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something i’ve been meaning to tell you

I had a series of entries (present tense, in fact — I still have them tucked away) that I meant to post several weeks ago, but a series of unfortunate events made for very poor timing, and I decided to put everything on pause for a while. Sort of like that day, in the summer of ’99, when I decided to wear my Dead Kennedy’s t-shirt to the beach and, one by one, watched strangers’ faces twist with horror as I walked by. I hadn’t read the news yet, see.

Some housekeeping:

1. The comments section actually works now. So, now you can speak your mind, rather than bottling it all up. Throw some marbles, you’ll feel better.

2. If you went to Oakwood in the mid 90s, chances are you crossed paths with Devyani Saltzman at one point or another. I always assumed that she would go on to do amazing things, and looks like my gut feeling was bang-on. Leafing through the Toronto Star this morning, I came across a half-page article about her new book. Wow! Devy, if you happen to google yourself and stumble across this entry, please get at me. We’ve got a million things to talk about.

3. “A Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is not about making the hemisphere safe for capitalists. It is about providing opportunities for our workers, and better goods and services for our consumers, from the bottom rung of the income ladder to the top. Freer and fairer trade will lift more human beings out of poverty than all of the assistance programs in the world combined.” If that’s not a capitalist statement, I don’t know what is.

4. These race riots recall those race riots, as well as this discussion of race riots in general.

5. Marc André Debruyne is my favourite video director of the week. Check the one he did for Arabesque right here. The girls are kind of pffft but the esthetics are wicked.

Go forth and do rap things.

special herbs, strange brews, love is always in the air

It’s just the right weather for Metal Fingers and Dr. Octagon. Picked up Octagonecologyst at Soundscapes on an impulse buy (I was killing time on College Street, and I really should have known better than to walk into a music shop with my bank card) to replace the copy that got teefed three or four years ago. It’s still amazing and creepy.

All these off-kilter sounds in my ears must be making me batty, because for two nights in a row I’ve had dying dreams. First, I dreamt I was stuck in Southern California — not in LA, somewhere further along the coast — watching as a tidal wave headed for the shore. Taking shelter in a hotel, one side of the building got pounded by wave after wave of ocean; on the other side, I looked out to see a vast expanse of dry, cracked land, where bulldozers paced and scraped at dust. I woke up jittery. My more recent dream was even sharper on the details. I was with a group of people and we were all preparing to die. I pressed my fingers to “seal” the four corners on a sheet of paper, lay myself gently on the ground, and actually felt myself dying, die, dead. Felt it. This has never every happened before. I always wake up before the actual fizzle-and-fade part in the dream, always. I’m such a superstitious fraidycat that I hate to even think about death… but both in the dream and as I woke up, I felt perfectly calm. To all my dream analyzers and psychic palm readers — what does this mean? Tell me.

* * *

My overactive imagination matches my recent pace of life, music and wild vibes in the air, and I’ve been giddy with so much creativity. Last weekend’s Face To The Sun Festival was mostly wonderful, very much due to the hard work of Kamau, Spin, Motion, Rachel Flood, John Akpata, Rafeef, Heron Jonse, Isis, Shauntay Grant, Skeena Reece, Afrakaren, Shane Koyczan, our workshop participants and performers, Culture Shock kings Gavin, Dave and Dalton, and every single person that packed into the Lakeside Terrace Friday night, spilling over into the hall and through the patio doors. That was beautiful.

I managed to record part of the show and thought it might be nice to post two of the performances in full. At the risk of messing up my bandwith, here you go, fuzzy sound quality and all:

1. Face To The Sun, September 30 2005 – Skeena Reece

2. Face To The Sun, September 30 2005 – Shane Koyczan

Over the course of this past week or so I’ve been lucky enough to take in performances by some lovely, lovely talents, including two live sets featuring Miss Zaki Ibrahim. She’s got a full band together, composed of some of Toronto’s finest players, and her endearingly shy stage presence has exploded into something really special. It’s like in The Incredibles when they had to hide their super powers for years, UNTIL the day came when they could let their true essence shine through. She’ll be playing plenty shows in the next while, I’m sure. Check for her.

My other favourite South Africans — and four of the most hilarious cats I’ve ever known — are Tumi and the Volume, already come and gone as their second Canadian tour came to a close a few days ago. It was a pleasure to see them live again… and again and again. The new album is stunning, and although I don’t know the names of any of the songs, and I have no idea when it’ll be officially released, I’ll give you a very limited sneak two-track peek:

“you need a pharmacist, not some conscious shit/ turn the music down, talk to your pops a bit”

“i ain’t sayin shit aboot canadians, but baby look/ i wouldn’t touch them girls with an 80 foot javelin”

Limited time offer. The older, live album, “At The Bassline,” is available through Distict Six music. Treat yourself.

