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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Jamaica Prepares for Another Vibrant Carnival Season in 2019

Photo via Skkan Media Entertainment
Needless to say, I'm biased. I think Jamaica Carnival is wonderful. I've never been to Trinidad, and in my 40 years in Toronto I've only missed a handful of Caribana parades. Carnival is an enjoyable passion of mine, and every part of my heart believes that Jamaica Carnival is the perfect storm of carnival excellence!

Since attending for the first time in 2017, I have kept an interested eye on the costumes, promotions, and the overall impact this exciting event is having on Caribbean culture, music, and international vibes overall.

As someone who has played mas, built mas, written about mas, and helped to organize and promote mas, I have waved the proverbial flag high and mighty for our local Toronto event, for years. I have studied our carnival and invested time and passion into understanding how I can play my part, how we as Torontonians of Caribbean descent can work together to sustain this event, and I've even tried an exercise to visually operationalize the structure of Canada's largest Caribbean celebration to see how perhaps we can begin to explore new ways of strengthening the model of accountability, and eventually build that Caribbean community centre that the parade was originally intended to fund. Anyone involved in the logistics of this massive undertaking, however, knows that it's all easier said than done.

Via CarnivalInJamaica.com
Even from an unofficial distance, I can't help but still love everything about carnival, and that's why I am most impressed by the Jamaican's tightly-executed branding and presentation of their events, their themes, and their unique experiences. Canadian-born, and raised in a non-Carnival, traditional Christian Jamaican home, I pretend not to be a carnival "expert" by any means. But I do recognize genuine excellence and well-established businessfolk coming together to celebrate this festive time of year, to showcase various talents, and to encourage tourism to the island of Jamaica for yet another wonderful reason.

Everything about Jamaica Carnival makes me feel proud.

For example, the bands are spectacular. This year there have been four established bands that have launched their themes, costumes, designers, and affiliated marketers and sponsors in late 2018: Xaymaca International who launched on November 10, Bacchanal Jamaica launched on November 17, Xodus Carnival launched November 24, and One World Rebellion launched on December 8. Previous participants Jamaica Carnival (the originators of this Kingston celebration, as founded by legendary Jamaican calypsonian Byron Lee) have not taken part since 2017. While the legacy of Lee is still alive and well in this regard, financial restrictions will prohibit participation until further notice, according to a Jamaica Gleaner report early last year.

Since my last attendance in 2017, the carnival has seen increased numbers of participants (the attendance of 2000 in 2016 grew to 6000 for 2017 according to Kamal Bankay, the Chariman of the Jamaica Carnival Stakeholders Committee), and the town of Kingston has taken on new life for Caribbean and international tourists who might otherwise stop off in Negril or Ocho Rios to be entertained. Leading up to this year's Road March, taking place on Sunday, April 28, Kingston will be a hub of visitors, beauty, and entertainment excellence from the participating bands and affiliated brand sponsors and promoters.

Bacchanal Jamaica in particular has a heavy roster of pre-set dates and anticipated events that the soca-loving fete crowd can look forward to each season. Some of the significant dates already in place include:

March 8 - Bacchanal Mas Camp Opening
March 30 - Rum for Breakfast
April 12 - Bacchanal and Dancehall
April 20 - Beach J'Ouvert
April 24 - Bacchanal Night Mas
April 26 - Bacchanal J'Ouvert

For those who will only be in Jamaica specifically to celebrate the Carnival, they have four excellent choices of bands to jump up with, including Bacchanal Jamaica, and can access, interact, and prepare themselves accordingly through the excellent range of online products and photos that have been made available for the international carnival market.

XAYMACA INTERNATIONAL launched their concept ICONIC, with the support of co-sponsors and design and marketing affiliates Tribe, Kandi, Sleek Jamaica, Richie Ras, LehWeGo, Rogue, Skkan Media, Krave, Medz, Punchy Punch, and Keisha Als.

