Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book Review: "Scarborough (a novel)" by Catherine Hernandez

I was born in Scarborough, and returned to live in the eastern part of Toronto about ten years ago. I chose to live here because I love it here and therefore I definitely wouldn't miss the opportunity to read a novel exclusively dedicated to the community I walk and drive through every day.

Written by Catherine Hernandez--also a Scarborough resident--a theatre practitioner and writer of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese, and Indian heritage. She has carefully captured the voices of a community of characters who also represent a range of nationalities, in addition to various ages, experiences, and stages in development.

Our little town doesn't always get a good rap. In fact, residents of any other part of the Greater Toronto Area from Brampton straight through to Oshawa most likely have a different perception of this part of the city than the actual residents do. I won't even repeat any of the stereotypes circulating for years about Scarborough (because it's safe to say that every region from Peel to Durham experiences their own unique challenges and concerns), but I do embrace the fact that there are so many different kinds of people that live here, and that's what makes it unique. Anyone--and everyone--can feel culturally at home in Scarborough.

Photo via Queen's Gazette
In this particular novel, in one particular area of Scarborough, Hernandez brings us into the homes and hearts of the children and families that cross paths through their local residences, a shelter, and a Literacy Program that operates out of a local elementary school. The Program Facilitator of the Program, Hina Hassani, is a compassionate connector between individuals, lessons, resources, and emotions.

Each of the characters in this compassionate novel are lovable--even those who are questionable in behaviour and opinions at times. Each chapter takes us into a different lifestyle, a different thought process, and a different person as they navigate their day and readers have the opportunity to experience Scarborough through their well as learn about what it takes for them to get through each day.

Author Catherine Hernandez
This book goes straight to the heart. The stories are beautiful, and tragic, and inspiring...and yet there's still a deep sadness that exists even when the characters achieve their small triumphs and experience joy. Between the seasons, the days, the experiences, and the conversations, we are able to get to know Ms. Hina and how she respectfully nurtures and educates the children in her program, while sharing and embracing their parents and allowing them to maintain dignity through her food giving and clothes sharing processes.

There are no stereotypes here: just realities. Realities for particular Scarborough pockets, or any low-income neighbourhood where residing in shelters, accepting food donations, and relying on community support are customary. These conditions aren't tied to one particular race or demographic. Just like a ride on the Eglinton 86 or the RT: there are white folks, black folks, Asian and South Asian folks, and indigenous North Americans/Canadians. The mosaic is as Scarborough as the TTC routes, and the living conditions see no colour in this particular story.

Mental illness, poverty, child care, gender issues, and abuse are unfortunate issues that the characters learn to cope with, succumb to, or overcome within the pages of Hernandez' novel. And you can feel the cold in the under-dressed, and smell the funk of the under-groomed. The characters are vivid and relatable even in their worst predicaments, for they are just Torontonians trying to make it through...with their own unique circumstances to take on.

Photo via
The bad times are bad...but the moments of happiness are sweet in this novel as well! There's a dancing moment of triumph for a boy named Bing, and a very sweet friendship with him and a classmate girl named Sylvie. There are wonderful parent-child bonds, and so many moments of support and love between community members. Parents celebrating progress with their children, and children relishing in small joys with one another.

Overall, is it the character of Hina that I truly love because not only does she serve as the story's anchor and narrative of sorts, but she also stays committed to her work. She is the hope in this novel, because she is able to witness the commonalities and provide a safe space for individuals to grow, express their dignity, and dream. She is pure in her love for community, and diplomatic when communicating with her superiors and fighting against institutional challenges.

Photo via Toronto Star
There are many lessons and glories within the pages of "Scarborough," and the message that resonates most of all with me is that everyone has their issues. Whether in Scarborough, or in Ajax, or in Markham, or Woodbridge...everyone is faced with issues that stand between their daily routine and achieving their greatest dreams. The main difference at times is just circumstance, resources, and even morale. You feel this when you see even the most simple of gestures from one character to another make a great different in outlook and activity.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Scarborough" and thank the staff member (Jasmine) at the Scarborough Town Centre Indigo who highlighted this book as a "staff pick" and drew my attention to the shelf display to motivate my purchase.

Needless to say, as someone who is committed to promoting and celebrating cultural stories, I know that "Scarborough" is the type of book that has to exist. Often. Across generations. It shows us about ourselves, reminds us about others, and particularly for those of us who live in is an up-close-and-personal look at the lives of the folks we pass every day, and a deeper understanding of challenges that we may not have encountered...yet.

An excellent book, an excellent town, and I commend Catherine Hernandez ( for the way in which she handled the complexities of Scarborough, the sensitive issues, and the cultures with compassion, accuracy, and hope.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Rebel Salute Media Launch Highlights Features of Roots Reggae Festival in January 2020

What better way to start off a new year than with the beautiful and spacious outdoor landscape of Grizzly's Plantation Cove in St. Ann's Jamaica, taking in an assortment of the finest reggae artists from past, present, and future, and committing January 17 and 18, 2020 to the celebration of music and the preservation of culture that is the annual Rebel Salute roots reggae festival? Last night at the AC Marriott hotel in Kingston--and simultaneous streamed online to hundreds of media personnel and supporters around the globe--Tony Rebel's festival launched its 27th edition with fervour and confidence.

All of the favourite elements of the traditional Rebel Salute festivities were presented, as expected: the Herb Curb will return, for example, for the education and enjoyment of sacramental marijuana use and awareness. Representatives from the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF), Courts furniture, Enterprise car rentals, and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport were in attendance to share well wishes, outline festival protocol, and share words of inspiration to attendees and virtual supporters watching online.

Musical performances for the media launch were carefully selected to pay homage to reggae's greats, to provide a platform to reggae's talented newcomers, and to give listeners a preview of the vibe and energy that is just a month away when the 2-day festival of everything roots reggae returns.