And finally, peace to Never Forgive Action for bringing in Prince Paul. He played it right. Goodness gracious, what a stellar DJ set. It was like living through the best parts of the 90s… FOR THE FIRST TIME. I’ve been feeling lately that I might like to slip into hibernation soon, just to take a break from late nights and blaring speakers, but Saturday night at the Gypsy instilled some new spirit into clublife for me. A pile of people that wouldn’t normally come out for a hip hop weekly or monthly, all dancing together, pounding on the walls in unison as ten, twenty, one hundred of their favourite songs flowed through the room in the most perfect sequence. I saw plenty goofy, happy grins, and the vibe was infectious.

When’s the last time music made you feel that good?

got melanin?

First things first, you’ve got to come to this. Don’t make excuses. You’re cominnng. It’s part of the giant Culture Shock shebang that’s taking over Harbourfront all that weekend, and it’s going to be SLAMMIN. Krump sessions meet Tumi and the Volume meet international doc screenings meet live aerosol demonstrations and did you say this is all FREE?! Bring your mom! Tell your cousin! There’s rumours of a bush party somewhere in there too, but you’ll have to come find that out for yourself.

Apart from planning this monstrous (and wonderful) poetry festival, I’ve been filling my minutes and hours with school. Yup. I’m back in school. Starting my third week of classes. Some of my initial excitement has started to fade, and all the reasons why I couldn’t wait to get out of university a year and a half ago have begun to resurface. The people in my courses seem pretty bent on discussing how guilty they feel for being in a university setting and addressing their privilege, which is something I never once encountered during undergrad at my 99%-rich-white school. You’d think this might be refreshing, but it’s actually becoming a drag. They don’t actually address their privilege, they just whine about it… as though they are victims of privilege. Also a drag: a comment one of the older ladies in my Popular Education course let fly about how some days she feels privileged for being able to afford university, and other days, when she doesn’t have tokens for the bus, she’s not privileged. I wanted to explain to her that privilege doesn’t vary like weather–it’s more like climate. If you’re tropical, I don’t care how chilly it felt that one time in the rain two weeks ago, I see palm trees and you’re still fucking tropical. I may wind up playing the role of obnoxious, angry POC loudmouth at some point, it looks like.

In rap news, congratulations to Eternia on her video release and upcoming album release! Long time coming! Please check “Evidence” when it hits a video channel near you, if you still peep channels of that sort. I’m the sucka in yella, and Mindbender‘s the (uncharacteristically) agitated badass.

Off to speak with Aceyalone for the first time in a few minutes. I think the world of him (on wax), and I’m always nervous about walking into an interview situation with such high expectations. Plenty more to say, but not much time to say it in. Come to Culture Shock next weekend. Listen to Haiku D’Etat. Brush your teeth. My comments feature refuses to work, no matter how much Movable Type tweaking I do, so either hold your thoughts or email me.

Oh, and the new Pocket Dwellers album is beautiful.

Wordemup.

i was always told to act my age, not my culture

My “friendster” horoscope for today reads:

Putting off until tomorrow what you need to do right now will just cause a big headache in perpetuity. So take a deep breath and dive into the tasks at hand before they get out of hand.

This could may as well have been my personal (sheepish) mantra these past many months, as I’ve watched project after project pile up, deadlines pass, personal goals fizzle, etc. This website in particular (along with the portfolio site, which has been “coming soon” for an eternity) is a perfect example. I’ll admit, when I first started posting in here, I wasn’t quite ready to go public with it. I had set this up mainly as a forum for my own ramblings, observations, and for mini-articles and editorials that don’t quite fit in with any particular magazine. Anyway, sometime in late May, when I was still getting into the swing of things, I got linked by a certain somebody, which then led to another linking by another blogging sombody. Well. My hits went through the roof, I froze up like a doe in some SUV headlights, and a huge case of shyness kicked me in the bamsee. By now the attention has died down, the circus has left town, and I feel a little more at ease about crawling out from under my rock. Stretch and yawn, let’s get down to business.

* * * * *

“Is Ciara a MAN????? PLEASE ANSWER ME BACK!!!!!” [ this shit is funny as hell. ]

I hesitate to say that it’s because I’m getting older, but something about the youth of today leaves me in a state of despair.

