERFORMANCE

Few things can compare to seeing Janet Jackson dance and sing decades worth of hits at a packed Air Canada Centre with 20,000 other supporters. In fact, to date, her 2001 All For You tour was probably the best live performance I have ever witnessed. The nostalgia alone had me on my feet and grooving from beginning to end, singing every word, and enjoying every special effects and subsequent memory.

Whether it's an international pop star like Janet at the ACC (now Scotiabank Arena), or attending a reggae concert in a downtown Toronto venue to hear artists like Baby Cham, Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Munga, Mavado, or Sanchez, I am addicted to capturing the art of musical production and presentation, and constantly crave new levels of enjoyment. This obsession is nothing new.

Dozens of ticket stubs, a collection of tour books, a list of Ticketmaster alerts, and a keen eye and ear to social media to stay up-to-date with my favourite artists and their appearances still couldn't have prepared me for what would be one of the most significant concert experiences of my forty young years. Rebel Salute impacted me in ways I never expected.

It's been 26 years now that reggae legend and Jamaican ambassador Tony Rebel started his birth-month celebration on the island. Rebel, an artist we all know and love, who has blessed the international airwaves with classic reggae songs like Fresh Vegetable, If Jah Is Standing By My Side, and Sweet Jamaica, was a gracious host and personable MC, continuing to set a positive and groovy tone for the weekend's festivities.

Rebel Salute is recognized as "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."

The event has been frequently referred to as a pilgrimage, and arriving at the venue on Friday evening to obtain our Media Accreditation, we could see attendees approaching the venue with chairs, blankets, travelling duffel bags, and layers of clothing, prepared to camp out for the two days and not miss a beat presented by the line up of artists.

The entrance fee: approximately $60 Canadian dollars for general admission, and just over $100 for VIP admission. While the general admission area was open, surrounded by food and craft vendors, with space to dance and roam, the VIP section featured a comfortable seating area, and housed many dignitaries and Caribbean elite. Please note that $60 in Toronto can't even get you obstructed view seating to see one or two international artists; $100 would be the approximate cost for a seat in the upper bowl in most cases. We would be expected to pay $60 to see Agent Sasco and Tony Rebel alone.

Upon entry to the backstage area and my home for the weekend--the Media Pit--the group read like a who's-who of Jamaican reporters, personalities, artists, and of course representatives from popular media channels like iNeverKnewTV, Loop Jamaica, and on behalf of the Jamaica Tourist Board, OnStage TV, and other respected outlets. International journalists, bloggers, and reggae documentarians also gathered in this area to ensure optimal footage of the artists and performances to transport back to their home countries, and share via social media.

Camera in hand, I was determined to capture every sound, anecdote, and memory, well aware that the abundance of talent and music that would cross the stage would be a spectacular show to watch post-production. Travelling on behalf of myself as an independent journalist and communications specialist via @KyaPublishing, my intent was also to capture images and video for my @JamaicanCanadianLove platform, as well as my personal channels of communication. Also visiting Jamaica with me from Toronto, reggae DJ and radio personality @iAmChrisDubbs, who was documenting the journey for our radio show (The VIBE DRIVE on Toronto's 105.5fm) and reggae-loving network. On behalf of our country, and representing reggae fans internationally, documentation was key. The moment wasn't about our place on the island as individuals, so much as it was about the space we were ready to occupy: spectators of the greatest show on earth.

FRIDAY NIGHT VIBE

The artists scheduled to perform on Friday night were overwhelming at a glance, as listed. To see them on stage was even more exhilarating. Between touring the venue, observing artist interviews, capturing footage, and conversing with others present, I was fortunate to catch the performances of The Wailers, Capleton, Luciano, Tony Rebel, Wayne Marshall, Wayne Wonder, Junior Kelly, and Perfect Giddimani, but unfortunately missed some of the other highlights like Koffee and Dawn Penn, who performed earlier in the evening.

With consecutive long nights anticipated, a big part of the enjoyment factor at Rebel Salute comes from pacing yourself, being comfortable, and knowing that the show can easily span 12 hours from start to finish each day. While the adrenaline is plenty...human nature also dictated how much I could physically stand and film, and realistically enjoy the entertainment to the fullest. Ideally, I would have perched in a chair from 7pm show time, throughout the night, and straight past sunrise into the hot Caribbean morning with all of the amenities and energy necessary to capture it all. In the end, I did get a good 7 hours in the first night, and was definitely still satisfied with the segment of the show I witnessed.

