Monday, July 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Recognizing the Next Generation of Caribbean Canadian Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

REGGAE SUMFEST 2019 // Celebrating Jamaican Excellence

Yes, Jamaica is a real place. That's a question that commonly pops up on social media because some of the things you see about can only see in Jamaica. And only understand it in a Jamaican context. I am biased by birth, but I truly feel that the island of Jamaica is magnificent for so many reasons.

A place with beautiful weather, delicious food, the most charismatic people you'll ever meet, gorgeous landscapes, a tourism industry like no other, a unique style of music that has transcended borders and inspired a multitude of sub-genres within the genre, and an abundance of talent performing, managing, and maintaining the industry that makes this island experience one that millions continue to return to. Reggae Sumfest is one night of the year where Jamaica has the opportunity to put this talent on full display and remind the world just how powerful and influential reggae music is.

Downsound Entertainment, in association with sponsors including Grace Foods, Pepsi Jamaica, Jamaica Tourism, Mastercard, Caribbean Airlines Wray & Nephew, and many other top brands and businesses presented the annual Reggae Sumfest music festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica this weekend, after a week of pre-show festivities. A symposium, social media awards, a sound clash, and themed parties helped to get visitors and locals in a reggae frame of mind before the two nights of performances began.

My experience with Reggae Sumfest has been top notch, and I continue to be impressed by how this machine runs. From the accreditation process, to the online updates, an impeccable social media campaign, and outstanding live coverage during the festival...this weekend has proven to be a master class in event production and entertainment, and I am using this opportunity to take notes on how a large-scale event should run. Somehow, that is what seduced me most about this year's presentation: how seamless it was.

Surely, Sumfest is not without its issues. Like any event planner knows, what happens on the outside and what happens in real-time with check lists and day-to-day execution is probably quite different. That being said, knowing how complex an event of this size and nature must be, I truly believe that Reggae Sumfest continues to be an essential part of the many highlights of Brand Jamaica that circulate around the globe spreading good vibes and positive messaging about our wonderful country.

I feel proud. Truly. Despite the awesome performances, and the new additions to the Jamaican entertainment story (Friday night with no Squash, and Buju's return to the festival), I feel proud to be of Jamaican descent. Proud to see the all-Jamaican lineup of artists, and the supporting cast around them like the marketers, the reporters, and the various ambassadors. It felt like success. It felt like a home run. It felt like the perfect packaging of a culture and environment that so many of us love dearly. It felt like Jamaican excellence.

I learned a lot about Sumfest this year. Although it has existed for over two decades, with Sunsplash preceding it: this is no new occurrence. In fact, festivals like Sumfest, and Rebel Salute, and other special events have been drawing specialty crowds to Jamaica for years. This particular year, however, I learned a lot of great facts about the Sumfest brand and what is has become in 2019.

For example, I listened to a Jamaican PR Strategist discuss the changes made to Sumfest so that now Jamaican artists are highlighted, without relying on American/foreign stars to headline the show. I learned about the restructuring of the event to reduce the festival to two nights, yet still providing a full week of warm-up activities to accommodate those who want to enjoy a few days of celebration before the show.

I was able to hear what the Sumfest administrators thought about elements of Jamaican culture like the sound clash, and how reggae lovers from outside of the Caribbean are studying and indulging in the culture, and mastering aspects of it in their own unique ways. As someone that was born and raised in Canada, I enjoy learning about how Jamaican residents perceive their cultural impact, and am also proud to see Jamaican-Canadians like King Turbo Sound, Chelsea Stewart, and others have prominent roles in the weekend's proceedings.

Hearing Joe Bogdanovich speak about the importance of supporting generational changes in music, and seeing it reflected in some of the performances was interesting, as was listening to his assistant and event administrator Karla Jankee discuss her multiple roles, and how they take her across the world sharing the good news of reggae. From the interviews and pre-show with Kamilah McDonald and Nikki Z, and the engaging social media narrative, Sumfest was off to a good start before it even began.

via @cstewartsings
The show opened with Toronto's very own Chelsea Stewart backed by the Warrior Love Band, and continued to feature new acts like Mr. Chumps, Celebrity, and Ricky Tee's. Watching them in interview and on stage, I was reminded of Rygin King and his role in last year's Sumfest. As mentioned, "you never known who will be the next big thing." It was interesting to see the news faces and speculate about where they may or may not be by Sumfest 2020. It's a reminder of the constant creativity in music and the culture, and how quickly legacies are built, or in some unfortunate cases...forgotten.

Harry Toddla provided many great flashbacks, injecting a new energy to the evening from before midnight. DJ's Liquid and Noah Powa were most definitely entertaining, bringing an element of laughter and parody, and a few impersonations. Also funny: the evening's host.