Featuring a range of sultry and dynamic designs, masqueraders can choose from sections like Dynasty, Victress, Mendoza, Dancehall Queen, Ashanti, Primadonna, Donatella, Vainglory, Burlesque, Bohemian, Psychedelic, Aphrodites, Aja, Queen of the Nile, Rose, or participate in a specially designed t-shirt stating: "Out of many, one band."

BACCHANAL JAMAICA will be celebrating Carnival this year through their theme of "Invictus." They launched  at their notorious mas camp (located at the National Stadium in Kingston), and will continue to host events and pre-carnival festivities at the popular location up until Carnival Day.

Along with their allies Lavishmas International, Eden, Designs by Dru, and VIP Carnival, they will be presenting sections like Venus, Gaea, Salacia & Neptune, Bellonw & Mars, Felicitas, Electryo & Bacchus, Diana & Apollo, and Cleopatra, in addition to offering Sunday wear and t-shirts for interested participants.

XODUS CARNIVAL launched the "Cosmopolitan" theme for 2019. "The World in One Band" consists of a range of location-specific costumes representing various destinations and their significant aesthetics. Sponsored by affiliates Dream Entertainment Ltd, Trinidad's Y.U.M.A., Campari, Appleton Estate, Wray & Nephew, and Hennessy, the costumes are stunning, with amazing graphic representations of the featured cities.

Xodus revellers can be transported to Bangkok, Aztec, Kingston or Manhattan, Nairobi, Madrid, Macau, Florena, Tokyo, Cairo, Mumbai, Asella, Rio, Bali, or Figi through beautiful regional-specific costumes.

One of the most newsworthy elements of this year's Jamaica Carnival promotion, thus far, has been the addition of the new band produced by Trinidadian-natives and Caribbean music legends Fay-Ann Lyons and her husband Bunji Garlin.

ONE WORLD REBELLION launched their theme "Revolt" and has received coverage and attention from the Gleaner, Loop Jamaica, Carnival Fetish, and many other Caribbean news brands for their unique designs as well as special messaging. While initially Fay-Ann's words about the nature of Carnival in Jamaica vs. Trinidad were taken out of context, but interviews and discussions quickly clarified that her love for Carnival has expanded to Jamaica out of passion and good intention, and not as a means of reducing participation in Trinidad or "choosing sides."

The launch of One World Rebellion even featured reggae's dancehall legend Beenie Man, reminding all Caribbean music lovers that our separations are only geographic when it comes to the proper celebration and sharing of music and culture. Fay-Ann clarified this dedication by stating that her band and this year's theme were "rooted in history" and based on the background of cultural revolution amongst all African descendants.

Her band is bringing this collective history together; sections highlighting warriors and power, goddesses and African prints are her homage to the history of the Caribbean, as well as the carnival celebration. Costume sections are named Iroquois, Breffu, Valkyrie, Aza, Bois, Thesilea, Oceania, Thrachan, and Aquarius and will be supported by Campari, Coca-Cola, Wata, and Chromatic Live.

Like Bacchanal Jamaica and the other bands, One World Rebellion will also host a series of pre-Carnival events, and Lyons' fitness brand Aza Fit will provide stamina-building workout sessions for their patrons and interested participants.

Once Christmas passes, carnival enthusiasts worldwide reset their calendars, prepare for new music releases, and get ready to observe, participate, and share news about the rolling wave of riddims and costumes that will take place over the course of the year. Trinidad's Carnival remains the pinnacle of the celebration: it has an early emergence in the carnival calendar year, the religious tie to Lent, as well as the observation of the end of slavery and a range of local traditions and folklore.

The tradition now continues to evolve, present itself uniquely in various locations, and highlights a range of celebrations and practices. At the root of this event is the public enjoyment of culture and the freedom to express with exuberance and inhibition.

