Friday, June 28, 2019

Lionel Richie Unlocks the Fountain of Youth and Soul at Toronto Concert

To say I love Lionel Richie would be a gross understatement. Everything about this man manifests positivity, love, happiness, and good vibes whenever his music plays or whenever you have the honour of attending one of his live shows.

For as long as I can remember, his music has been a part of my life. Born in 1978, I grew up on the sounds of Lionel Richie, in all variations, and have most of his hits etched into my musical memory indefinitely. I have the double CD and piano sheet music book version of his "Anthology" greatest hits album--these are some of my favourite musical possessions.

Performing a string of hits, one after the other, all received enthusiastically from fans, Richie's legendary status was undeniable. As he mentioned in one of his many interactions with the audience, the reason why people laugh out loud or even bawl tears during his performances is because each of his classic songs are tied to specific memories for so many of us. Before singing "Three Times a Lady," for example, he declared that many people in the room either got engaged, got married, or got into other forms of mischief to his song.

That was the case with all of the songs. I can remember watching the music video for "We Are the World" playing on repeat on TV, while vacationing in Jamaica in the mid-80s. I can actually distinctly remember seeing the music video for "Hello" for the first time even though I was only around 5 years old. I remember dancing to "All Night Long" as a child, and I can just feel the 1980s in my bones whenever his music plays.

Lionel as a pianist is where my heart's appreciation truly is. To see him on stage playing the instrument, dancing, jumping, and singing LIVE (which we can't take for granted, these days) is another confirmation that even at the age of 70 (his milestone birthday passed just a little over a week ago on June 20) his fire is still burning as strong as ever, as a musician, an entertainer, and a beloved part of so many of our memories.

I've now seen him live twice (the last time was 2017 with Mariah Carey at the Air Canada Centre), but what stood out to me this time was the amount of dancing that took place! The Budweiser Stage is definitely more conducive to movement than the steep stands of the Scotiabank Arena, so it was a beautiful thing to see fans (the majority of which were 50+) literally jamming All Night Long. Literally.

I watched a gentleman and his wife slow dance and swoon to "Hello" and "Say You, Say Me," and speculated that maybe Lionel Richie created the first dance at their wedding, or the "song" of their relationship. I witnessed another fellow, over 70, take to the aisles when Lionel went into his Commodores hits like "Brick House" and break into some expert level footwork that must have had him tearing up dancefloors back in the 70s. He transformed into someone else, and was the star of our section of the stands. It was wonderful to witness.

While I was there to watch Lionel Richie perform, I was actually most intrigued by the fans around me. At 41, I was still easily one of the youngest attendees there. But it was refreshing to see couples, friends, groups, and music lovers of all races with cans of beer in hands and dressed in their summer best, having an amazing night out under the stars. We were blessed with 20+ degree weather all day yesterday in Toronto, and the weather was absolutely perfect and fitting for the excellent night out.

The singalongs were marvellous, as Richie fans took over most of the show crooning the lyrics to "Endless Love" and "Dancing on the Ceiling," and there wasn't a word missed as they sang along to their favourite songs.

(via Eric Alper)
Every now and then, I would watch Richie's face on the large screen, as he "watched us watching him, watch us" and understood why after all these years he still goes on tour, and still loves to perform the songs that we love. I saw his pride, and as he inhaled the cheers and applause. I watched him smile, and dance, crack jokes, and engage his fans in the experience. He didn't miss a beat, he sounded awesome, he looked great, and I know that it his music that is the key to his vibrancy and longevity. Not only in the music industry, but physically and mentally as well.

Lionel has been a consummate musician for decades. Minor drama, lots of music, and a presence that seems to be welcome in any town, venue, or setting he arrives in. I wondered what it felt like to be HIM. To have written and performed so much great music, and to still be alive and well to enjoy the feedback. Think of how many legends we've lost in music, to drugs, or untimely passing. Think of how lucky Lionel is to be able to still do what he loves, and still share that magic with us, his fans.

Music is probably the single most inspirational force in my life, and just being in the venue, hearing those songs for the millionth time, and being able to sing along and enjoy the festive ambience was a treat to say the least. There is nothing else I'd rather do, and nowhere else I'd rather be than in that exact type of environment.

So thank you to Lionel Richie, yet again, for an amazing concert experience, decades of amazing music, and for reminding me that the keys to life and the secrets to happiness--a youthful spirit, and an eternally hip soul--really is just as simple as surrounding yourself with good music, good vibes, and a brilliant entertainer who knows exactly how to combine all of those forces, sharing them with thousands of supporters around the world for yet another year of his career.

The "Hello" tour continues until mid-September of this year, and I already can't wait until the next tour stops in Toronto!

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Cajuca Mas Arts Celebrates Caribbean Tradition & Emancipation for Toronto Carnival

Living in Canada, many of us have to make an effort to ensure that we keep the soul of our culture and traditions in the forefront of our daily routines. Through the foods we eat, the music we listen to, the places we shop, and the environments and people we surround ourselves with, maintaining a cultural presence is something that takes time and thought. Without it, even the most important elements and significant activities can get lost in the daily grind.

We're spoiled, fortunately, living in Toronto. Not only are we the most multicultural city on earth, but we also know how to celebrate these cultures in style. From the Taste of the Danforth's seasonal infusion of Greek culture, Indigenous Arts festivals, Salsa on St. Clair, to AfroFest, we have been blessed with an abundance of events that allow us to explore, dine, and revel in the spirits of our neighbours and fellow community members.