SATURDAY NIGHT SESSION

I barely came down from my musical high from Friday night, when Saturday's showcase was upon us again. Blessed to take in performances from Queen Ifrica, Pantoranking, Agent Sasco, Bobi Wine, Jesse Royal, Mr. Vegas, Bounty Killa, and Dre Island, I reluctantly departed after 9 a.m. (with a hotel to check out of and a flight to catch in Mo Bay) despite glimpsing Jah Cure and Bushman backstage, preparing for their sets.

A never-ending stream of reggae artists, of talent, memories, music, and production, it was challenging to take it all in at once! Between artist interviews in the lounge, artist sightings in the VIP area, and a high traffic of production, PR, management, and supporters mingling about, my goal was to capture as much of the essence of the event as possible.

As a communicator, my objective is often to bottle those feelings: the euphoria, the exhilaration, the excitement, anticipation, and most importantly, the VIBES! Much like our favourite reporters are on-the-scene to let us know what's happening and who it's happening with, I have settled into my role of being the "fly on the wall" to quietly observe, and pointedly share what I see.

An amateur videographer/photographer with professional intention, I didn't want to miss a moment because I knew what it meant for me personally as a writer, and also how fortunate I was to be in the presence of greatness, and amongst those responsible for maintaining and projecting fruitful images of Jamaica and Jamaican culture to the world. Humbly, I put together a visual collage of my first visit to Rebel Salute, in hopes that it would continue to inspire me over the following cold months in Toronto, and reinvigorate my spirit, refocusing my efforts down south to the birthplace of my parents, and home of the majority of my relatives.

Here is the final product:


The video represents my first opportunity to be amongst so many powerful Jamaican voices at one significant moment. Turn left, there's the Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness seated with the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport Olivia Grange, and other dignitaries. Former Miss Jamaica Yendi Phillipps stood only a few feet away, as did Agent Sasco before his performance. Queen Ifrica mingled in the crowd to catch the performance of her husband Tony Rebel, and Wayne Wonder wandered past me, dressed in white and looking fresh for his early morning performance.

Walking around the artist area, I saw Jah Cure giving an animated interview, just as Chi Ching Ching and his comrades watched the live feed of the concert taking place. Before I could blink, a bedazzled Mr. Vegas emerged from his dressing room in a bright zoot suit with a feather in his fedora, ready to take on one of the most coveted spots on the weekend's schedule. I casually passed Chuck Fender in the wings, waiting to walk up the steps to the stage, and listened to the banter on stage from Mutabaruka, and from Foota Hype.

I captured the sea of beautiful black faces singing along to classic reggae tunes, waving Jamaican and Ethiopian flags and recording portions of the concert on smartphones for their own archives. I saw Rastamen and the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley occupying the same space of enjoyment, and music lovers blowing horns to salute their favourite artists.

I observed (with glee) the great Bounty Killer, who performed as the sun came up, while men, women, superstars, and commoners alike stopped everything they were doing to give Rodney Price their full attention as he commanded the stage and brought us all back to the 90's bliss of dancehall music that shaped so much of the culture we love.

It was indeed a pilgrimage, for someone like me who has visited Jamaican numerous times throughout my life. For weddings, for funerals, to spend time with family in Mandeville, at church services and trips to Fontana, or to enjoy the beaches at Alligator Pond. I've done the all-inclusive thing in Montego Bay, partied at Pier 1, and jumped up on the streets of New Kingston for Carnival. I have dipped in hotel pools in Ocho Rios, and watched the sunset at Rick's Cafe in Negril. I've travelled up, and down, and up, and down Spur Tree Hill, where I've spent the majority of my Jamaican moments in Manchester. I have toured my father's hometown of Christiana, and danced with friends and strangers at Margaritaville.

Tony Rebel, Koffee, Wayne Marshall
No stranger to Jamaica, I have seen many parts of the island, and enjoyed my visits to the fullest from the age of 3 until the present time. I have embraced my Jamaican upbringing, and taken pride in my heritage. But nothing could have prepared me for the FEELING I would walk away with, after the Rebel Salute.