Admittedly, I'm late to the Shauna Chin narrative, but after that performance of hers, I think I'm going to go back into blog history and see just how significant her redemption statement really was and why. I believe this may also involve pursuing the Instagram timeline of Foota Hype...and I'm 100% sure the story will be shocking, as were her outfits and her defiant lyrics.

During Shauna Controlla's performance, my attention lingered on the Jamaican audience and their amazing method of paying extreme attention to every detail on stage, while still appearing to be quite disinterested. I remembered this from my visit to Rebel Salute earlier this year where despite witnessing some of THE most exciting performance of the night, the audience was still hesitant to exhibit extreme enjoyment.

This is one of the elements of the Jamaican spirit that I most appreciate: the ridiculously high entertainment standards, and an acute attention to detail, wardrobe, movements, and nuance. The Jamaican musical audience is probably one of the most aware--and critical--of listeners internationally. Not easily impressed, they truly make the performers work for accolades and earn their forwards.

via @bojtv
Even Munga, performing so many classics that I had to remind myself to give them another listen this weekend. The height of Munga's career was also the height of my young party life. In a 2007 clip of Munga's first concert in Toronto (in a mediocre video with abusively terrible audio quality that I should be embarrassed to link back to), I was quite excited to hear "Earthquake" and his other string of hits. I'm glad he has come back to the stage and resurrected his career with style.

via @loopjamaica
Also exciting for a woman of my age: seeing Spragga Benz back on stage, looking as good as ever. Full of charm. A youthful glow. Possessing that same distinguished voice that we all loved some 25 years ago. And whether he was performing "Machine Gun Kelly" (straight from the basement parties of 1995), or his latest hit "Differ" was a joy. I'm sure I wasn't the only one also patiently waiting for him to remove the outer layer of clothing and remind us of how many hours he's been putting in at the gym. He look proper.

Just before Elephant Man returned to the Sumfest stage, a switch of hosts for the evening presented the lovely Miss Kitty draped in red excitement, and a perfect match for the increase in energy that Ele brought to the venue. My artists! The ones that bring the nostalgia, the dance moves, and the good feelings that go along with each memory attached to their popular songs.

via My Jamaica Today
Elephant Man was fabulous, and everything we needed him to be. He ran. He climbed. He took off pieces of his costume armour, and he reminded us of exactly who he be. A legend of dancehall, and someone that we can always hold in high regard and look at fondly whether he's performing a new album, or simply making us move with his original classics. We owe Elephant Man a lot. He brought us all so much joy, laughter, and, well..."energy" over the years. He is a treasure, for sure.

Agent Sasco, was excellent as per usual. He is a legend in the making, and that voice of his always reminds me that he is one of a kind. Spice: a consummate performer, with so many outfits and stage moments worth remembering. She truly is on top of her game right now, and it's nice to see.

Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, Koffee and Chronixx. It almost goes without saying. These are artists that have all proven themselves, in various ways, to be irreplaceable icons in the reggae music industry. So much greatness, and so many great songs to accompany their existence.

With a backdrop of morning sunshine in Montego Bay, Dexta Daps, Govana, Aidonia, and a few other new artists like Shane E, Fully Bad, and Jahvillani closed out the show. As for the 6ixx Squad and Squash...unfortunately his big moment is a thing of hypothetical planning only. According to reports, the police did not approve of the profanity used by other artists, and the fact that the show was running over its permitted they locked it off.

Festival Night 2 brought in a few early acts, before the highly anticipated performance from Dalton Harris took place. One thing is for sure: the man can SING. Like really, really sing. He was definitely a showman. He was for sure a little bit defensive. Dalton had a lot to prove and a lot to say, and in the end...I have to give it up for his talent, which is undeniable. He is a force.

Any appearance from Jah9 and Etana are good appearances, as far as I'm concerned. Those two woman embody grace and intelligence, and I do believe they are an amazing and necessarily element to the music scene. From the Shauna Controlla and Spice sexiness, to the conscious lyrics and messaging of Jah9 and Etana, Jamaican women were presented from all angles.

The women continued to inspire me when Protoje brought out Lila Ike and Sevana as a part of his set. In addition to featuring Jesse Royal and Sasco during his segment, he truly did shine a light on Lila and Sevana in the best ways. Solid. As they sang, as they moved, and as they shared their lyrics, I was so inspired by what they represented, again in another contrast to the previous female performers. It presented such a thorough look at womanhood, and female expression. It felt like big things were about to happen for women in the reggae, and I'm all here for it.

I fully expect Lila Ike to have a role in next year's Sumfest. Of all the artists, she really left an impression on me as someone who truly deserves an increased in profile.