Toronto's Caribbean Carnival, now in its 52nd year, is a big one. It takes up a good portion of the downtown Lakeshore core during the Civic Holiday long weekend, packs hotels, and injects the city of Toronto and the GTA with an abundance of events, tourists, and cultural activities. We've become accustomed to the street parade, to the public appearances, and the beautiful costumed women and men who frolic for televisions cameras in vibrant colours and intricately designed elements of masquerade.

While there are usually around 10 bands that officially compete in the Carnival's Grand Parade for the coveted "Band of the Year" title each season, there are also a number of Guest Bands that participate as well. The bands can feature members of a sponsor team, or instrumentalists, dignitaries, or other organizations.

For costume designers Jackie and Clarence Forde from Cajuca Mas Art Producers, this year they are introducing a special Guest Band called Dingolay, featuring "Ol' Time Carnival, Mama 'dis is Mas" as a tribute to the traditional masquerade of the Caribbean, and the characters and presentation that accompanies it.

Their mission: to engage, educate, and entertain, while having fun, celebrating tradition, and maintaining an outlet for their creativity and passions.

Clarence & Jackie with Stephen Weir
Jackie and Clarence have been building mas together since 1990, originally with Wallace Alexander's TrinCan group, followed by Nip Davis and Associates (Black Sage), and then with the Toronto Revellers up until last year's carnival season. It was a recent conversation with a young lady about playing mas that triggered Jackie to take her passion to a new level. The young lady spoke only of makeup and drinking, and excessive behaviour on the road, without making mention of the true heart of carnival. That evening, Jackie and her husband Clarence had a heated discussion about the future of carnival, and decided to expand the efforts of Cajuca Mas Arts to include their own mas band.

Clarence has roots in designing mas from the Caribbean, U.S./Canada and Hong Kong, and was rewarded for his innovation from the Ontario Science Centre in 2010; Jackie is a trained artist by nature. Together, and with the sponsorship of the United Steelworkers and public grants from the Toronto Arts Foundation and the Ontario Arts Council, they have been able to use their combined gifts to tell a "larger, more relevant story" during the carnival seasons.

Over the past few summers, Cajuca Mas Art Producers has taken part in a range of celebrations across Toronto, aside from the Grand Parade. This summer, they will continue to feature their costumes and creations at a few key events as well. Only July 9, they will be a part of the official Toronto Caribbean Carnival launch taking place at City Hall. On July 20, they will be on display at the Bob Hunter Greenspace as a part of the Arts in the Park initiative through the Toronto Arts Council. July 26 will feature an appearance at the official Toronto Police launch of the carnival, and that evening they will participate in the "Beyond the Mas" carnival ball taking place at the Riviera Banquet Hall.

This hectic schedule of events has become customary for Jackie and Clarence, and a part of the energy they love to engage with, and invest in as a part of their natural annual routine.

"Originally, we resisted the idea [of being a Guest Band in the parade], as the road experience can be chaotic and counter to telling a story," said Jackie. "But in our capacity as a Guest Band, we precede the competitive bands and show the attendees to the festival parade where carnival began: from a celebration of freedom and emancipation."

For Cajuca Mas Arts, the reason of the season is the celebration of Toronto Carnival around the weekend of Emancipation Day, as well as Simcoe Day in Ontario. These are elements of the carnival festivities they hope to keep in the forefront, and as an important part of the day's messaging.

"[Toronto Carnival] is constantly evolving," said Jackie, who admittedly isn't a fan of the "beads, butt-floss-and-features" style of costuming. While many enjoy that very element of the parade, she prefers to see a balance of traditional mas with the modern features.

The story of emancipation is at the forefront of her hopes, through the new Guest Band, and continued appearances across the city. Jackie, Clarence, and their team hope to show the greater Toronto community that carnival is more than just a street party, but that it is a culmination of the sacrifices and suffering and journey of people of all histories why we have the freedom to now dance on the streets.

"My biggest hope is that the organizers develop a clear, radical, and tangible vision for the festival, engage sponsors worthy of putting their name on it, and look to improve the overall experience for a visitor or attendee to an event," said Jackie. "I also hope they place the right people in the key positions to make all decisions needed, and not just what they can afford at the time."

She also hopes that innovation and creativity are recognized and awarded in the Toronto Carnival community. With the same designers, costume concepts, and bands repeatedly winning year after year, she believes it can be demotivating, and also destructive to the art form. The Ontario Science Centre's award for innovation, is one method of recognition that Jackie feels is unbiased, and studies the design and construction of mas...rather than "last name" or "band alliance."

Dingolay will be the last Guest Band to appear on the parade route this year, and also the first band to appear before the competition bands. Jackie is pleased with this "sweet spot" as there will be no later-afternoon stormers to content with and enough media coverage to share the artform with the city's spectators. Being a part of this band is a great opportunity for costumed masqueraders to participate in tradition, and of course have lots of fun.

"If you are a Jab Jab, you will have a bucket to make noise, whistles, devil wings, horns, body paint, and more," said Jackie. "You can play yourself and have a ball! Same for the Dame Lorraines, Jammettes, Sailors, Baby Dolls, Midnight Robbers, and other characters."

Participating with this band will include an experience that is more interactive than just "wining down the road," and while in character, participants have a great opportunity to engage with spectators and really PLAY a mas!