I had the pleasure of attending Rebel Salute earlier this year, and my physical presence in Jamaica and within arm's reach of the most powerful forces in reggae music made an extreme impact on my year's lens and my musical appetite. As a Jamaican descendant, it spoke to my soul and history on spiritual levels that are almost indescribable.

Now that another year has passed by and it's time for the festival again, I instantly felt that familiar sense of pride and anticipation knowing that this amazing event was just weeks away, and that reggae lovers and music lovers around the world would soon be in the midst of  that positive energy and beautiful composition of sounds.

The live media launch experience online is appreciated, because supporters like me all the way up in Toronto still get to feel a part of the production process. We get to hear the news, the guest speakers, and the lineup unveiled in real time. We get to witness the excitement on the faces of Tony Rebel and Queen Ifrica, and invest in the festival as if it was our own.

Most importantly, it is the excellence with which the speakers present their passions and purpose in uplifting and communicating the special elements of Brand Jamaica that always motivates me.

Tony Rebel was a fitting, comfortable, and authentic host for the evening, controlling the night's pace and visibly excited at the sounds of the Riddim 2000 band and the accompanying vocalists for the night. His love for reggae music is evident and it makes the festival feel like a true presentation of passion. He is the perfect host, and the perfect ambassador for this movement, now entering its 27th year under his expert leadership. He proudly stated: "We participate in the preservation of this music."

It was awesome to hear performances from Queen Omega, from Imeru Tafari, Mortimer, Miss Chee, Heavyweight Rockaz, Stevie Pace, George Nooks, Mikey Spice and Singing Melody, and of course Tony and Ifrica blessed the microphone as well.

The Mayor of St. Ann's Bay, Michael Belnavis spoke to the economic benefits of Rebel Salute to the parish, businesses, and individuals. A proud host of of the festival, he expressed that the event was "indigenous" to St. Ann, and that many were blessed with the "direct and indirect employment opportunities" as a result of the annual staging. He also communicated a great statistic, stating that over 40% of festival attendees came to Rebel Salute from abroad which not only spoke to the consistent quality of production, but also the enjoyment of the vacation and travel opportunities surrounding the festival as well.

Michael Dawson of Strictly Roots water is always a pleasure to listen to, as he spoke to elements of his products and the digital link each bottle has to African news and facts (via QR code). He also marked the significance of the 2020 staging, as it marks 100 years since Marcus Garvey's gathering in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Mark Pike of Enterprise Car Rentals described Rebel Salute as a "resurrection of Jamaican consciousness," and also a "nexus between rebellion and righteousness." Describing the mission of Enterprise to simplify the mobility journey for Jamaicans, Rebel Salute attendees, and returning Jamaican residents and tourists, he announced the 20% discount that would be applied to car rentals leading up to Rebel Salute, and continuing through Reggae Month 2020.

The Minister of Tourism Donovan White quoted from a study of music festivals, and the impact they have on host destinations. In respect to Brand Jamaica, he noted the effect of Rebel Salute's presence on tourism, and contributing overall to generating a positive image of Jamaica as a destination, along with the loyalty to the festival itself.

Minister Olivia Grange and the JCF Superintendent Calvin Small also spoke to the importance of Rebel Salute in celebrating the image and enjoyment of Jamaican culture, and their dedication to doing so professionally and deliberately with an attention to detail and enjoyment for patrons and the reggae community-at-large.

At the festival, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport will be hosting a booth for Reparations (based on the upcoming docu-film that will celebrate the International Decade for People of African Descent) as well as to energize young people to action. She credited the festival as being "the world's most outstanding roots and culture festival" that specifically spoke to the music conscious folks, globally.

Keynote speaker Stephen L. Drummond, respected legal expert and partner in Drummond & Squillace law firm, was passionate in his address to musicians and supporters of Rebel Salute, expressing his gratitude for Jamaica and admiration of the billion dollar worldwide reggae music industry. He urged individuals to take careful heed to the performance, protection, and preservation of reggae music. Notably so, his firm has recently been involved in the defence of reggae artist Flourgon in his copyright infringement case against pop artist Miley Cyrus for use of his lyrics.

With words of advice for those in the music industry, Drummond urged artists to ensure that they were legally protected, and surrounded themselves with the right team including managers, accountant, business folk, public relations experts, and legal assistance. He counselled that artists should seek mentorship from leaders like Tony Rebel, and learn the backstory and from their experiences in addition to tradition guidance.

Significantly, he spoke with love about Jamaica, the teachings of his grandmother, the discipline of his community members, and the soul of the island that formed and nurtured and moulded his values from a young age before moving to the United States. He asked listeners and attendees to value Jamaica, Jamaican culture, and to harness the special power and influence contained in the island.

Also in support of Reggae Salute's mission and presentation, the highlighted sponsors were acknowledged, from Enterprise, the Jamaica Tourist Boat, Strictly Roots Water, the Marriott and Cardiff hotels, radio supporters Hits 92FM, Irie FM, and media outlet the Jamaica Star. Jamaica Tours Limited, TV Jamaica, the Knutsford Express, and the Ministry of Culture were also listed as some of the event's contributing sponsors.

The much anticipated lineup of artists announced included: Lady G, I-Wayne, Singing Melody, Beenie Man, Leroy Sibbles, Sugar Roy, a special hour of comedy from Johnny, Carl Malcolm, Lone Rangers, Michigan, a dance performance from Chi Ching Ching, Queen Ifrica, Flourgon, Sanchez, and returning Ugandan artist Bobi Wine. Many were anticipating the announcement of Buju Banton, but I imagine that will be a treat saved for later release, if it is going to be a feature of the show...and at this point, it only makes sense!

Now that the launch has passed, I patiently await the promotions, announcements, and other details yet to be released. I look forward to the increase in excitement as the countdown continues. And if by chance I don't find myself in Jamaica next month, grooving to the sounds of Sanchez and Sugar Roy, then I most definitely will be logged on to continue the support of the music and culture that ultimately and consistently drives my soul to the sweetest of highs.