Uncle Beres. No words. The quiet Jamaican audience from the early hours immediately transformed into a most humbled collective of music lovers and fans. Hit after hit, folks sang along with Beres, cheered to Beres, and praised their artist with the utmost respect and appreciation. A living legend and someone a true reggae fan can never, ever tire of. Beres Hammond was a complete pleasure to watch, as always.

Romain Virgo had another poignant moment of the night, when the young and beautiful Teshae Silvera joined him on stage to sing her cover of Romain's song calling out child abuse. "You dutty man! You dutty man! Leave the people pickney dem alone!" she sang, to one of the biggest forwards of the night. This angel left an impression on many, and when I first glimpsed her Instagram page she only had 60 followers. I most definitely expect this to be a different situation by tomorrow, now that her handle @Teshae_Silvera is being circulated.

Christopher Martin was excellent. He is always excellent, and in the second-most anticipated appearance of Buju Banton in nearly a decade...he returned to the Sumfest stage to an equally warm reception as his first post-incarceration show. What's not to love about Buju? He is embedded in our hearts, and it is still great to live in a world where we can see him on road. Also a treat: his new song Steppa was also released this week.

Jamaica has my heart. The island, the people, the food, the culture, the language, the antics, the brilliance, the everything. Most importantly, the music that plays while we live life, while we travel, and while we grow. Reggae music allows an innate appreciation for the culture, just by rhythm alone. The drums and basslines, the horns and background vocalists--from the Warrior Love Band to the Harmony House Band and's all just a spectacular music to take in. Especially on a large scale.

Reggae Sumfest has proven, yet again, to be the biggest reggae show on earth with a great structure, and an even greater pool of talent to select from. Big up to the team involved in executing this year's event so wonderfully, and for making the experience for a reggae lover living out here in the diaspora, to feel a little bit of home every time I take part in a viewing event like this. From the production value, to the praise for young Teshae, Sumfest was entertaining from beginning to end. It was Jamaican excellence, personified. Next year won't miss me.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Kitchener Reggae Festival Features International Chart Topping Jamaican Artists on Saturday, July 27

Toronto is known for providing an excellent assortment of Caribbean-based artists during the summer concert season. From soca fetes, to reggae showcases, they are always live artists making appearances on boat rides, at event venues, and special music festivals while the Caribbean audience embraces the summer weather.

On Saturday, July 27 On the Grand presents the first Kitchener Reggae Festival, taking place in Kitchener, Ontario (approximately 100km from Toronto) at the Bingemans Centre (425 Bingemans Centre Drive), as a part of their mini-festival series featuring artists from all genres. At the ReggaeFest, attendees will be entertained by some of Jamaica's favourite recording artists: Konshens, Gyptian, Kranium, Luciano, and Stylo G. In addition to the live artists, the grounds of On The Grand will also feature vendors for a festival environment. The event will begin at 6:00pm, concluding at 11:00pm; this is a licensed all ages show.


Originating from Kingston, Jamaica, Garfield Spence has been recording since 2005 when he performed with his older brother as the duo Sons of Jah. Since then, he has released a long list of hit dancehall tracks, that have resonated internationally and across genres. Songs like "Gal a Bubble" (2012), "Do Sum'n" (2012), "Jiggle" (2013), and "Bruk Off" (2016), have made the music of Konshens a staple in any party or festive environment.


Another reggae artist who has received international acclaim due to his melodies and vibes, Windel Edwards (aka Gyptian) also came on to the reggae recording scene in 2005 with his conscious track "Serious Times," followed by the hit "Hold You" that was beloved worldwide in 2010 and continues to bubble. A VP records artist, he has made an impact with his lyrics and has created a few classics as a result, including "Is There A Place" from 2009.


Kranium (Kemar Donaldson) is known for "his melodic flow, clever word play, and ability to break all barriers when it comes to his music." A native of Montego Bay, he was raised in Queens, New York, which gives him a unique dancehall blend, and opened the doors for collaboration with international musicians like Wiz Kid, Tory Lanez, and Ed Sheeran. Some of his fan favourite songs include "Nobody Has To Know" (2013), "We Can" (2017), and "Last Night" (2018).


A favourite in any Jamaican music discussion, Luciano (Jepther McClymont) has been blessing reggae music since the early 90's, making a bold statement with his 1995 album "Where is the Life" that featured a string of international hits like "It's Me Again Jah," and "Your World and Mine." An ambassador of the conscious reggae music scene, Luciano the Messenjah has many great anthems including "Sweep Over My Soul" (1999), and "Over the Hills" (1996), and "Never Give Up My Pride" (2008).