On the road with the band will be some of Toronto's premier calypsonians like Joel "Connector" Davis (who is also this year's "Face of the Festival" along with Nadelle Lewis), as well as King Cosmos, Keith Pascall, and the Hummingbird Drummers. Club Carib and their dancers will also perform as Jammettes, along with performers in the stick fighter and moko jumbie roles as well.

"Our special performer, Joan Alexander is our irreverent 80+ Midnight Robber, extolling her wisdom and history to all," said Jackie, excited about this year's production for the road. Also joining the band are Toronto Carnival celebrity bloggers Kara and Shawn King of Karabana, and De Cocoa Panyol, who will be on the road in costumes and capturing the activities for their online audiences.

Funded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council, the Dingolay costumes are "made of lightweight muslin cotton, designed to be cool and airy." The Guest Band participation fee for "Ol' Time Carnival, Mama, 'dis is Mas" is $60 and includes costume, music, and snacks on the road for parade day. Music will be provided by DJ Miss Tempo, with a range of costumes to select from: Dame Lorraine, Jab Molassie, Pierrot Grenade, Moko Jumbies, Midnight Robber, Baby Doll, Jammette, Stick Fighter, and Fancy Sailor.

"This is not just a band experience, it is an immersive cultural experience to be enjoyed and celebrated," said Jackie. "Our motto is, and always will be: Engage, Educate, and Entertain!"

Registration is available through the Cajuca Mas Arts Producers website, and in persona at their headquarters located at 776 Brimley Road (St. Peter's Church), in the Upper Parish Hall from Monday to Friday between 4pm and 10pm. Jackie and Clarence can also be reached via email at, or via phone at 416-561-0988.

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

Reggae Artists and the Road to Reggae Sumfest

Next month, thousands of reggae fans, supporters, management teams, and experts will gather in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the annual pilgrimage of the genre's most celebrated and showcase of the hottest vibrations made across the Jamaican music industry over the year. The 27th annual Reggae Sumfest music festival is scheduled to take place the weekend of July 19 and 20, with events and festivities underway as early as July 14. Throughout the nine official days of celebration, there will be discussions and sound clashes, themed parties, and gatherings, concluding with Beres, Buju, Chronixx, and a plethora of reggae's finest who have been given the opportunity to bless the Sumfest stage.

Sumfest is more than just a concert, it is an experience in itself, when the town of Montego Bay fills will locals and tourists brought together for their common love for reggae music. The invite-only GET SOCIAL AWARDS takes place on June 29, followed by the SYMPOSIUM on July 12, giving reggae aficionados the opportunity to honour, discuss, and challenge the reggae industry through innovation, thoughts, and new ideals.

Starting on July 14, the partying begins! The MAWNIN' MEDZ event takes place on a Sunday from (6am to 1pm) at Tropical Bliss--a brunch-inclusive party featuring dancehall star Stylo G and soca artiste Skinny Fabulous, with music provided by DJs Crazy Neil, Jigga, Courtney, and Antsman.

After Sunday's day event, the STREET DANCE is scheduled for Monday, July 15 (7pm to 2am) at the Old Hospital Park on Montego Bay's Hip Strip, featuring music from Sky Juice, Foota Hype, Team Shella, and C-Note. The party continues the following evening, Tuesday, July 16 (7pm to 2am) at the annual ALL WHITE party at Pier 1 with music from DJ Smoke.

Another themed event, the BLITZ ALL BLACK takes place on Wednesday, July 17 (7pm to 2am) at the Hard Rock Cafe, and will feature DJ's Crazy Neil, Bishop Escobar, and Rolexx. DJs Tom and C-Note return again for the early juggling when soundclash lovers get ready to take in the anticipated GLOBAL SOUND CLASH on Thursday, July 18 (8pm to 2am) and support international sound systems representing Jamaica (Ricky Trooper and Pink Panther), Germany (Warrior Sound), Japan (Yard Beat), and Canada (King Turbo).

And all of this is before the stage shows even begin!

Since the inaugural showcase in 1993, the Reggae Sumfest stage has seen the likes of reggae legends from the Marley family to Leroy Sibbles and Freddie McGregor, in addition to dancehall greats like Mavado, Vybz Kartel, and Elephant Man. Founded by Summerfest Productions Limited, the show is now produced by DownSound Entertainment Ltd as of April 2016, when the festival and trademark were sold.

It's a music lover's experience, and what better way to celebrate and appreciate the sounds of reggae music than through this selection of events, festivities, and enjoyment of Montego Bay's nightlife?  For some, Sumfest is more than just another party location, however, it is a destination. Being able to perform on the Reggae Sumfest stage is a badge of honour, a sign of prosperity, and an indication that your presence on the reggae music scene is acknowledged, appreciated, and requested. Necessary, even.

The proverbial Jamaican stage is a definite must for reggae performers, regardless of origin. As the root and home of Jamaican music, the Jamaican audience and fan base is essential to the success of reggae artists and musicians.

The reggae Sunsplash stage once had this position, from it started back in 1978 until its last annual showcase in 1996. There have been a few other occurrences of the show since then, however, Sumfest has now become the yearly large scale showcase of Jamaican talent in the summer. Also an important stage: Tony Rebel's Rebel Salute that takes place in January, in St. Ann. Another that can not be forgotten, the end-of-year dancehall stage show Sting, which has not taken place since 2016.