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Jesus is King" Album Review // Once Again Kanye Creates A Moving Musical Experience

I'm a fan. I've always been a Kanye West fan. Antics and all. Actually, sometimes I feel like it's because of the antics why I can appreciate Kanye's creative journey even more. This industry is not for the weak, nor is it for the super strong. Sane, insane, or otherwise. We know it's a mess. We know it's hard to navigate, as are fame, scrutiny, and aging. Some of us are old enough now to have lived and witnessed the full career trajectory of so many of our favourite artists. For me, Kanye west is one of those favourites.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm at the point where I can take all of his music, good and bad (and there's definitely been some baaaaad), because I'm now more interested in the long-term progression of his sound and his mind and can overlook the glitches and questionable judgement at times. On a personal level, it's difficult...on a musical level, it continues to intrigue me.

Sure, I could have done without the red MAGA hat. Absolutely, his comments on slavery were disappointing, to say the least. The Taylor Swift thing, the Kardashian link up, there are a plethora of reasons why Kanye West is not to be liked or to be easily dismissed. And then...on the other side of the proverbial scale there is just one reason: the music. OK two reasons: the music, and the production!!


I'm writing this in real-time as I listen to the "Jesus is King" album for the first time. Why? Because that's what good music does to me, it inspires words to form, and fingers to type, and vibes to turn up. Good music is the consummate conduit for productivity, as far as I'm concerned. More often than not, I have experienced these vibes at the hands of Kanye.

I didn't know when the album was coming out. I was hoping for last night, but when that didn't happen I stopped paying attention. Funny how my automatic response when I heard the first song today was to get to my laptop and is an automatic response at this point. The music moved me. Literally.

It was the video clips of his pop-up Sunday Service concerts that drew me back into Ye this time around. Starting in Calabassass with a handful of California's elite gathered around a then relatively unknown gospel concert, mounted on a hill and raising their hands in praise. It was quaint. It was moving. It was spiritual, and I appreciated the attention pointed upwards...instead of on his shoes, his wife, his brand, on the President, or onto other Kanye-esque gimmicks.

Selah. Is. Officially. My. Track. That's the excerpt of choir singing "he is wonderful" that I have been binge watching for months now, and I was hoping the passage would find its way into the album. Phew. Love it. The spirit of it is impeccable.


Boy, this album is moving quickly. So where was I...yes, I appreciated the nod towards Jesus, and the collective voices of worship, and the African-American soul, and the natural feeling of gratitude that the choir evoked. What's not to like?

I ignored the Kanye doubters/haters over the past couple of years, and continued to tune in to the Sunday Services. Eventually more "stars" started to show up at the outdoor sessions, and then the outdoor sessions moved indoors, into domes and churches...and then they went on tour. As this was transpiring, I was able to connect online with many of the talented musicians participating in the musical experience. The choir members. The keyboardists. The other instrumentalists, and they too became familiar faces on my IG timeline.

I appreciate that this style hasn't changed much. He's singing much less, which is a relief. His cadence and thought processes still remain. They've evolved, but they're classic Kanye at heart.


A music lover from birth, I loved everything about the organic joining of the instruments at the Sunday Service, the passionate voices, and of course the creative genius of Mr. West, sitting behind his keyboard, jamming to his own gospel interpretations of various R&B hits. How do you not love a choir's rendition of Soul II Soul, Genuwine, and other classic songs? It was brilliant! A clever way to bring the "secular" and the "spiritual" together in a joint love for sound.

These song are really brief and to the point, right? They're flying by.


When the Sunday Service began to tour, I was excited each and every time the new footage emerged, and I had the opportunity to see the effect that the singers, and the dance moves had on the music. I thought to myself, that it was a good move for Kanye to use his influence and visibility for good. To bring good energy, and good messages through music to crowds of supporters, fans, and curious on-lookers.

I almooooost made it to the Chicago show, at the invite of an Illinois-based friend, but the last minute timing made it near impossible. I contemplated the Detroit staging, watched the Howard Homecoming longingly, and sat in sheer envy of the pop-up at Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica the other day. It was a movement that I wanted to be a part of, simply because it felt so good. The music reverberated. The choirs moving in unison moved me, visually. The spirit of God was coming through Kanye's productions...and I appreciated it.

The implementation of choir is something that I've loved about Kanye in previous works of his. My favourite Ye album My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy (2010) was very musical, and very spiritual in a way that inspired me beyond words. I have craved that level of album-listening experience ever since. I had yet to find a series of songs that moved so beautifully in narrative (and visual, thanks to the extended music video) like that album did.


The music listening experience has changed for me drastically over the years. Where I used to be a serial album-buyer, and someone who didn't mind spending money to get a physical musical product in my hands...the digital/streaming era has not been a productive one for me. I'm sure I have missed out on a lot of gems because of my inability to seek, download, and listen to new compositions this way. While I'll definitely listen to DJ mixes and tune into the radio during musical listening opportunities, I found it more and more distracting to have to use an Apple Music or Spotify to hear what I needed to hear. Yeah. I miss CDs.

That being said, DJ Khaled and 2 Chainz had awesome albums this year that I streamed...and never listened to again, just by way of delivery method. If don't catch the top hits in the club or through other mainstream methods, I rarely dig into the "B-side" tracks like I used to. Perhaps it's a generational error, but I do feel the effects on my relationship with newly released music. Particularly hip hop. Soca and reggae have other means of keeping up, that have remained constant regardless of technology.

So I'm happily taking in Kanye's album RIGHT off the presses, and in real time. I'm not going to even go back online until I've listened to it in its entirety. When the pundits, the fans, the naysayers, and the gossip outlets start to critique and analyze this album obsessively over the next 24 hours, I need to know that I've heard every single instrument, riddim, and lyric and had the opportunity to form an unbiased opinion. I do admit, that my opinion may expand as a result.