With any change to cultural celebration, will come analysis and social impact studies on the effects and impacts of the new addition as well as opinions and recommendations for its success. For example, cultural expert Kai Barratt explored the use of slim, light-skinned, and scantily-clad models in the promotion and endorsement of Carnival, which she believed to be in stark contrast to Jamaica's "Out of Many, One People" national messaging.

Any consumer of Carnival culture knows that the majority of models and featured faces tend to be non-black, very thin, and represent a range of "lighter" hues and "straighter" hair, often leaving out the average-sized, darker-skinned, fuller-clothed participant of Carnival across the region. Issues of class and the social value system were also presented via Barratt's research, where the images of Carnival participants can also exclude the "average" woman from relating to the experience and accessing the means and opportunities to take part in this ritual.

It is not news that racial discrepancies and social barriers exist in the Caribbean, so seeing these issues at play during Carnival season is almost inevitable. The high cost of costuming, and the "uptown" gatherings of soca lovers and mas enthusiasts were linked to power and unbalanced representation, while the day-to-day realities of the citizens of the islands are often deliberately left out from the marketing and promotion of these events.

Carnivals are presented as multicultural and accessible, however, they are particularly niche-based for those who are dedicated to the phenomenon, and those who make this a part of their regular routine. Many will remember the work of Jamaican academic Carolyn Cooper, where arguments were made that somehow the "slackness" found in dancehall was unacceptable to many, yet similar movements and displays from the "uptown" soca crowd received a pass due to racism and classism.

These discussions go hand-in-hand whenever "Carnival in Jamaica" is a topic, because there will always be an assumption that Carnival is a particularly Trinidadian or upper-class occurrence, and that it is not in the Jamaican history to produce or celebrate it in the same way. It is in stark difference to the open dancehall celebrations of the reggae community, and therefore it appears (to some) a contradiction to openly embrace both.

I've read criticisms from both sides, about either the preservation of Jamaican and reggae culture, or the betrayal of Trinidadians when it comes to celebrating Carnival in other locations or in unconventional ways. My conclusion? The average Carnival enthusiast is truly just seeking the liberation and joy from the experience, an opportunity to dance freely, wear costuming that takes a level of confidence and risk, and to frolic and fraternize with peers, countrymen, and make new acquaintances through these shared moments of revelry and excitement.

Not to take away from the fact that there is definitely a racial bias in Carnival promotion, and that (truth be told) this bias still exists outside of Carnival as well. I also won't take away from the contradictions in treatment and acceptance from dancehall street parties versus outdoor soca fetes, both in the Caribbean and abroad. There is injustice, there are imbalances, and there are definitely loyalists and traditionalists that don't want to see the various sub-cultures and traditions merging. On a larger international scale, and on a specific island scale, these are the usual social controversies we must all work on improving.

I view the emergence of Jamaica's Carnival as a benefit to the Jamaican tourist experience, as well as yet another great reason to enjoy the island in a new way. Jamaica already hosts a great number of music festivals, and has artists from all genres performing for large audiences year-round. Hotels are consistently booked, and millions travel in and out of MBJ and KIN airports each day to soak up a little sun, and go home with a touch of spirit, a bottle of rum, and the vibes of Jamaica in their soul. Adding Carnival to the already positive and memorable Jamaican experience is a blessing. Why not? Why not give folks one more reason to enjoy Jamaica? Without taking away from dancehall or reggae culture, and without disrespecting the values of the island, the Carnival should be viewed as a beautiful occurrence that is open to adapting and expanding over time.

The buzz about Jamaica Carnival is on a steady incline, so it is my hope that it will adjust and conform over time. I already saw evidence of this with many reggae and dancehall artists participating in the 2018 festivities, performing on trucks, to thousands of masqueraders doing the "Genna Bounce" along the Road March route. Jamaica will adjust. The people will accept what they will, and dash away what defeats their innate soul and purpose. I trust that the Jamaican people will endorse and customize this experience for the benefit of their people, in due time. I also trust that Jamaica will embrace the international elements, and adjust accordingly.