The events have changed, and the overall fire behind them may have shifted, but one thing remains: the Jamaican stage has power.

Reggae soul artist KHESAN, like many other reggae artists, has had the opportunity to view performances from Sumfest, Sting, Rebel Salute, and Sunsplash over the years, in addition to the countless other special events and showcases that take place on the island. Jamaica is overflowing with talented musicians and messengers, so much that the influence of the music and culture reaches musicians around the globe.

Khesan was raised in Canada, but has recently returned to Jamaica with a determination to make it in the music industry. His style is a fusion of dancehall and R&B, and it is his hope to nurture this sound and great memorable music. "I believe that the next great sound will come from Jamaica," said Khesan, who is not afraid to "push the soulful horizons of his career" while he works on his music. "I have been experimenting with the fusion of reggae and R&B so that I can rock the world."

Richard Dixon aka Khesan has always been determined to perform, and has been winning talent show competitions and commanding the stages at community events since he was a child. His songs like "Going Nowhere" and "Waiting for Your Love" range from jeep-rockers to beautiful ballads, and he hopes to one day perform "Mi Fed Up" and his other compositions on stages across Jamaica. Also a goal of Khesan: to collaborate with artists he admires, like Busy Signal and Vybz Kartel.

"I'm going to shake up things a little. You can count on that," he said, always ready to put in the necessary work to push his career to the next step.

Working hard in the U.S., American born musician PROPH3T N'SER is also looking forward to using his music to influence reggae lovers, and "give a voice to people worldwide" while igniting the "spiritual fire of positive energy that burns in everyone." Like Khesan, the spirit of music has been with Proph3t from  a young age, growing up in the heart of Detroit aka Motown.

A musical town by nature, Proph3t used the influences around him, as well as the blueprints from legends like Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Sizzla Kalonji to help infuse his own personal soul. A combination of reggae, afrobeats, and world sounds, Proph3t hopes to break through radio airwaves and compose a sound never heard before.

Currently working with veteran guitarist Errol Moore (who worked with the legendary Maxi Priest), Proph3t is ready to make a name for himself in the music industry based on his eclectic inspirations and dedicated work ethic.

JAHDON, a Jamaican native, took to Florida recently to promote his new EP an make new connections in the North American and urban markets.

"His music reflects authentic Jamaican culture and experiences," said JahDon's manager, Francine Bacchus, working diligently to communicate his music, messages, and mission to entertain. One of the hottest young acts in Jamaica, JahDon has been sharing his new EP "Congo Bongo," generating an international fan base along the way.

Notably, JahDon's been featured on the TIDAL Rising: Dancehall/Reggae Playlist, and his track has been enthusiastically pulled up by Mutabaruka and Elise Kelly on-air. His energy is contagious, and rhythms catchy, as he too tries to lead with originality and develop a unique sound to guide his career.

After the release of his track "Congo Bongo Emperss" earlier this month, JahDon was featured on Irie FM's EBuzz on June 19th, along with recording artist Charly Black who was there to celebrate the gold-certification of his international hit "Party Animal." The energy surrounding this project has been extremely upful, as JahD continues to circulate this song and his EP.

DERAJAH has been making music for years, and living in Jamaica, is naturally familiar with the flow and environment that creates the reggae music that drives the pulse of the island. With media coverage from Jamaica Observer, United, and other esteemed outlets, his message over the years has been consistent: positive energy, and conscious intention.

"I don't partake in derogatory stuff," he told "Anything I listen, it's supposed to be conducive for my child to listen or for anyone's children to partake. I try not to be sucked in by the vacuum that is turned on right now."

Sticking to his own inner messaging and direction, Derajah has maintained longevity over his career and ensures that his music is in alignment with his lifestyle and well-intended actions.

"The hype is surrounded by gangster, bling-bling, slackness, badman, thug. I don't know if I'm that type of person," he said. His latest release "What You Gonna Do Now" (video below) speaks to his morality and Rastafari beliefs. His sound is comfortably a traditional reggae vibe, rooted in the spirit of the island, despite his rigorous wold travelling.

As reggae musicians from Jamaica, and around the world, all have their eyes fixed on the recognition and respect that can only come from their Jamaican fans and peers in music, Sumfest prepares their monumental stage to highlight the legends and a few up-and-comers of the industry.

Last month when the festival launched in Montego Bay at the Iberostar Grande hotel, festival owner Joe Bogdanovich of Downsound Entertainment expressed his anticipation for the upcoming experience. His goal, to place "innovative production and service" to demonstrate how "unique and wonderful Jamaica is" remains his energy behind the annual showcase.

Having resided in Jamaica now for twenty years, he has been linked to the Sting music festival, along with other advances in the industry. Born in California, Bogdanovich is an advocate of Jamaican music and culture, and wants to ensure that locals and tourists are comfortable and entertained while attending the Sumfest. Last year, amidst the looming threat of violence in Montego Bay and the related state of emergency around the time of the festival, he told Pat Meschino of Billboard magazine: "We must understand the economics of survival, and acknowledge that unity is one of the keys to survival. Stop the violence! Let's celebrate unity and togetherness and show just how serious we are about our music, our festival, Reggae Sumfest."

Since taking on Sumfest, he has made a conscious decision to no longer use international acts as headliners, and instead showcase Jamaican talent as the must-see performers, in alignment with the festival's slogan: #OurMusicOurFestival. He has also introduced live streaming and 360 virtual reality access via smartphone app, to the overall production.