At present, I like what I hear. It sounds like Kanye. It sounds like I figured it would sound, and I can appreciate that. It's on brand, it feels spiritual and musical, and everything that I've loved about the 7-month Sunday Service marketing campaign that he's embarked on, leading up to this album's release.

Part of the joy of taking in a project by Kanye West, and other creative minds, is that the entire experience is a process. Their personal life, their public remarks and actions, and then the steps they take in the months and days leading up to their latest project.

I hated to watch him break down in the Oval Office hugging up that man, and I was saddened to hear when his mental health issues had him hospitalized, overweight, and subdued. It's been tough to watch him suffer and as a legit fan, I tried to remain open to his experience and really tried not to judge him too harshly as he was clearly going through some shit.

On the flip side now, the choirs, and the praying, and the Bible, and the pseudo-preaching...I dig it. It shows evolution. It shows growth. Even if it is just a Kardashian-level elaborate marketing scheme, at LEAST the scheme is leading people back to God. At least it's led me to at least a dozen singers and instrumentalists who have dedicated their life to praise. If this was all just a fancy trick to get us to "buy" his album (do people still buy online through streaming...I actually have no idea?!)...then it worked.

The deadlines, and missed deadlines, due dates, and past due dates, it's all been a roller coaster and test of patience for fans that have been eager to hear what has been brewing in Kanye's mind over the past year. The false alarms and video releases, etc. It's been a trip to say the least.


Wait, that's it? The album is done? That wasn't very long, was it? I think I need to start again and take it in on another level now. This is the part of the process I love. I'm pretty sure I'll be listening to nothing else for the remainder of the weekend. It's weird, it's frustrating, and it's hard to figure out...but I enjoy the process because of the way I feel right now. INSPIRED.

I want to hear what future Kanye is up 50 and what 65-year-old Kanye is producing. And beyond. The journey has been nothing less than interesting and entertaining thus far, and I'm definitely here for the long haul.

OK. That last song was literally 30 seconds.

Kanye is something else. I've been telling y'all since '05. That's on God.

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

Monday, September 30, 2019

RECONNECTED // Artist Mark Stoddart features Scarborough Legends and Community Stories through Nuit Blanche Exhibit

Familiarity feels good, particularly when it is coupled with success and social movement. When the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championships this past summer, thousands of Torontonians eagerly left their homes to parade and revel downtown and show their pride and appreciation for the hometown basketball team. When tennis professional Bianca Andreescu recently defeated superstar Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, Canadians from coast to coast expressed their joy, despite rallying behind Serena’s career for decades. From sports to music, film, politics, or science, whenever one of our own excels on a public stage, we all hold our heads a little higher. It’s only natural.

There is something pure and relatable about working hard and then eventually seeing the results. We are inspired when we see efforts rewarded, because it reminds us of our own abilities and that every goal and dream once started as a mere thought, idea, or humble hope. We enjoy watching the fruits of hard work, because we ourselves are working hard for something. In some way.

Whether the accolades are received on a Canadian level, on a Toronto level, or on a municipal level, it is wonderful to see communities form in celebration and common passion. We’ve witnessed it time and time again in sadness and in joy: a variety of cultures, ages, and backgrounds unifying based on a common experience of community. In the eastern Toronto community of Scarborough, this month, there is plenty to celebrate and it includes the history of some of the town’s most influential residents and citizens of nearby towns. It also involves one of the city’s favourite shared annual events.

Nuit Blanche—Toronto’s all-night free art exhibition—takes place this year from sunset (7:00 p.m.) on Saturday, October 5 through to sunrise (7:00 a.m.) on Sunday, October 6 in a range of indoor and outdoor locations around the city. This year, Scarborough will be activating more installations than anywhere else in the city.

Artist Mark Stoddart, a Scarborough native, has joined creative forces with Ashley McKenzie-Barnes and her Queens and Kings of Scarborough exhibit curated for Nuit Blanche this year.

“This theatrical playground will challenge systems of social marginalization, self-identity negotiation, and racial stereotyping within a modern framework. From film and installation to interactive sculpture and street art, Queens and Kings of Scarborough will honour this community as a hotbed of culture,” said a Nuit Blanche release.

As a part of the Nuit Blanche display that will expand across Scarborough Town Centre and nearby locations within walking distance, Stoddart’s contribution—ReConnected—will be a featured element of the Queens and Kings of Scarborough installation.

“[ReConnected] is a chance for young inspiring artists and athletes to realize that they have individuals who were raised within their communities who have excelled despite various obstacles that may have been in their way,” said Stoddart. “It’s a chance for a community to re-establish a bond of communication and emotional connection. A time to truly reflect on the success and accomplishments of our own, while thinking of the next wave of rising stars to make a difference within our communities.”

ReConnected will highlight 19 individuals from Scarborough and its surrounding districts, who have contributed to hometown pride in a variety of ways. Their images will be coupled with an assortment of published articles and archival photos from the Scarborough Mirror newspaper, 5” x 20” pieces accompanied by a 15-minute video story.

