Sunday, May 26, 2019

Toronto Mas Camps Open for Carnival Costumes and Caribbean Community Celebration

Carnival Nationz Mas Camp
Shantal Otchere for Now Toronto
It's tradition. After the spring launches of the individual Toronto Caribbean Carnival masquerade bands, carnival enthusiasts and participants across the city and beyond can also look forward to the Mas Camp grand openings and the true physical beginning of the carnival season in the city.

The Mas Camp is the hub of activity, construction, design, and camaraderie in the carnival community. It is a dedicated space where costume designers and their teams begin to carefully construct their costumes in preparation for parade day. It is the home for the individual mas bands, working towards the coveted titled of Band of the Year, based on their creativity, adherence to theme, and cohesiveness of their group/band overall.

Carnival Nationz Mas Camp,
Shantal Otchere for Now Toronto
At the mas camp, not only can you witness creatives at work, but you can also take part in the development of the mas band for the season through volunteering, observation, or simply through providing moral support. In addition to hosting most of the Junior Carnival launches for the bands (taking place from now through mid-June), the Mas Camp is the home for registered masqueraders, supporters, and community members eager to take part in a warm Caribbean tradition.

The composition of each Camp is relatively similar: there is a showroom, where costumes available for purchase are set up on display on mannequins, for potential masqueraders to get an up-close look at the fabrics and embellishments that they will wear on the road for parade day. Also in the Camp, there is a point of contact for questions, pricing, and registration, where the best of the band's customer service is put on display to provide information and hospitable enthusiasm towards the band's objectives and brand.

Carnival Nationz Mas Camp,
Shantal Otchere for Now Toronto
Each masquerade band is unique in the events, programs, features, and the overall experience that they provide to their community. Some mas camps are notorious for having late-night limes and excellent DJs to help build the vibe towards Carnival Day in the late summer. Other camps are known for having a strict work environment, top-secret construction, and militant attention to process and formula. Workout programs to get fit for the road, children's activities, and live performances are also staples the Mas Camp life during the summer, where possible.

Most importantly, the Mas Camps are open houses for the Toronto community and participants of all cultures to take a glimpse into this particular Caribbean tradition, and to learn about the various bands and players as well as do their part to sustain this beloved element of summers in Toronto.

In our city, Mas Camps are usually based out of warehouses in industrial areas of the east end of Toronto, Scarborough, and in some cases satellite camps are operated out of the houses or offices of veteran mas makers across the Greater Toronto Area. In other countries, mas camps are setup year round in small houses, storefronts, or at a range of commercial locations that are easy to accommodate participants, materials, and high traffic.

With the conclusion of the last band launch in Toronto this weekend, most of the Mas Camps are now in operation and activity is underway as the bands (competing or otherwise) get ready for another exciting carnival season in the city, counting down the days until Carnival Day which falls on Saturday, August 3 this year.

Here's our unofficial listing of the Mas Camps operating in Toronto this season: please contact the individual bands for details about hours of operation and their registration processes and requirements (click on the band name to be connected to their websites):

TRIBAL CARNIVAL: 3401 McNicoll Avenue, Unit #8

TORONTO REVELLERS: 80 Midwest Road, Unit #13

FANTAZIA CARNIVAL: 2360 Midland Avenue, Unit #5

DREAM CARNIVAL: 875 Milner Avenue, Unit #105

EPIC CARNIVAL: 510 Coronation Drive

SALDENAH CARNIVAL: 1430 Birchmount Road

SUNLIME MAS: 3595 St. Clair Avenue East, Unit #19

CARNIVAL NATIONZ: 730 Military Trail


VENOM CARNIVAL: 1160 Birchmount Road, Unit #4B

ATLANTIC MAS: 2655 Lawrence Avenue East

For photos, videos, and event information throughout the Toronto Carnival season, we invite you to check out our CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT platform, focused on the presentation and celebration of Toronto Carnival, and Caribbean Carnival at large.

Our novel of the same name, "Carnival Spotlight," is currently available in e-book and paperback format, and can be accessed through our website This book is a fiction account of the Toronto Carnival experience, from the Mas Camp to the road, and captures the energy and vibes of one of the greatest celebrations of Caribbean culture in Canada.

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

A SELF-PUBLISHING SUCCESS STORY // Canada's Top Selling African-Canadian Children's Author Angelot Ndongmo Builds Multimedia Platform for Young Readers

We are fortunate to live in a time where walking into a bookstore and finding an ethnically diverse selection of children's books is no longer an anomaly. The past decade has brought a vibrant increase in visibility to the characters that fill the pages of children's literature, and with each generation we will surely see the social effects of this inclusive representation.

As a child, bestselling children's author and storyteller Angelot Ndongmo didn't have the literary luxury of choosing between culturally reflective texts at the library or through her local bookseller. In fact, selecting books was less tied to personal reflection and instead focused on plot and theme.

A fictional adventure is always satisfying for a young mind with a healthy imagination, but it was an avoidable misfortune for the generations who never had the added bonus of being able to receive that extra boost of culture through literature at a young age.

If you happen to live in Toronto and have a daughter, son, niece, nephew, grandchild, or special child in your life, then chances are you've already come across one of Angelot Ndongmo's bestsellers: "Loving Me" and "Boy! I Am Loving Me."

Over the years, since their 2008 release, they have become beloved staples in the children's book world, and are easily recognizable hits in Black home libraries across the Greater Toronto Area.