For some artists like Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, the Sumfest stage is a familiar one, as they prepare to share the platform as a united front, wise and experienced in their crafts. Buju Banton will return to the Jamaican festival circuit now, after a long endured absence from the scene, much to the excitement of his long time fans. For an artist like Squash and The 6ix squad, they have been given the honour of closing out the dancehall night of the festival.

FESTIVAL NIGHT ONE (Friday, July 19) will feature Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Chronixx, Spice, Dexta Daps, Agent Sasco, Spragga Benz, Elephant Man, Munga, Govana, Dovey Magnum, Chronic Law, Jahvillani, Shane E, Unknown Gringo, Shauna, and Squash.

FESTIVAL NIGHT TWO (Saturday, July 20) will have performances from Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Protoje, Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, Jah 9, Dalton Harris, and Etana.

Some of the artists know that they will always be welcome on the large Jamaican stage, whether it's Rebel Salute, Sunsplash, Sting, or a list of other up-and-coming festivals like those presented by Iba Mahr (Sound Di Alarm) and Popcaan (Unruly Fest), There are artists like Squash that perhaps didn't know during the 2008 or maybe even 2018 Sumfest season, that he would be given the honour of closing out the Friday night show. Given the ambiguity and trend-based movements in the music industry, it's difficult to predict what will be hot, who will be reliable, and what audiences will respond to. While the industry has its consistency, it can also be marked with an unpredictable fluidity.

As Khesan, Proph3t N'ser, JahDon, and Derajah continue to create music, pen lyrics, and craft their musical journeys, stages in Montego Bay or stages in their own individual home towns are all possibilities, with the right song and the right time. That is the beauty of music and the uniqueness of a genre like reggae: those who appreciate it will travel the world to hear it authentically, and those who are injected with the rhythm usually have it embedded in their souls, indefinitely.

Like most summers in Jamaica, Sumfest will be one of many musical highlights, and this year promises to be one filled with power, legends of the game, and new energy. Whether watching live from Catherine Hall Entertainment Center in Mo Bay, or via livestream, the music will continue to inspire and influence musicians and artists worldwide, and those of us who live and breathe reggae music will keep our ears and souls open and ready to receive the next best thing inspired from the heart of JamRock.

Tickets for all Sumfest events and performances are available through the Reggae Sumfest website. Interested visitors and viewers can also connect with the event through their Instagram page (@ReggaeSumfest), Twitter (@ReggaeSumfest), and Facebook (/ReggaeSumfest). For live streaming and Sumfest videos, connect to their YouTube channel.

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Musicians Celebrate the Toronto Raptors' Reign with Caribbean Vibes

King Ujah
Raptor fever has been fantastic! So fantastic, that it's going to be sad to see it pass and hard to fill the void of excitement and pride that NBA fans across the country have been feeling lately.

For the past few years, each season has manifested increased energy and fan support from Torontonians, Canadians, and basketball fans around the globe. As the momentum carried on into the post-season with playoff games and a heightened realization that our hometown NBA squad could potentially bring us to the Finals, the creativity from supporters only increased. Heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, and eventually the Finals, the fanfare continued to elevate in crowd sizes, paraphernalia sales, and wild and uncontrollable antics of joy from inside the Scotiabank Arena, to outside in Jurassic Park, and in recording studios across the GTA.

Now that yesterday's victory parade has come and gone and the festivities have "officially" come to an end (for now), it has been great to reflect back on just how incredibly entertaining this Raptors season has been, and how many great side stories have emerged.

And can you blame us? Toronto has waited for this. Some of us remember the days of national obscurity and feeling second-class to our American counterparts. Many of us recall that urban insecurity too well, and that's what makes all of these celebratory actions  extra sweet.

There have been plenty Raptors anthems released over the years, and many superfans (other than Nav Bhatia and Drake) who have made headlines and gone viral. The ones that move me the most, are the Caribbean musicians who have taken this moment in time and captured the exhilaration through lyrics, melodies, and riddims.

Here are some of our favourite musical moments from this year's road to the NBA Championship, created from a few notable West Indian brothers!


Here's a great video featuring Jamaican-Canadian artist Kardi's "Run" with every sports broadcaster's favourite game time visual: the folks in Jurassic Park:

This one is a staple, and we've been hearing it for years during television broadcasts and in-stadium hype sessions: Kardi's Raptors anthem was specially remixed for this year.


Canadian reggae artist King Ujah released an original track called "King in the Arena" celebrating the Raptors' road to the Finals:


St. Vincent's Jamsey P released a special Raptors remix to his 2019 song Soca Land. The tune "Raptors Land" is full of vibes and will surely be in heavy rotation on the Toronto Caribbean Carnival parade route this year.


Jamaican-Canadian reggae artist General Genius was a hit with television newsrooms and Jurassic Park residents when his "Raptor Foot" dance and chant caught on. Now as much as part of the experience as the "We the North" cheers, we've even had the pleasure of seeing Toronto Mayor John Tory buss this dance, noted journalists (like Brandon Gonez, the Raptor Foot specialist) endorse it, and the release of a music video to accompany the unofficial dance of the team.


Having any type of Caribbean discussion about the Raptors wouldn't be complete without mentioning Jamaican artist (and Toronto resident) Louie Rankin. Whether you loved him most back in 1992 when his big tune Typewritter was tearing up dancehalls, or you had an appreciation for him in the 1998 movie Belly with DMX and Nas, you definitely know that Louis Rankin is full of electricity.