The celebrated Scarborough figures include:

Queens of Scarborough:

             Mahlikah Awe:ri, Afro-Native Canadian drum talk rapologist
             Shary Boyle, contemporary visual artist
             Bernice Carnegie, Educational and life enrichment speaker and the director of the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Program
             Mitzie Hunter, Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
             Yusra Khogali, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Toronto, community activist, artist, and educator
             Carrianne Leung, author and educator
             Natasha Ramsahai, meteorologist and journalist
             Diana C. Reyes (Fly Lady Di), multidisciplinary artist and performer
             Lilly Singh, comedian, television host, and actress
             Shameless Maya Washington, artist and creative producer

Kings of Scarborough:

             Jim Creeggan, bassist for the Barenaked Ladies
             Dwayne DeRosario, professional soccer player
             Jamaal Magloire, professional basketball player and Toronto Raptors assistant coach
             Louis March, community and youth development facilitator
             Sam Moncada, founder of the Scarborough Basketball Association
             Dwayne Morgan, spoken word artist and motivational speaker
             Kardinal Offishall, rapper, record producer, DJ, and music executive
             Jagmeet Singh, lawyer and NDP leader
             Wes “Maestro” Williams, rapper, producer, and actor

The names are being honoured in Scarborough for Nuit Blanche because of their unique connections to the town. They are individuals that lived on the same streets, attended the same schools, played at the same parks, and developed in the same neighbourhoods as the current residents of the eastern Toronto borough. Residents know their relatives, have seen them on the TTC, or encountered them over the years at events and local businesses. They represent the community well, because they are of the community. They are Scarborough.

Photo by Nathaniel Anderson
The ReConnected exhibit is a spinoff of a former exhibit from Stoddart entitled “Voices of the Past,” which highlighted civil rights activists, also through uniquely combining images and newsprint.  Through , Stoddart will show appreciation for the efforts and individual legacies. It will be on display at the Scarborough Town Centre’s Entrance 4, in the passageway joining the mall to the TTC/RT entrance. The indoor exhibit is free to the public, family friendly, and fully accessible. It will serve as a meeting ground for Scarborough locals, and visiting admirers. It will help to reestablish connections, educate visitors, and celebrate the achievements of those on display.

As a visual storyteller, Stoddart has dedicated his career to communicating truth to power. His passion for music, sports, and activism have been important tools towards his mission of educating, empowering, and uniting audiences. Born in 1968, the powerful history of the year’s significance has framed his outlook, designs, and social contributions. He has taken a childhood love of collecting t-shirts and expanded it into a clothing and apparel line. He has partnered with historical Black figures like Dr. John Carlos who in 1968, as an Olympic sprinter, silently protested with a raised first on the Mexico City podium during the medal ceremony. Stoddart has deliberately built collections featuring jazz icons and other cultural leaders—his work is rooted in social integrity and powered by the intent of his ancestors.

“Mark is looking towards the future with a passion for an artistic medium that motivates and expands the imagination. As a visual communicator, he feels compelled to do more than just convey information—it has become his personal mission to create art that inspires people to act.”

Stoddart’s latest project ReConnected, in the spirit of his previous artistic presentations, will continue to inspire, to teach, and to provide insights and ideas to his audience. A focal point of the Scarborough experience, by highlighting these individuals Stoddart is reminding NuitBlanche patrons of the creative forces and unique souls that Scarborough and its surrounding Toronto communities has produced. His pride is visible and will be transferable to all who take part in this weekend’s Queens and Kings of Scarborough exhibit. It is his hope that through the familiar faces and stories, another generation of leaders will be nurtured on the same Scarborough streets that Stoddart himself used to navigate, internalizing the positive and progressive inspirations of his environment.

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

Monday, July 29, 2019

First Staging of Kitchener Reggae Festival features Konshens, Luciano, Gyptian, Stylo G, and Kranium

Living in Toronto, you become accustomed to having your favourite artists perform frequently, close to home. In the summer in particular, every weekend plays host to reggae and soca artists, stage shows, special events, boat rides, and other celebrations featuring the singers and DJs we have grown to appreciate over the years. In Canada, we are blessed because our city is a definitely must on any island entertainer's tour itinerary.

Over the years we've also, unfortunately, had to witness the closing down of venues in Toronto, the logistical difficulties for even the most experienced of promoters and event teams "due to circumstances beyond their control," and an overall decline in the availability of space and the decline in faith of some of the systems that used to be reliable. We've witnessed the closing, demolition, and gentrification of some of our favourite concert locations of the past (Guvernment and Kool Haus, for example). We've seen Richmond Street and the infamous Entertainment District of Toronto go from a bustling weekend environment to a relatively uneventful downtown street now.

The systems are changing, but the demand for musical acts and entertainment events is still high. Our need for live performances and interactions with our favourite musicians is increasing if anything, and yet somehow the city that once used to host and openly satisfy our insatiable musical appetites has been letting us down.

We have decentralized: while downtown Toronto used to be the hub of activity, now we find ourselves being entertained in Scarborough, Vaughan, Mississauga, and getting used to taking a longer drive for the sake of a more comfortable atmosphere, reliable regulations, and a guaranteed execution of events.

This past weekend, the drive was even longer than normal for those of us commuting from Toronto to attend the first annual Kitchener Reggae Festival, yet the additional 100km was well worth it.

Presented by Beyond Oz productions, in association with Bingeman's On the Grand concert space, the Kitchener Reggae Festival was an excellent way to spend a summer evening, as well as a nice change of pace from the regular hustle and bustle of Toronto. Not only were there new faces (I imagine travelling in from other parts of Ontario like Windsor and London, in addition to the Kitchener/Waterloo residents and other Toronto commuters), but it was a fresh energy as well.

Bingeman's concert venue, On the Grand, is a part of the 170 acre property that also hosts a camping grounds, conference centre, water park, and volleyball facilities. The outdoor stage area is ideal for crowds from 200 to 30,000 and is parked on a flat surface, with a natural incline grassy area where hundreds of reggae fans were able to sit, secure personal chairs, or dance freely. At the top of the hill: food vendors were parked, as were bar facilities for this wristband-accessible all ages event.

For Kitchener/Waterloo locals, Bingeman's is no secret. In fact, the Beyond Oz team also hosts a huge electronic music festival there each summer, the Ever After Music Fest with upwards of 30,000 attendees each year. It's a great space for music lovers, and a particularly dope environment to host a reggae festival.