The official "Carnival in Jamaica" brand launched in October of 2018 in Kingston, as a collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism, and Jamaica's Tourist Board. Dedicated to keeping Jamaica at the top of the Caribbean tourist's destination list, all related supporters and business affiliates are putting forth a great coordination to ensure that Jamaica's Carnival continues to grow, has a steady and positive impact on attendees, and also helps to create unity amongst the Caribbean islands without the physical or music-specific divisions. Just like reggae music is easily enjoyed and celebrated across the West Indies, Jamaica has also embraced the legacy and joy of soca music through Carnival season and is also witnessing a permeation into other elements of Jamaican celebration.

There are so many wonderful fragments of Jamaica culture to uplift, to enjoy, and to endorse. My spirit gravitates towards this particular Carnival because of my heritage, but also the mix of reggae and soca music, the natural joy, the powerful dancing, beautiful artistry, elaborate costuming, borderless camaraderie, vibsey performances, tightly branded parties, and at the core of the experience...just enjoying the outdoors, having your feet on the streets of the city, and tying it all in to enterprise and celebration.

I'm looking forward to the 2019 installment of this wonderful international Caribbean-centric tradition, and I'm happy to endorse it the best way I know how: through online and physical support of our hometown Toronto Carnival bands, events, soca DJs, and brands; through showcasing Carnival culture on our official Kya Publishing @CarnivalSpotlight Instagram page; through the promotion of my 2014 urban fiction novel "Carnival Spotlight" that embraces Carnival culture from a Canadian perspective, and through sharing the images of more brown-skinned natural Carnival ambassadors, and supporting body-positive Carnival movements like #EveryBODYPlayAhMas. Most importantly, by doing my best to attend as many Carnivals as possible, support the economies of the local promoters and businesses, and to take a jump for my spirit that craves this annual rejuvenation!

See you on the road!



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

Monday, January 7, 2019

Cancelling R. Kelly, Kanye, Kevin Hart, and Dare I Say Bill Cosby

It sucks. It's uncomfortable. It's embarrassing. It's unfortunate. It's a shame. It's hurtful. It stings, and it makes you question your priorities and morality in a way that you never thought you would have to. Drawing that firm line in the sand against one of "your own" can feel like betrayal, even when it's abundantly clear that something is wrong, and that something must be done.

Like many, that R. Kelly docu-series "Surviving R. Kelly" was the last thing any of us will ever have to see to know and remember just how terrible this man's behaviour has been...from time. Those testimonials, the pain on the faces of those women was disturbing as hell. We've all heard the whispering, the shouting, and seen the evidence plain as day, but somehow it took years. Decades even, for a collective cultural "WTF" moment where we are forced to look at Robert Kelly without the lens of his fabulous R&B hits...and see him for the asshole he is. There: I finally said it.

We knew with Aaliyah, but we still sang along. We were 14 at the time, and knew she was young, too. We heard the rumours, but maybe it was immaturity or just a general lack of understanding of life that never made us question him or his intentions for too long. Aaliyah seemed happy, we all loved her vibe and her spirit, and we left it at that.

"Age ain't nothing but a number..." was a song that played in our adolescent female psyches in a way no male could ever understand. As disturbing as it is, there is a part of you as a young woman that wants to be acknowledged as mature enough to be in the company of older men. You want to dress like an older woman, and act like an older woman. You want to prove that you are grown enough for grown situations. And this isn't based on daddy issues or a lack of sensibility...even for those who grew up in stable two-parent homes with loving and doting fathers, Christian values, and a firm sense of love and respect, the admiration of a slightly "older man" can still be easily intriguing to young girls.

I can only speak for myself as a woman, as a Black woman, and as someone who has always been in tune with pop culture when I say that: I can see where we went wrong, but I can also see why.