Here's a sample of what fans of the original Jamaican Don Dadda could look forward to via Louis Rankin's Instagram posts:

Witnessing the Caribbean influence on the most memorable Raptors celebrations is what can be expected from the highly multicultural and Caribbean-influenced pop culture here in Toronto. These contributions are significant because they represent the people, the movement, sound, and the heart of Toronto.

Inspiration comes in many forms and it's a beautiful thing to see how the excellence of these athletes has transferred into so many creative products. The majority of us will never forget how great the Raptors' journey has been this season, and thanks to these recording artists we now also have a permanent reminder of the spirit of this historic year.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

PASS THE TORCH Honours the Next Generation in Canadian Calypso Music

It's been an exciting week in Toronto, and every time we see new milestones reached whether through sporting events, politics, business, or art, it give the community a chance to reflect on where we are and how far we have come in a variety of disciplines. The elements of culture that make up the fabric of Toronto encompass the best of so many nationalities and social groups, and when that celebration of culture becomes a matter of inter-generational conversation, it is a moment of joy and encouragement knowing that the right steps are taken to ensure that traditions and talents are carried forth into another group of leaders and creators.

On Sunday, June 16 at the Krave Banquet Hall (55 Nugget Avenue, Scarborough), non-profit program PASS THE TORCH (PTT) will be honouring Mr. Dick Lochan aka "De Juice Man" through their work, in spirit, and for his legacy. The afternoon of music and culture will feature a mix of calypso performances and entertainment, while celebrating PTT's 15th anniversary. Festivities will continue on July 21 when they present the first Junior Calypso Competition in North America.

The PTT program began with Juno-award winning musician John Jayson Perez in 2004, with the assistant of Dick Lochan who remained a part of the program up until he passed in 2017. A calypsonian since 1983, Perez has also received numerous accolades for his contributions to the Caribbean art form, and had been working to keep the tradition alive with the assistance of Lochan's past guidance, and the blessings of other dedicated community members.

Perez initially began his music instruction from his home, and then continued at the Malvern Community Centre, teaching young people the values and elements of Caribbean culture and music, with a special emphasis on the composition and performance of calypso music. Aiming to help his students build confidence and a unique skill set through performance, Perez has led many talented musicians to produce recordings of their own work, with the musical supervision of Ossie Gurley. Some of his students have even continued on to record professionally, and have maintained their love for the arts.

This weekend, the tradition of sharing and creating music continues at Krave Banquet hall, uniting children, parents, and community in the name of culture.

"In the spirit of Caribana and the Carnival, it is time for us all to come together and celebrate in unity," said Perez. "I take great pride in helping the younger generation to write and compose calypso and soca. It brings me great joy to reminisce and celebrate the legacy Dick Lochan has provided us to enjoy today."

Sunday's event will be hosted by Masahda and DJ Rex, with live performances from the Junior Calypsonians in addition to performances from Malay Walker, Pannist, Roots and Branches, and the Hummingbird Drummers. The winners of the June 9 and June 16 junior calypso tents will compete on July 21, with the chance to win prizes and recordings of their work.

Photo via TorontoCaribbean
"[Lochan] has helped to take our culture across the Greater Toronto Area and beyond, while keeping Trinidad and Tobago culture, calypso, and kaiso music relevant in 2019," said Perez. "As the leader of Pass the Torch, I look forward to passing the torch for another fifteen years and more, as we play mas, enjoy play, jump up in unity, and wave our rag."

For more information about Pass the Torch and the upcoming Junior Calypsonian competition, contact 647-857-1566 or 416-428-6253, or visit EventBrite to purchase your $25 ticket: . Tickets will be $30 at the door.

Malek: 416-724-1328

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

MAS.IV Meetup Creates Interactive Space for Progressive Caribbean Carnival Conversation

If you're a Caribbean Carnival enthusiast, and someone who is invested in the future of the tradition, the emergence of Toronto-based platform @THEMAS.IV is something that will definitely excite you. The new social media-based movement "aims to connect and shine a spotlight on creatives within carnival" with a focus on four (IV) areas: Mas, Muse, Movement, and Music.

Founder Yinx Macaulay has been a part of an all-female media team @TheCollaboVibe in Toronto, for nearly a decade. Known for their timely and professional coverage of Toronto band launches and other carnival-related activities, the group has established themselves as a reliable and essential element of the carnival communication experience in Toronto.

Yinx Macaulay
"As a long time masquerader, I have a genuine admiration of the creative minds and bodies that bring mas to life," said Yinx. "I am also intrigued by the global movement of carnival, with respect to innovations and influencers that propel carnival to scale. This was the catalyst that led me to create MAS.IV."

Yinx's interests influenced her insight into the potential opportunities available within carnival, and the MAS.IV emerged as a refreshing take on the carnival experience and a necessary piece of the carnival system-at-large.

Studying the creatives within the carnival industry, Yinx is using the MAS.IV as a conduit for discussion, change, and to celebrate the various individuals behind the international phenomenon of carnival. Also using other islands as a guide, Yinx and the MAS.IV will build a platform to study, listen, and fill in the gaps that exist in the carnival infrastructure overall.

"My personal journey as a creative within carnival began nine years ago, when I started a blog known as The Collabo. Teaming up with peers and fellow creatives, Candy and KC, as an all-female media team, the blog evolved into The Collabo Vibe--a trusted source for band launch coverage in Toronto," said Yink. "My aspiration is for MAS.IV to be a platform that connects you to the creative community in a meaningful and impactful way."

