Saturday, December 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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