My older sister had R Kelly's "12 Play" CD that was released in 1993. I was in the tenth grade, and a music lover from birth. I knew good sounds when I heard them, and R&B was in a place where the slow jams were sensual, the lyrics were provocative, and the rhythm meant more than anything. I can remember listening to those songs over, and over, and over again partially intrigued by the mature subject matter, and subsequently desensitizing myself to some of the content.

That album was memorized. Your body's calling for me. I don't see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind. Homie lover friend. I like the crotch on you. Summer bunnies. Sex me. Twelve play. And then there was my favourite track, number 4: seems like you're ready.

It seems like you're ready.
Seems like you're ready.
Seems like you're ready.
Girl, are you ready?
To go all the way?

I was 15, what did I know? How could I comprehend how the master manipulator was even training my young mind, through sound and subconscious? The album was fire. That song in particular was dope and I listened to it on indefinite repeat. It was cool to listen to mature music and R. Kelly's "12 Play" album was a certified hit. There was zero part of me that recognized how his hypnotic lyrics were permeating my young brain, and there wasn't anyone around who looked at that man or his master manipulation as a severe problem.

A few years later, I remember visiting a friend in Chicago. I was already 21, she was slightly younger, and after a night out on the town we headed to the Rock and Roll McDonald's in the city, because there were rumours that R. Kelly would be stopping by. What were we hoping for? Probably just a photo, a good story, and the chance to see a celebrity up close. What do I remember? A lot of young girls hanging around, late-night, in case the superstar decided to pass by.

He never came, plus a parking lot fight and over-crowding caused them to shut down the restaurant temporarily that night. Crisis and kidnapping averted.

I am hesitant to make this an issue about the "Black community" or to use race as an excuse for accepting obviously disgusting behaviour, but when it keeps happening, and when you keep seeing people that you really wanted to love, and admire, and uplift, being beaten down...it starts to feel personal.

Like many, R. Kelly's music was a staple of my life's experiences. Parties. Celebrations. At-home sessions. He wasn't Michael or Prince...but he definitely had his lane, and occupied it consistently. He was a bad boy, with an unforgettable presence and an acute song-writing ability that lured the likes of Celine Dions and motion picture soundtracks, reggae artists, and sacred moments like the funeral of Whitney Houston.

I heard rumblings of his indiscretions, but never spent a lot of time studying them or researching the validity.

But it's a different time now. Everything is coming to light for a lot of people in the worst way. Exposure is a daily reality from the White House to the Grammy's, and it leaves many of "us" in a position where we finally have to come to terms with letting go of the illusion of support, and eliminating excuses for bad behaviour.

Jada Pinkett Smith posted a video on Instagram this weekend asking why? Why was R. Kelly's music still being consumed, and why were his numbers spiking at a time when his demons were all front and centre for all of us to see simultaneously. Some said that it could have been because of the younger generation, curiously listening to his lyrics and tracks to see what the hype was about. It could have been individuals reminiscing about the beautiful music he made, and trying to piece together the how and why.

A part of me sat and mentally went through all of the hits R. Kelly has made over the years, and wondered why it was so hard to admit that I'd have to let these songs go to a certain extent. Songs like Double Up featuring Snoop Dogg, or "Keep it on the Down Looooow," or those humour-but-not-humourous songs like "Feelin on Yo Booty" and "Get up on a Room," or what about "Half on a Baby" or "I Can't Sleep, Baby" and "Ignition," and the list literally goes on and on.

How do we forget the beautiful "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time," or "I'm Your Angel," or everyone's birthday song "Step in the Name of Love?"

It's a damn shame.

Just like it was a damn shame to see Kanye West, one of my favourite rappers/producers of all time, smiling in the White House, or sitting in the Oval Office with that pathetic 45th leader, confessing his daddy issues to the world, and forcing a hug on the wanna-be-dictator who was clearly not worthy of the space or attention our rap star was giving him.