The lineup alone was a draw, with the headliners for the Kitchener Reggae Festival including Toronto-based singer/songwriter Shalli, in addition to Jamaican performers Luciano, Stylo G, Kranium, Gyptian, and Konshens. Collectively, they are powerhouses with an impressive catalogue of hits over the decades. Individually, they are respected artists each in their own unique ways, and they each brought something different to the festivities.

Scheduled from 6pm to 11pm, the concert started promptly as advertised in the bright hours of Saturday evening. Parking was ample, the drive in was easy (despite a little bit of construction traffic on the way out of Toronto on the DVP), and entrance into the venue was hassle-free after a quick security check and ticket scan. No heavy lineups.

We arrived just in time to see Luciano touch the stage, sharing that cherished baritone voice with his fans. He gave us greats from "Never Give Up My Pride" to "Sweep Over My Soul," he spoke to his supporters about guidance and leading the next generation, and he sang praises to the sound men for keeping the reggae music industry vibrant. Luciano never disappoints, and it was a joy--as always--to hear that voice live. And to see the cartwheel. Just like he did at Rebel Salute earlier this year, I was happy to catch one of his signature cartwheels up close and personal. Luciano is full of energy, wisdom, and a regal grace.

Following the Messenjah, was British resident Stylo G, who has had one of the year's biggest hits with "Just Touch Down" that the audience waited until the end of his set to enjoy. Stylo G, a newer addition to the dancehall scene, was also full of electricity as he performed, and brought a current element to the evening's agenda.

After Stylo G, Kranium blessed the stage also singing some of his recent current smash hits like "Nobody Haffi Know" and urging his fans to sing along. Despite the mix of conscious reggae and current dancehall, the crowd of reggae fans from late teens to elder Luciano's peers seemed to have an appreciation for all of the artists, regardless of genre or style.

Kranium was followed by Gyptian, another recent legend in his own right who saw much international success with his songs "Hold You" and other favourites like "These Are Some Serious Times." He looked great, sounded great, and held his own like a veteran.

Worth noting: the production was excellent from the sound to the staging, and as the night progressed I continued to be impressed with how smoothly the itinerary was flowing, and how everything was on schedule to conclude as advertised.

The final act of the evening was Konshens, who has also seen great widespread success over the past few years with his staple dancehall classics like "Bruk off Yuh Back" and "Gal a Bubble." Another highlight of the evening, preceding Konshens' set was the interlude from his tour DJ, American DJ International Starr who led the crowd on a singalong with many dancehall favourites from Buju Banton to Damian Marley.

This festival moved, with only brief DJ and MC interludes between sets. I was impressed with the flow, the content, and the attendance overall...particularly for a first-time event. Few things can compare to live music: the energy, the sound, the vibrations, and the joy of getting to see your favourite entertainers and hear the raw talent without filter or distraction. The Kitchener Reggae Festival proved to be a smooth presentation of reggae music, and reliable with time restraints (which was convenient for those who had to head back to the city afterwards).

Now that I've experienced it once, I can't help but prepare for the next edition. Yes, there are a multitude of reggae shows in the Greater Toronto Area to take part in year-round, in addition to catching stage shows in Jamaica. This goes without saying. But what the Kitchener Reggae Festival offers is a change. A change of venue, a change of pace, a change of patrons, and refreshing appreciation for having reggae artists in that space.

We take it for granted: the accessibility. For example, I know that Beres is here on Friday and Koffee here on Monday. It's the week leading up to Caribana, so it's safe to say that most of the top Caribbean artists will be passing through Toronto at some point this month. This is a given. While it's nice to know this, it's also nice to know that there's an option for those of us who like to leave the city every now and then...but can't squeeze in a full fledged "vacation" for entertainment. It's a great alternative for a road trip, and there's plenty of space to park chairs, spread picnic blankets, and enjoy the summer weather while still taking in a few full, high-energy reggae performances.

Stylo G
I'm looking forward to the next edition of this festival. Most importantly, it was a reminder that outside of the Toronto entertainment bubble, there is green space, music lovers, and some of the elements of entertainment that we take for granted here in Toronto...or have been denied access to, by no fault of our own. This festival has inspired me to think outside of the box where entertainment is concerned and realize that this province is full of locations and professionals who also love what we love, and are just as committed to putting on a good show as the teams and names that we are familiar with through experience, and routine.

Vocab Communications and the entire Kitchener Reggae Festival team were excellent communicators from start to finish, and these are the elements of production that truly make the experience special from a media standpoint, from a fan perspective, and generally where organization is concerned. For the first time presenting this festival, they have proven to already be experts and will no doubt follow up in 2020 with an equally impressive--if not better--celebration of the music that touches so many of us in our spirits.

The artists and patrons of reggae music deserve nothing less than this level of execution and solid entertainment. This is an example that I will hold as a standard for reggae music here in Canada: musically, and logistically.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Recognizing the Next Generation of Caribbean Canadian Leadership

It's Caribana season in Toronto, and each year around this time the cultural conversation in the Caribbean-Canadian community is heightened. It is the season of extreme visibility, performance, entertainment options, and tourism. Politicians and other dignitaries circulate, dance, and celebrate, and calypso music is played during television commercials and on news bits. Of course, some members of the community could care less about Caribana and haven't attended the actual festivities since the 90s. Just as there is celebration, there is also criticism and disdain--to ignore this would be unrealistic. It's a festival of great anticipation, and can also be a time of deep resentment. But it's ours, and love it or hate it, it is a time when Caribbean Canadian culture is on full display, and those of us who care often say quick prayers that everything goes smoothly on the surface because the negative repercussions tend to affect us all.

Early last Saturday morning in Malvern, the Junior Carnival took place. It's one of my favourite events in Toronto because I love to see the children and their families gathered together, walking, dancing, enjoying the summer, and doing it with their culture as the centre of it...with hundreds of others. It's a beautiful sight, and one I never tire of.