It was pure joy, with an overwhelming musical force of self-love and pride. Here are a few significant moments that contributed to those emotions:

THE PERFORMANCE OF QUEEN IFRICA

Via Loop Jamaica
I have always been a fan of this woman, but my appreciation for Queen Ifrica has now hit a new high. Listening to her familiar lyrics in this setting, and observing as she pointedly spoke to the Prime Minister and his peers with confidence and determination made me reconsider my own inner strength, and it reminded me to never be afraid to speak my truth and use my voice for something I believe in. She expressed beliefs that some might deem controversial, she explained why she has been banned from performing live in some countries, and yet she stood firm in her views and encouraged the listening Jamaican audience to do the same. Queen Ifrica was unwavering in her positions, and yet still communicated her music with the grace and dignity that Jamaican women should all aim to possess.

Queen Ifrica spoke directly to the women, and expressed her concerns about the public perceptions being circulated through social media and lyrics. She didn't hesitate to remind her peers of their roles as ambassadors for Jamaica, and gave a powerful performance to demonstrate what a focused and deliberate message could manifest.

Likewise, legendary Jamaican poet, educator, musician and media personality Mutabaruka didn't hesitate to take advantage of the audience of politicians and national decision makers, and engaged in an entertaining yet determined conversation with the Minister Olivia Grange about performance spaces on the island, and the availability of support for musicians.

Witnessing the embraces between the musicians and politicians was impactful, knowing that the exchanges were being viewed across Jamaica and the world through live-stream, as well as the determination of the artists to speak on behalf of the Jamaican community. These interactions, in the moment, were moving.

BOUNTY KILLER ON STAGE

Having him touch the stage just after sunrise on Sunday morning was the perfect climax to a weekend of reggae music. Although Rebel Salute is known for being a roots reggae affair, the emergence of Rodney Price to perform many of his dancehall hits from the 90s onward electrified the crowd who had been waiting overnight to hear him perform. Coming on shortly after a true performance from one of his peers, while Mr. Vegas had the audience laughing, enjoying his costuming, singing along to his catalogue of hits, dancing, and taking in his conversation points (as per usual, Vegas did not bite his tongue and insisted that Jamaica "put some respect" on his name), the energy level was already at a peak.

No one can move, and capture attention and respect like Bounty Killer. His unique voice, both in lyrics, and in rhyming speech, are one-of-a-kind and something that signifies dancehall music and enjoyment in a classic manner. Receiving the biggest forward of the weekend (at least that I was present to observe), his twenty-minute set was non-stop vibes and musical power that helped to define an era of music that many can argue has yet to feel the same.

The beauty of Rebel Salute was its ability to capture an artist like Bounty Killer, while also paying homage to legends like The Wailers and Mykal Rose in the same space. The fans that waved flags and repeated lyrics to Agent Sasco, were also present to sing along with Dawn Penn and Wayne Wonder.

The performances of Queen Ifrica and Bounty Killer resonated most with me, but that still isn't to take away from the displays of excellence from Agent Sasco, Luciano, and Tony Rebel that I had the pleasure of taking in.

It was a reminder that there is an infinite amount of talent on the island of Jamaica, and that even two fulls days of performances could barely capture all of the wonderful products that exists in reggae music, and the numerous individuals that drive the daily machine of the industry to ensure that it stays fresh, progressive, and never loses its core values.

AFRICAN CONNECTION

A poignant reminder of the influence of Jamaican culture and music on an international level, were the performances and conversations that Nigerian artist Patoranking and Ugandan artist Bobi Wine shared with the Jamaican crowd.

Patoranking, the 28-year-old artist popular for his catchy Afrobeats hits like "My Woman," was honoured to bless the Jamaican stage and let patrons know how much the music had guided his style and visions. Evident in his movements and his dancehall sound, it was beautiful to see how humbled he was to be in Jamaica, and how thankful he was for the industry that he emulated through his own career.

Likewise, Bobi Wine (36) expressed his gratitude for Jamaican culture and reminded his audience that it was reggae music that inspired him to rise up from his challenging Ugandan upbringing, and pursue music as a method of communication and reaching the people of his country. Banned from performing in Uganda due to political positioning, Bobi Wine let the Jamaican audience know that there was a Ugandan/African audience of millions also tuned into to his performance virtually.

Mutabaruka and Tony Rebel took the time to stress the significance of Bobi Wine's voice and activism, to the people of Uganda, and encouraged everyone to dive deeper into the story of the cultural and political leader.

Even from the continent of Africa, the messaging of reggae music and culture is felt. From my home country of Canada, the residence of approximately 300,000 Jamaicans, the majority of which live in my hometown of Toronto, the power of reggae music is felt. It is a tool for connecting Canadians of Jamaican descent to our heritage, and a method for non-Jamaicans to feel connected to the culture. In a city where white, South Asian, and non-Jamaican citizens can embrace and excel in the playing and sharing of Jamaican music through events and DJing, it is no surprise that Jamaican music has this impact almost anywhere it is present.