Marley Dias on "The Today Show"
Outside of Toronto? You've probably still encountered the books a few times already. Perhaps you witnessed Marley Dias--founder of the internationally acclaimed #1000BlackGirlsBooks initiative-- reading "Loving Me" live on The Today Show. Out of the 7000 titles received from around the world, she carefully selected Ms. Ndongmo's story to share with the NBC television audience. An honour indeed, as well as a social marker of just how crucial reflective literature is.

Tarrus Riley
A reggae lover? You might have recently seen superstar Tarrus Riley (singer of "She's Royal") proudly presenting the Loving Me Series with his big infectious smile on Ms. Ndongmo's Instagram page. Coincidentally, "Loving Me" and "Boy! I Am Loving Me" were picked up by a top distributor in the Caribbean.

Up on your social media influences? Young supermodel Celai West selected the books of the Loving Me Series to be featured in her favourite books selection, and has been seen wearing "Loving Me" merchandise on her sites and photos.

Along with thousands of other "Luv Bugs" (the name affectionately adopted by fans of the Loving Me Series), even adult supporters like Kim Kane on New York's leading urban radio station Power 105.1fm raved about the book during an interview with Ms. Ndongmo. "The books are fantastic and long overdue for our young girls," said Kane.

Celai West
The mission of Ms. Ndongmo and the Loving Me Series: "to enrich the lives of children and provide the building blocks to a higher level of self-esteem." The vision of her company is to "provide cultural stimulation by brilliantly fusing education and entertainment (edutainment) with diverse initiatives to build a solid foundation of self-love in children."

In an industry that can now proudly boast about having such a wide selection of culturally inclusive texts for children, it is no surprise that the books of Angelot Ndongmo have still managed to stand out. Now passing their tenth year of publication, the books (noted for their bright and inviting colours, loveable characters, and catchy wording) seem to only be gaining momentum as their distribution expands beyond the communities of Toronto and into the islands, the States, South Africa, Ghana, and oversees via e-book and online connectivity.

Recognition for the Loving Me Series
Community members and arts organizations have been supportive over the years, recognizing the unique impact that the Loving Me Series has has on young readers, their families, and the new age of book publishing. The awards and accolades for Ms. Ndongmo and her growing empire have been generous, well deserved, and a definite symbol of the long-term impact and significance of the series on the people who have had the joy of interacting with the books and related products.

Those who love the book, inevitably also grow to love the other products affiliated with the Loving Me Series: the music, the clothing, the hair accessories, and the videos that have all been carefully designed to speak directly to the hearts of young readers, and capture the joy for their parents and loved ones as well, as they enjoy the stories together.

Young Angelot was a constant reader, a creative soul, and a socially-conscious citizen who developed a particular love for the writing of Eric Jerome Dickey and Beverly Jenkins. Admiring the ways in which writers infused their stories with cultural familiarity, messages of hope, and beautiful passages, she internalized their expert examples when she began to craft her own stories later in life.


Note from Dr. Welsing
An esteemed author, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, had even expressed interest in working with the stories of Ms. Ndongmo, until an unexpected silence fell upon their communication. When hearing that Dr. Welsing had passed away, Angelot was affected by the loss and made sure to keep the beautiful handwritten letter she received. A token she still treasures dearly.

Her influences come from those with not only a gift for the written word, but also the artists who speak deeper than the words themselves. Those who lead by example, and who demonstrate professionalism along with passion in their lives as well as their works. When selecting artists to work with for product design, songwriting, publication, and collaborative events, Angelot ensures that not only is she surrounded by those on a similar mission, but also that she is able to contribute to the goals and objectives of those around her.

"Children are the soul of our community, and anything we can do to enrich their lives and fill them with love and self-esteem is valuable," said Ms. Ndongmo. "The Loving Me Series is rooted in love and hope for the future. It is my life's joy to know that I am helping to provide fundamental messages of pride and strength to the generations that are now coming of age."

The books of the Loving Me Series, and the related products and passions connected to this influential brand of children's messaging are ten years into the game, but also just beginning a magnificent trajectory of stories and an expanding platform that has the potential to impact children and their families for decades to come.

The books were just the starting point of the growing multimedia network of products and visuals in support of young readers and their best interests. There are colouring pages, songs, videos, hair products, and a few particularly special visuals available online including this culturally vibrant version of the "Finger Family Song" available on the Loving Me Series channel:

The audio for the "Loving Me Song" is available via iTunes, as well as in video form:

Industry experts, literary gurus, and community members have all been responsive to the messaging and authentic soulful energy behind the Loving Me Series and its related products. Expressing how important the visuals are for young Black children, and also recapping how young ones have requested and rejoiced at the book's products, it is no surprise that the impact of this Series is increasing and spreading love beyond the community bookstores (like the legendary Knowledge Bookstore in Brampton, Ontario) where the stories were first nourished and influenced.

What's next for the Loving Me Series? Another benefit of being a content creator in our current era of online flexibility in addition to literary creativity, is that the boundaries of reaching children around the world are fluid. While the messaging of "Loving Me" and "Boy! I Am Loving Me" are rooted in North American culture, they are transferable to children in the West Indies, in the continental Africa, or even across Europe as the reflections of self and the message of love are indeed universal.

"Storytelling is one of the greatest treasures of the African culture, and across the diaspora," said Ms. Ndongmo. "As I continue to tell stories through the Loving Me Series and our related products, I truly hope that this will have a lasting impact on young readers and that they will take these message of self love and community pride into their daily lives, into their own work, and ensure that our young people continue to walk proud and exhibit love."

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