Just like this fiasco with Kevin Hart, and the old homophobic Tweets, and hosting the Oscars, and the back and forth about comedy and opinion, and the importance of respecting all lives and all sexual preferences, and then thinking about how right now at the pinnacle of his career, we get to watch Kevin be crucified. We knew it was coming (it always does), but it still makes you cringe when it starts to go down.

Looking at photos of Bill Cosby still hurts me to my core, because he felt like a beloved family member that was tied to so many laughs, and jokes, and moments gathered around the television, and he was the root of so many people's emulation of fatherhood, and someone that the Black community (and every other community) adored and respected, and now we know that he has been stripped of his throne many times over, and that he was not the man of character and genuine charm we hoped him to be.

I can not, and will not excuse the bad behaviour of anyone. Not Trump, not Cosby, not anyone. The media's role in shaping stories and guiding public opinion are evident at times...but when reality is unavoidable, it's that last step that hurts the most. The cancellation.

It hurts to see anyone of substance fall from perceived "grace," but as a Black woman who always has, and always will love and respect her Black brothers/kings, it is particularly difficult to admit that time is literally up for those who we upheld for so long. We hoped it wasn't true. We hoped they were who we wanted them to be, and who we as a culture NEEDED them to be at times.

And now we mourn.

Coupled with the disappointment and disgust, are feelings of defeat and hopelessness. Wrong is wrong, but there is a part of me that feels protective of the spirit of the Black man, and I'm ultra-sensitive about the cultural influences and inspirations of the Black community, and mingled in somewhere with the feelings of anger and frustration...are feelings of pity and sadness.

I wish they would have received the guidance, the strength, or the foresight they needed at the time of their indiscretions. And while Kanye's mental illness and Kevin Hart's bad jokes were not as terrible as R. Kelly's abuse of minors, or Bill Cosby's sexual assaults, there are times when you look at any of them as Black men and really just want to pray for their peace, their protection, and their place in society.

There are times when you look at them as Black Men and hurt, because you know it hasn't been easy. You can't excuse their behaviour, and you definitely can't make the truth go away, but it still hurts. It still feels like watching a family member be persecuted, and it feels like losing small sources of power in places where it isn't always easy to obtain king status.

Why have I never publicly criticized Bill Cosby? How come I still listen to my old Kanye West albums? Should it be this easy for me to still follow Kevin Hart on Twitter? Am I going to participate in the public #MuteRKelly campaigns? Sadly, their actions are now leaking over into our daily lives as Black community members, as well as consumers of pop culture where we are now not just passive recipients, but almost complicit if we support their products or idealized legacy in any way.

"Praying about it" feels like a typical Black thing to do: hoping that God will reach the spirit of these broken brothers, and help to right their wrongs. Praying for collective forgiveness from mainstream media so we can keep a piece of the crown that was once given to these talented Black figures. Perhaps the most difficult and uncomfortable part is when you have to put the racial loyalty aside, and acknowledge that nothing...absolutely nothing can justify some of these actions.

It hurts. Some (like Kevin Hart) may be able to survive the scandal and still continue to have a fruitful career. Others (like Bill Cosby) will continue to age, and fade away from our interest and childhood memories.

The lives of those young Black women that R. Kelly is manipulating matter. And the impact of these actions matter. I hope that somewhere in these unfortunate examples, that the young Black men coming up now in the entertainment industry can take a good look at what their image means and respond accordingly. That they recognize that somewhere beneath the talent, the fame, the millions, the gold, and the opportunities is a very, very limited window of influence that they can't afford to take for granted, or mess up.

We are getting used to being "let down" by our public figures and designated "role models"...and I do believe those who have the power really better monitor it, nurture their opportunities, and do the right thing. Talent will only excuse so many wrongs, and the end result it too painful to continue to endure. When one goes down, we all feel the pain. Let's hope that the lessons are learned, as an important takeaway from an otherwise unfortunate state of the Black man (yet again) and his constant battle to keep his head held high.

We love you, but our love can only do so much.




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