I don't take it for granted, the international appeal, and cultural influence that the music of Jamaica has...on myself, on strangers, and on popular culture overall. I was proud when UNESCO voted to protect the national treasure that is reggae music, and recalled the reggae festivals and artists that emerge from California to Germany, New Zealand, to Florida, and up north here in Canadian towns like Regina, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. I first fell in love with reggae music as a child, first started to understand it as a young teenager, truly enjoyed the culture in my twenties and thirties, and now that I'm approaching "middle age" I have an overwhelming pride and joy about reggae music that increases with each new interaction.

While in Jamaica, tickets for the Buju Banton Long Walk to Freedom Tour went on sale, and subsequently crashed websites due to high demand. I witnessed the legendary Bushman shed tears over his love for reggae, and plea for reggae practitioners to take heed to the music's original intention and international force of love and progress. It was a significant weekend, and I enjoyed feeling every energy while on the island.

These words resonated with me, upon returning to Toronto, as did the entire experience. I've seen many reggae artists perform live here, and in the U.S. I've enjoyed the music throughout my life, and now have joined a radio program that is dedicated to sharing this music twice a week (Monday and Friday from 6pm to 8pm on VIBE 105.5fm). I continue to write fiction with Jamaican-Canadian protagonists, highlighting our unique urban Toronto culture, and documenting our experiences for generations to come. The question remains: what next?

To some, Rebel Salute was just one of many adventures in reggae music that takes place on the island every month. It's now been exactly a week since I left the Grizzly Plantation Cove grounds, and yet the spirit of the festival is still vibrating (strongly) within me. Since then, I'm sure the artists have already performed again, and the major news outlets have long reported the highlights from the festival. It may be just another day in Jamaica this Sunday, with the countdown to Buju's show beginning, with many other notable stops along the way.

But here in Toronto, I'm still on a Rebel Salute high. I have recognized that we all have a role to play in how our music and culture are consumed, communicated, and interpreted. It's one thing to take Jamaican culture at face value and focus on the celebrities, the dancing, the insane dancehall acrobatics, and the social media beefs. It's OK to get caught up in the sound clashes and the friendly competition to excel in the party/DJ/soundman industry. I don't mind individuals like Mr. Vegas speaking his mind, and folks like Spice spreading her wings to infiltrate the U.S. pop market. I understand that reggae music exists us all in different ways, and plays a different role in our lives. From weekly fashion, to studio sessions, spiritual healing, to vacation music, reggae music is diverse and eclectic enough that it can easily impact a great variety of people in a plethora of ways, and still not change its core.

What I would like to see more of is a re-emergence of appreciation and respect for roots reggae music, and the lyrics of hope, progress, political motivation, with increased dedication to love and peace. Not only through focusing more on uplifting Jamaican people, but through using music as a tool to influence and continue to encourage good things.

There are so many exported elements of Jamaican culture that people around the world cling to, emulate, and celebrate. From this one small island had come so many significant cultural artefacts that we can revel in and consume. The most significant of all, the reggae music, is the one we should all be committed to protecting and nurturing. God bless Tony Rebel for having the vision of Rebel Salute as a peaceful, spiritually solemn, and fantastic presentation of Jamaican roots reggae culture, and for curating the perfect mix of vendors, food, performers, staging and attendees to remind us of how important this treasure really is.

At the local media launch for Rebel Salute, I was moved by the words of Queen's Counsel Paula Llewellyn, Jamaica's Director of Public Prosecutions. Commending Rebel Salute for exemplifying positivity, she stressed that: "We own the authenticity of reggae: nobody can take that away from us. But I would like The Preservation of Reggae to also include an acknowledgement, that with this awesome gift, and with this 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, an an exemplar of what being a reggae ambassador is all about."

Likewise, at the media launch Tony Rebel stated that, "It is a spiritual mandate to preserve the healthier aspects of our culture. 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 am honoured to have been a part of the 26th year celebration of Rebel Salute, and to have felt the significance and power of the festival "inna real life" during this significant and powerful time during MY life. Embracing the power of Jamaica is something that my spirit believes strongly in, and I have been motivated to commit my energies to ensuring that whatever I am capable of giving to this beautiful country, culture, and body of musical work, I will do so proudly.

God Bless Jamaica, Land We Love.




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