This is what it feels like to have a culture that you identify with, in a country where you are limited in numbers, and oftentimes limited in political and economic power. This is why paying attention to Toronto's carnival is a past time that I can not outgrow or shake off. I spend about as much time justifying my passion for Caribbean Carnival as I do working towards my individual contributions to the culture: supporting those who participate, writing articles like this to contribute to public discourse, and managing an online portal for costumes, news, and other visuals on Instagram at @CarnivalSpotlight. Each of the books I have written is deeply rooted in the experience of Caribbean-Canadian characters. This is deliberate.

With age, however, and the passage of time, the festival repeatedly takes on new meaning to me. Just as title sponsors and rhetoric surrounding the Toronto Caribbean Carnival changes, so do my personal sentiments. This year in particular, I am focused on leadership in the community and the ways in which Caribbean culture is shared and projected in our Canadian environment.

As my generation of Canadians of Caribbean descent now enter middle age (I was born in 1978), we are naturally forced to analyze the role we as individuals play in how our culture is maintained in Canada. We know what the experience was like for the generation before us to move to Canada from their native islands, separate from their families, and build careers and a foundation here in Canada. We have inherited enough of their Caribbean traditions...enough to realize that the generation that follows may be too far removed from them. While we can remember the "old fashioned" Caribbean values and traditions because we were raised with them, we can definitely see what happens to the youth that grow up the "Canadian way." It's a different outcome, culturally. It manifests in different ways, and we can see it. In some cases, we can feel it.

It's a complicated dilemma, maintaining culture. Especially in a town that is so multicultural that we can all appreciate foods from numerous parts of the world, listen to the native music of a variety of countries, and it's common place to be surrounded by people of all races...and still feel at "home". Canada proudly boasts about our multicultural society, and as Canadians we are expected to embrace the traditions and customs that we come with...and trust that these practices will be understood, appreciated, and communicated the right way. That being said, as members of the Caribbean-Canadian community we have a role to play, and a responsibility to communicate and share our culture with dignity, with honesty, and in a way that will sustain the values and traditions for generations to come.

There are many in Toronto who are dedicated to building community. Keishia Facey and Jamaal Magloire are two individuals that exhibit leadership qualities that I have enjoyed working with over the years, and who have given me opportunities to support their Caribbean-Canadian movements, as well as empower me (and others) to contribute and build with them. In a city like Toronto, our paths will continue to cross based on a common love for community celebration.

It's been a big year for Toronto native, Jamaal Magloire. His Toronto Revellers children's Caribbean carnival group just won the coveted Band of the Year title for their Treasure Island presentation this past weekend in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Junior Carnival parade. He has planned two sold out fundraising events ("Escape" and "Quench") in support of his charitable organization the Jamaal Magloire Foundation, and oh yeah...the basketball organization that he's a part of, the Toronto Raptors, also won the NBA Championships.

On any given day, you might run into Jamaal at a mall or local West Indian eatery and have the opportunity to congratulate him. He's accessible, despite his countless accolades, and that is one thing that many of us know just by living in Toronto. If he's not at the mas camp (home of his Toronto Revellers Cultural Association) overseeing plans for the year's carnival parade, he's out at community events on behalf of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) of which he is a Community Ambassador, or perhaps he's making appearances at basketball programs, the annual "Duck Off" where local chefs compete to see who prepares the best curry duck in town, or you might catch him coaching at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, or working out at the Raptors' OVO training facility.

"I love Toronto, and I love the Caribbean community here in particular," said Magloire. "No matter how far I travel, or where my life's work takes me, I love being at home with my community. I love to celebrate with them, and I get so much from spending my summers with the people I have grown up with here. I try my best to share my experiences, and to create experiences that we can all enjoy together."

Accessibility is an important factor in leadership, because we need to know who it is that we are supporting. We need to know what they believe in, what they represent, who they represent, and most importantly, what the leadership has the potential to do for the community in the future.

Jamaal Magloire has been placed in a position of leadership not only in the NBA, of which he's been employed since 2000 when he first joined the Charlotte Hornets after leaving the University of Kentucky Wildcats (1998 national champions). He is now a familiar face within the Toronto Raptors organization, from his role as team captain during the 2011-2012 season when he was the first Canadian-born player to wear a Raptors jersey, to his current role as a part of the coaching staff, where he works as a Basketball Development Consultant. With almost two decades in the league, he is known as someone who has entered, sustained a career that is longer than the average 4.5 years (Magloire played for 12 years), and currently serves the NBA year round.

(c) Caribbean Vibrations
"I have been blessed, and basketball has been such an important factor in my life and how I am able to give back to the community," said Magloire. "For the majority of my life, basketball has been the root of my activities, and this year in particular it has been really humbling to be able to be a part of this moment in basketball history. Being a Community Ambassador for the Raptors, I've also been able to give back on a larger scale, and I appreciate that."

Outside of the NBA, beginning in 2006, he also ran a successful basketball program the Jamaal Magloire Basketball Association, where many of the participants have now moved onto professional post-graduate careers in law, IT, and sports. Interacting with any one of the young men who went through the teachings of JAMBA, according to program administrator Natalie Richardson, they will tell you how influential Magloire and his staff were in guiding their futures in positive directions: physically and academically.
Internationally and on the basketball courts he may be known for his NBA affiliations, but there are many parts of Toronto where Magloire is most appreciated for his contributions to the Caribbean culture. Folks from Miami to Port of Spain know that Magloire is a true advocate of his Trinidadian heritage, and supports the elements of this culture to the fullest. You may catch him beating iron in a back corner of a Scarborough sports bar, supporting a Caribbean music festival in Miami, or even making a quick appearance at Caribbean Carnivals from Atlanta to Boston. If Trinidadian people are there: chances are, Magloire may pass through as well. Regardless.

"I've lived in a few different cities, and spent time in many places, but it's true that there's no place like home," said Magloire. "Sometimes home is right here in Toronto, and sometimes home is in another town...but the beauty about Caribbean people, is that no matter what town you are in, that community will always make you feel at home. That's why it's important that our community stays strong, and rooted in the values we were all raised with."