With MAS.IV focusing on the creatives in mas, they hope to continue to celebrate the art of carnival not only through visuals, but also through features, discussions, events, and other cultural displays.

On Saturday, June 1, the MAS.IV hosted their first official "Meetup" in Scarborough, Ontario (eastern Toronto) with the intention of "creating and curating a space for people to connect and contribute their thoughts on the movement of carnival."

Four discussions were facilitated with special guest panelists representing each stream of mas. The MUSE panel representing the carnival models; the MAS panel featuring designers and event managers; the MOVEMENT panel highlighting carnival dancers; and the MUSIC panel featuring soca artists and DJs.

"Bringing together diverse and collective voices" with the intimate and interactive engagement, the special panelists and invited community guests "discussed all things carnival from the band launch season to trends noted within the local and international context."

It was great to see the group of Toronto's dedicated carnivalists present at the Meetup to provide thoughts on their roles within the carnival system, and also to provide feedback and insight on how to improve the carnival experience.

Representing the physical MUSE of carnival, models, dancers, and fitness enthusiasts @CarnivalBae and @MuzikJo agreed that the Toronto band launches overall were well executed due to the addition of formal choreography and the representation of models of various sizes and skin tones. Improvements were based on the ways in which costumes were modelled, with the speakers suggesting that models focus on selling the costume rather than selling their bodies. It was also suggested that models continue to pay special attention to highlighting the costume features...and not necessarily the individual models and their personal style, movements, or brands.

@myinxy and @CarnivalBae
@MuzikJo developed a love for being on stage and helping designers and section leaders sell their costumes, after arriving in Toronto from Trinidad almost ten years ago. She expressed her love for the energy of the band launch productions, and also the backstage camaraderie with the models and production team. Also around 2010, @CarnivalBae began her modelling journey after approaching the various band leaders in Toronto via email and requesting to be a part of their presentations. For both ladies, the experiences are rewarding, enjoyable, and an important part of the carnival process.

Their recommendations for Toronto carnival band launches moving forward: an improvement in the overall organization and preparation of models, in addition to reevaluating the care for the models and improving the professionalism of their treatment (contracts, backstage process, compensation, etc.). Also suggested: using exclusive models for particular bands to help reconstruct individual band identity, loyalty, and renew the sense of pride the models exhibit during performances.

Toronto Carnival was commended for incorporating a range of ethnicities and body sizes within the band launch, in comparison to other cities. The panelists stressed that the typical carnival industry standard of "fair skin and long hair" is not necessarily the best default for all participants, as costumes will present and fit differently on each unique masquerader.

Expert MAS contributions from designer @KyleGervacy and event manager @FloKing stressed the importance of trying new concepts, colour combinations, and innovative ideals with design and production so that each carnival band or costume can have its own vibe. Since each band is committed to a particular theme for the year, the aesthetic importance of sticking to the theme was also reinforced. "Why choose themes that you don't follow at all?" @KyleGervacy asked, suggesting that each band work creatively to find their niche and what makes their particular team special.

@myinxy @kylegervacy & @floking
Another concept that was appreciated: the one night band launch that takes place for Bermuda's annual carnival, where all bands present their costumes on the same date at the same location. Rather than competing for crowds and having each band only present to their loyal supporters, this option was praised as an opportunity for inclusiveness and unity, and also an opportunity to see just how unique each band truly is. @FloKing spoke about her experience with event planning and logistics, stressing the importance of organization, meeting deadlines, and communication within the process from band launch to parade day to help new concepts and processes flow, and to ensure that everyone has an optimal experience.

Featured speakers on the MUSIC panel @StickyWow and @Tantie_Maxx_Xeenn spoke extensively about their love for soca music, and the impact of their families and surroundings on how they celebrated and embraced the genre.

@StickyWow was the first Canadian finalist in the 2019 Soca Monarch competition, a great personal--and national--accomplishment, since there are few very Canadian soca artists currently in the forefront of soca music. A challenge: being an outsider. He noted that as a Canadian soca artist he is an outsider well as an outsider in Trinidad, despite being a descendant of Trinidadian parents. His platform @SocaInTheSix was created to promote and celebrate the joy of soca music in Toronto through events and participants. "Soca music has the best vibes," he said confidently.

@Tantie_Maxx_Xeenn @StickyWow
"With soca, the riddim is sweet, and people dance to everything," DJ @Tantie_Maxx_Xeenn added. When it comes to music, issues of tradition versus content were explored, from calypsonians in musical contests, to soca DJs and artists in the current fete environment. Both panelists agreed that people love bacchanal and excitement in soca lyrics, and also expect to just have fun with the music. While it is less political in nature than the calypsonian lyrics of previous generations, it was noted that there is still a popular element of clever word play and double entendre within the musical culture.

Recommended ways to improve the integration of music with Toronto Carnival in particular? It was suggested that the mixes on the road could be more creative with less repetition, and featuring the incorporation of hits from the past as well as current staples. An increased element of risk taking would help in this matter.