Earlier this month I put together a series of day-long workshops on independent journalism, blogging (heh), podcasting (can we please come up with a better term?) and interviewing skills for a Parkdale-based programme for young women. For several sticky summer afternoons I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with the charms of these strong ladies, ages varying from 11 to 17, and in the process learned a few things about how distanced we are from eachother’s views of hip hop.

At one point during our first day together, I picked their brains for issues and subjects that really matter to them, with music, family and friends topped the collective list. Hip hop being the overwhelming favourite genre, we started to go through the names of some of their favourite artists. The conversation turned to Bow Wow, his girlfriend Ciara (“she’s a guy, I swear it, she even admitted it on Oprah”), and somewhere in that mix one of the girls tossed in a reference to Nas being “old school” but still good. They loved Game’s “400 bars” and anything related to dissing 50 Cent (“he’s so fake”). They loooooved Flow 93.5, “Toronto’s Urban FM”. And you know, I just had to ask:

“Are there any Canadian artists you like?”

I got a round of blank stares. They cracked jokes about Keisha Chanté and Shawn Desman, conceding finally that they had heard of Kardinal Offishall, but didn’t really know his songs. I pressed them for more names, but no dice.

If you know me, you know I could give two sheeaaats about the big names, about the XXL covers, or about BET Award Nominees of the world. I don’t do celebrity interviews because they don’t interest me. Personally and professionally, I’m more about bigging up my community and building a sustainable local scene, above and beyond anything else. I spent years on the East Coast booking tours, promoting shows, and co-hosting and DJing a weekly radio show — all in the name of supporting independent hip hop. Dang it, I even put out an independent Canadian hip hop sampler back in the day! I was serious.

Since moving back to Toronto last year, I’ve remained pretty quiet on the scene. I don’t promote, I don’t DJ, I don’t even dance much anymore — I just write. What frustrates me is that, in my dealings out East and in my dealings with the West (because, geography be damned, Atlantic and Pacific-region hip hop is far more linked than most Toronto heads even realise), I always found a healthy appreciation of and support for local, independent talent. I used to hitchhike to Halifax on the weekends, and I remember catching underage kids — the same age as these girls in Toronto — trying to sneak into the indie open mics and weekly showcases. If you asked them who their favourite DJ or emcee was, they would have no doubt named someone Nova Scotian in their top ten. Does that happen here? Do the Flow-listening, Much Vibe-watching youth of this city know their local emcees, DJs, producers, etc?

I talked to Mindbender about this not too long ago (for a CBC feature which may never see the light of day, a.k.a. please solve your labour issues, folks) and he had some important points to raise:

Mindbender: You know, it is the Screwface Capital, and it really is a city with world-class talent and small-town support. There’s no excuse for the industry to be as bad as it is here.Me: Is it because people are hesitant to support people they don’t know?

Mindbender: No, I don’t think that’s a good excuse, because the true essence of hip hop is support your own, support your neighbourhood. Everywhere in Brooklyn, people are like “Brooklyn Brooklyn! This is my boy off the block!’ But Toronto doesn’t have that. Every other city, from Compton to New Orleans, these hip hoppers loved where they came from, and it all started with their cities bringing them up, and then they went national. But that doesn’t happen in Toronto or in Canada.

It’s a shame when you think of Canadian talent and Canadian potential as a whole, but looking specifically at Toronto, it just breaks my heart. There are more up-and-coming young stars here than I can count. I give thanks to the many hip hop rec centers, drop-in programmes, and open mic nights that have given many of these youth a place to go, share what they’ve got, and open up to new skills, influences and collaborations. It’s a beautiful thing to behold how much music and expression is coming out of the different corners of Toronto. Even if many of these cats never make it as far as getting major radio rotation or winning hit status with their songs, it is still really important that this music is being created. How polished or how marketable it is doesn’t matter. Creation — that’s the point. That’s how you build a community, a history, a foundation for all the performers and composers and writers and artists to come.

And so I come back to these half-dozen young girls in Parkdale. Whether they realise it or not, they are the target audience for the Flow 93.5 FMs and the 106 & Parks. They’ve probably never listened to an hour of local hip hop programming on CKLN or CIUT in their lives. It took them a good ten minutes to come up with the name of ONE homegrown hip hop artist, and even then could not name a single one of his songs.

Tremendous strides have been made in the past few years in terms of raising local consciousness, stirring up some north-of-that-border pride, starting to build a network, and laying down some independent-minded economic strategies. I won’t argue with that. But if Flow can loop tracks by Rochester or Bishop or whichever hiphopcanadadotcom artist as much as they do, and it still isn’t making any sort of impact on their prime target audience, then we’ve got to reassess our approach and come at it a different way.