Young artist Jason McDermott (aka Stylo G) created an anthem that easily framed last year with its memorable intro "Touch Down" featuring Vybz Kartel and Nicki Minaj became an instant classic. Born in Jamaica and raised in England, Stylo G has been involved in the UK underground scene since the age of 15 with a few chart topping songs in Europe like "My Yout," "Leader," and "Swagga Dem." Following in the footsteps of his musician father, dancehall artist Poison Chang, he made his mark as a Grime artist and is known for "developing the bridge between UK hip-hop and dancehall producing tracks."


Toronto singer/songwriter Shalli will also be performing at the Kitchener Reggae Festival. Known for her "soothing voice, complex melodies, and infectious rhythms," Shalli has been singing and creating original music since the age of 5 in a range of environments from church choirs, to gatherings amongst her family of musicians. Shalli's Dominican and Jamaican heritage has contributed to her eclectic music style, and has motivated her travel to the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia to perform and experience culture. Her debut album "Then Now" was released last year.

To purchase tickets online, click here.

For hard tickets, please contact 647-898-4004.


Private VIP area
Access to the pit area
Dedicated bar
Lounge/shaded areas
Snacks/food packages


Access to general admission floor
Access to the lawn

If you've reached the end of this article, and would like to attend the Kitchener Reggae Festival on Saturday, July 27, please email Kya Publishing at to see if you are the winner of one of two pair of FREE TICKETS that we have to give away, courtesy of On the Grand and Vocab Communications!

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Toronto Knows Carnival - The Launch of the 2019 Caribbean Carnival Festivities

Every summer, in the weeks leading up to the traditional Toronto Caribbean Carnival Grand Parade Day, the mayor, local dignitaries, festival organizers, costumed masqueraders, and community members gather at Nathan Phillips Square to officially welcome in the upcoming weeks of festivities that Toronto's Caribbean community and allies anticipate as a highlight of the season.

The Festival Management Committee, presented with an official proclamation from Toronto Mayor John Tory, launched this year's Toronto Carnival on Tuesday, July 9, providing context, praise, rules, and plenty of entertainment and Caribbean vibes for the hundreds gathered outside Toronto City Hall.

With news media lined up as early as 10:00am, and steel pans positioned on stage, it was a familiar sight. We do this every year, and still look forward to the moment when the festivities ramp up. This is the time of year when summer weather has settled in to stay, when folks are on summer vacation, when tourists walk the streets of our city with cameras in hand, you can find families perched on the ledges of the Toronto sign, and it's not uncommon to see men and women walking in feathers and beads. Anywhere.

Toronto knows Carnival.

I've travelled to other cities in the U.S. and abroad for Carnival, and know that we are fortunate to have a city that wholeheartedly embraces this annual tradition. To see our Mayor on stage, deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, along with MP Adam Vaughan, and a few others from the ranks of our city's leadership, sharing dance moves and laughs with the Festival Management Committee is something we can appreciate. Other places don't understand and welcome their Carnivals like Toronto does. Other politicians don't mingle and make appearances at soca fetes and all-inclusive parties like Adam Vaughan and Jagmeet Singh do. But this is Toronto. We all have an intrinsic appreciation for diversity here, and it is a blessing.

The Carnival changes every year. The route changes. Rules adjust, and new fees are implemented. There are definitely challenges, rivalries, differences in opinion and management, and other observations that come along with this event. We know this, we live this, and on some level we have come to expect this. Despite the ongoing difference in opinion that comes with an event of this size and magnitude, people still show up. They still purchase costumes. They still love the way the steelpan sounds echoing across Nathan Phillips Square, and they still smile when the politicians dip into Caribbean lingo and swagger.

Hosted by journalist Brandon Gonez from news channel CP24, the special guests each spoke about the carnival, covered some of the logistics, and expressed their support for the upcoming weeks. The "Faces of the Festival" Joel Davis and Nadelle Lewis were introduced, and Pan Fantasy steel pan band performed.

This year there are 9 competing bands, along with a group of guest bands, and steelpan bands that will be participating in the parade on Saturday, August 3. The route has been expanded to a 7 km path from the CNE grounds, down Lakeshore Boulevard to Parkside Drive, and then back up to the CNE where masqueraders and friends will continue the celebration at a few designated locations and organized events. Details are outlined on the Toronto Carnival website and social media pages.

It is the 52nd year of operation for the carnival formerly known as Caribana. It is another season in Toronto that for many, represents the highlight of their Canadian summer. It is a great way for businesses, the hospitality industry, event promoters, and other creatives to produce and profit. It is never without controversy, but it is family at this point. Something that many of us love because it's ours, and even on a small level, we are all somewhat responsible for its longevity, development, and reputation. It is an opportunity for the Caribbean community to acknowledge their food, music, rituals, and spirit on a large scale, and for that reason I will always support this event.

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