Overall, as DJs and performers, they felt that the relatively small Canadian community of musicians needed to work as a collective to keep the industry progressive, and also stated with great pride that the soca music industry (although often underrated) did not have to prove their culture or preferences to anyone on the "outside" (for example, international awards or iTunes categories). While soca music recognition isn't necessarily wide-scale, the panelists and attendees were in agreement that the speciality genre is dear to their hearts, and that soca music fans have the luxury of choosing how they can integrate it into their own lives regardless of popular opinion.

@SimplyShakera and @TheRealMissKerr were featured on the MOVEMENT panel, and provided a recap of the band launch presentations in Toronto for the 2019 season from a dance perspective. They agreed that there was increased evidence of choreography--adding to the presentations--and that many of the bands had a more "finished" look as a result.

"The world is seeing their mas move," @SimplyShakera noted, pointing out that the models always have to be cognisant of showcasing the costumes in the best light possible. Highlighting themes through movement, and doing "more than just walking and posing" were her general recommendations.

@TheRealMissKerr added that bringing attention to the costume details were essential for sales, as are elements like effective lighting and staging, that contribute to a great concept experience.
"Hire professionals to do what they're good at," she encouraged.

Their general recommendations: to reclaim our carnival and turn it back into a parade with exquisite presentation and theme at its core. This can be accomplished through building up layers, roles, investors, and the use of social media to work together to ensure that the "torch" of carnival in Toronto remains lit and progressive.

During the open forum segment of the afternoon, a Q&A session allowed audience members and panelists to brainstorm and discuss their carnival passions, with results-driven recommendations. Overall, an increase in collaboration between carnival elders and younger participants was stressed. Allowing contributions from the various creatives, professionals, and from different generations would help to diversify the carnival products and also strengthen the community as a whole. Everyone has a role to play, and showing respect for the roles and the work put into them was a shared perspective.

The event was uplifting, and Yinx was a gracious host and informed commentator. It was the first official MAS.IV Meetup, and one of many exciting events and initiative that this platform is prepared to offer to carnival enthusiasts here in Toronto, and globally.

Yinx is currently completing a program in community engagement, leadership, and community development, and values the collaboration required to think and address deep rooted issues and problems that require collaborative leadership. She considers herself a professional brainstorm/dreamer, and is always thinking, observing and curious to understand the world and where things are doing.

"I am very skilled and dedicated to those ideas and passions into something tangible," said Yinx, a strategist by nature. We look forward to continuing to witness how she integrates the strengths of MAS.IV and the inevitable benefits that will manifest within our beloved Toronto Carnival.

The MAS.IV invites guests to keep the conversation going using the event-specific hashtag #MASIVMOVEMENT, and to connect with them online for continued sharing and innovating in carnival.

A full video recap will be provided from the MAS.IV; connect with them online for updates and release at:

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

Thursday, June 6, 2019

REVIEW // Jeffrey L. Cheatham II's New Children's Book "Hi Blue Sky"

One of the beautiful things about literature has always been its ability to communicate messages and express sentiments that are often difficult to share or process in the non-fiction world. This is the case with mature subjects, as well as the most delicate of topics. This is particularly true when it comes to communicating challenging messages to children.

In his 2016 release "Why is Jane So Mad?" Seattle-based author Jeffrey L. Cheatham II explored the "beauty of friendship and the value of human connection, while also skillfully illustrating the limitations of childhood when it comes to understanding more complex emotions."

With the same empathetic spirit, "Hi Blue Sky" manages to present an otherwise devastating event, with a gentle tone that is easy for children to digest and even enjoy.

Jeffrey's passion for writing is rooted in his love and nurturing for his daughter. His goals: to write and publish as many enjoyable stories as humanly possible, and "create an atmosphere for people to always pursue their dreams with child-like ambition and imagination."

Keke, the main character in his book "Hi Blue Sky" remembers the best parts about her friendship with Tay, who has passed away. She also expresses regret with a few minor actions that she would correct if given the chance. Her declarations to the sky in hopes of sending messages off to Tay, are light but still longing. She smiles, but she still misses her friend.

Illustrated by Johanna Puukila, we see vibrant visuals of the young female narrator perched high in her treehouse, close to the stars, as she sends her wishes out into the sky with outstretched arms. In her hands she keeps two dolls, and the illustrations depict a happy child clinging to her memories of friendship and still needing to speak about them.

Just as Keke is unsure of how her friend passed away, the reader is also unaware of the details. What we do know is the love that was shared between the two friends, and Keke's gesture of presenting the girl doll to the skies for her friend Tay to have.  Tay in heaven is gifted this token of their friendship, just as she holds her little boy doll close to her heart.

Again, Jeffrey L. Cheatham II has written a beautiful presentation of life's complexities, in a way that is warm and caring, but still rooted in reality. Created with the "intention of educating children about grieving when losing a loved one," the story of Keke and her best friend is sweet, and still whimsical, despite the dark subject matter.

From her magical treehouse, Keke is able to communicate with the earth, and speak confidently about her friendship and the assertion that Tay will receive her messages. This book will be an excellent guide for parents and teachers to help ease children into the subject and realities of death and the grieving process.

Jeffrey has once again demonstrated his excellent handling of educating children, with the cretivity and joy for life required for their young inquisitive minds. The back of the book contains a lined page, addressed to a friend, where young readers can draft their own letters to the Blue Sky, and keep the hope and natural reality of death as something children can actively work through, after reading this book.

"Hi Blue Sky" is now available through Amazon; Jeffrey's other two children's books "The Family Jones and the Eggs of Rex" and "Why is Jane so Mad?" are are available through Amazon.

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