Oh, and then there’s this: the main director in charge of youth programming at this particular community center in Parkdale happens to be none other than Theology 3, “your favourite emcee’s favourite emcee’s favourite emcee.” You want to talk about hometown pride and disconnection? These girls see him every day in the centre, yet have no idea what he’s about. Now that’s about as shameful as all them Ciara rumours. Tsk tsk.

* * * * *

FINALLY! A Podcast Worth Listening To!

Speaking of CKLN, I’d like to give a nice big pound to The Real Frequency for finally providing their laziest fans (i.e. me) with a way to download individually archived shows. I know they’ve had their timeslot on Flow for months now, but I don’t know when it is, and I can’t be bothered to remember anyway. I still get that tingling feeling every Saturday afternoon, like I’m missing out on my weekly dose of Arcee ramblings and rap gossip, and I beeline to my radio to tune in. No dice. Someday soon I’ll visit them at their new commercial FM digs, but until then, here are four options for getting that Real-Real-Real fixxx:

http://www.podcastingnews.com/details/therealfrequency.podbus.com/view.htm
http://www.podcastpickle.com/casts/?1981
http://www.podcast.net/show/57914
http://www.getapodcast.com/podcast553.aspx

Until next time, keep awwwwwwwwn…

and we don’t dance neither

New article on Skratch Bastid up here, from the June issue of Exclaim!. The print version comes with a half-page closeup of homeboy’s face. Go clip that for your little sister’s locker.

Bastid is one of my favourite DJs, both for his mixtapes and for his live performances. He was one of the first people I met in Halifax when I first made my big move to the East Coast, and every single club or party set I hit up – from posh nightclub to grimy beer-soaked New Brunswick hole – Bastid always managed to work the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

He was in Toronto last weekend to play a few shows, and I caught his last gig on Saturday night – LOADED @ System Soundbar. It was a dope set, and I wiled out to his famous M.O.P. routine, wishing desperately that we were in some other city, any city, anywhere but Toronto. Because if we had been in Halifax, or Moncton, or even bloody Montreal, more people would have been dancing. There were three of us on the dancefloor Saturday night, and the rest of the crowd was leaned up against the wall or slumped in a chair, perfecting their screwface. Pffft.

When Toronto goes out to a hip hop show (or rock show, for that matter), Toronto does not dance. There’s this move we seem to have mastered that’s called the Cross-Your-Arms-And-Fake-Like-Rigor-Mortis, and it can be applied to any live bassline, riff, sax solo, scratch routine, triple encore, etc. We’re unmovable. It’s not like we don’t love great dance music – some of the premier dance music talents have come out of this city. Some acts, like the Pocket Dwellers, have even made careers out of making audiences sweaty. But still – for every person dancing, there are at least ten more doing the Carebear Stare. The hip hop crowd appreciates dance, and at any given show you’ll find an enthusiastic crowd (mostly still wearing the screwface) gathered around the one or two b-boy/b-girl circles that invariably form. So why is it that we love to watch good dance, we know good dance, but we’re so hesitant to un-cross our arms and dance ourselves? Regular dance nights like Souled Out or Love Movement don’t count. I’m talking about when you go to check your favourite emcee or a big-name DJ rock a club and you act like the jams that make you go co-co bananas through your headphones don’t have an affect once you’re in public. What is this?

In studying anthropology and migration, I’ve learned about how we’re losing an alarming number of languages with each ensuing generation. A language can only survive if it is passed down and used actively; once it drops from regular use, it becomes extinct. I worry that the same thing may be happening with dance. If we forget what it feels like to throw our hands up at a concert, to sway our hips, to stomp our feet, to tear our shirt off and wave it around our head like a helicopter – if we forget how to show a performer appreciation by having a good time, what sort of future can we look forward to? I’m being serious. I can see the same Rigor-Mortis stance seeping onto the stage; where someone who’s been around for a decade or more, like Roam or Fatski or N.I.Gel, will jump up in front of an audience, strike up a rapport and have a good time, the newest emcees and crews coming up don’t seem to want to crack a smile at all. They sulk and they pose, and it becomes a case of a screwface performer looking back at dozens of other mirrored screwface expressions, and everybody’s too concerned with proving something to have a good time. Body language speaks volumes for a person’s comfort level and how they regard themselves, and Toronto has got some major demons to deal with.