Junior Revellers Victory Parade
When considering the future of Caribbean Canadian leadership, Magloire comes to mind because he is one of very few Canadians from my generation who has been blessed with a range of influence and access. Of course, there have been many legends before him in the Caribbean community in Canada. From athletes like Lennox Lewis or Donovan Bailey, to artists like Lillian Allen and Clifton Joseph. There are politicians and professionals of all categories that represent our Caribbean community well, and we are thankful for their guidance and individual legacies. We look to them for roadmaps and inspiration, naturally.

It was a natural culmination of livelong passions, talents, and community reverence that guided Keishia Facey to establish her business in Ajax, Ontario. When the Riddim Fit Wellness Centre was created, Keishia was working full time as a community worker in a government organization, putting her years of training in social work and psychology to assist community members. A childhood African-Caribbean dancer, her move to Toronto to attend university provided the perfect platform, resources, and energy that Keishia needed to fulfil her calling.

The people. Keishia has always been about the people, and if you have ever taken one of her Riddim Fit dance fitness classes, visited her Wellness Centre (located at 845 Westney Road South in Ajax), or attended one of her children's dance recitals, then you will understand that it is the community that drives her daily efforts to endorse and celebrate wellness.

"I ran my first classes at the Toronto Revellers mas camp years ago," said Keishia. "And as my program grew, so did my vision. The Riddim Fit Wellness Centre was established, I was able to secure my own place of business, I was able to create a children's program, and host events, and really see a lot of my dreams come to life."

Riddim Fit Kids
Her focus: the Caribbean community and women in particular. She has a special place in her heart for the children, and the education system as well. She loves to dance to music of all genres, but prefers to teach in the soulful genres of soca and reggae music. Driven by the sounds of African drumming, the melanin in her growing community of Durham Region, and the opportunities that Riddim Fit has given her thus far, Keishia has recently been celebrated by the annual Durham Caribbean Festival for her work in the area, and rightfully so. Her mission is clear, and has been on an upward trajectory since inception: she is here to ensure that her people are well, and thriving.

"Many people know that I teach fitness classes," said Keishia, who is certified in a range of health specialties. "In addition to fitness piece, I am now working on growing the Wellness aspects of the Centre. We have a lot of great woman, and we are always striving to improve our lives, our bodies, and our minds overall. My hope is that Riddim Fit Wellness Centre can continue to be a great resource for the community, as we each work to maintain a healthy lifestyle balance."

Born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, Keishia's family always ensured that her life was richly saturated with the values, traditions, and culture of her parents' Jamaican heritage, and the African-Caribbean diaspora at large. Leaving western Canada at the age of 19 to attend York University, she pursued her Bachelor's degree in the Sociology of Race and Racism, and then went on to also complete a Master's Degree in Public Policy and Administration. Her academic pursuits have always been parallel to her interests in music and movement, and it is just recently that she has been able to set the foundation for all of the elements that Riddim Fit Wellness Centre is composed of.
The services of Riddim Fit are coordinated to reach all members of the family, to impact their health and wellness in various ways. Starting with school-aged children and the African-Caribbean Dance Education program, which goes straight up to teenage participants, to the dance fitness classes, special Activate fitness classes for seniors, and the RFWC Consulting Services branch of her business. RFWC Consulting specializes in equity/diversity/inclusion training, in addition to research and reporting, policy development, community consultations, and program evaluation.

"The community, and health, and wellness, and programming, it all goes hand in hand," said Keishia. "It's nice to have a space, and a cultural community to belong to whether it's to exercise, to celebrate special occasions, or to learn new practices. The Riddim Fit Wellness Centre has been an amazing tool for me to be able to create and share, and invite others to create and share as well. It's my way of showing love to our community, based in Caribbean traditions and culture, yet embracing our presence in Canada."

In the time that I have known Magloire and Keishia, I have been able to witness the transformation of their organizations, the growth of the communities surrounding them, and the impact that their hard work and planning has made on the Caribbean Canadian youth in particular. Through dance, education, music, and inclusion, they have both created spaces for Caribbean Canadian youth to indulge in the elements of their culture that make us unique, as well as train them in the ways of tradition and expectation that are also important aspects of the culture.

It is important that we communicate, and share the good work that individuals in our community are doing...if we don't, who will? We need to recognize and uplift our peers for the work they do, the sacrifices they make, and the tough decisions and choices that lead them to where they currently stand. It's not easy. It's not easy to lead, and it's not easy to stand above the rest. It's not easy to take criticism, and judgement, to be scrutinized, and held accountable in ways that others may not experience. Leadership is full of challenges, obstacles, and roadblocks. And most of the time, the hardest challenges will come from within the same community you have committed your life to serving.

So as the annual public celebration of Caribbean Canadian culture--the Toronto Carnival festivities--are underway in Toronto, I am always cognisant of the reason for the season, and the people who are putting forth honest efforts to ensure that we are able to celebrate and enjoy one another in ways that are enjoyable for all.

The Caribana is one example, and one particular time of year. The time when the city is the hottest, and the most eyes are turned in our direction. It is the time of year when I check myself, my efforts, my activities, and make sure that the contributions that I personally make to the culture are constructive, are well-intended, and are elements that can be used in the present or future to contribute to the growth and maintenance of the community.

I am thankful for those around me, and even for those I have yet to formally meet, for the time and sacrifices they have made to ensure that our culture is represented and respected. I encourage everyone to uplift and support our Caribbean Canadian brothers and sisters as best as we can, and to check them and challenge then when necessary. We are responsible for one another, and always will be. Whether we are leaders ourselves, or supporters. Volunteers, or business owners. We all have a responsibility to nurture our culture in the right direction, and to protect the elements of Caribbean life and tradition that we have all grown to love.

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