By Dwain Wellington Rattray
Pride Contributing Editor
Intertwined in Torontonian society, Jamaican culture is no stranger to the city that has been the stage for exploring all aspects of a rich heritage for the past 23 years. The Toronto International Jamaica Day Celebration – or simply Jamaica Day, as many call it – is a cornucopia of all things Jamaican, attended every year by more than 10,000 people. Since 1991 Cornel Davis and his team have used this forum to not only entertain, but to highlight established and showcase new artists. This year the tradition continues from 10:00am to 10:00pm on Saturday, July 17, at Wild Water Kingdom in Brampton.
Davis says he is “excited to share a rich heritage with everyone in attendance.” Jamaica Day is mandated to “Promote Jamaican culture with a particular emphasis on Jamaican music, dance, food, dramatic arts and visual arts in a family friendly environment.” What is also true is that organizers are keen to preserve Jamaican roots in this sector of the Jamaican diaspora by, “Supporting the community’s senior citizens as a way of preserving and fostering the cultural heritage in Ontario.”
Sunrise Talent Development Program (S.T.D.P) who presents the Annual Toronto International Jamaica Day says, “We have designed a year that will make a mark for years to come in how committed we are to continue our focus in the culture of clean Caribbean music by encouraging patrons to gather in peace, love and unity.”
In keeping with what has become the norm for the celebration, the event will play host to a wide array of artists. Determined to have a piece of The Land of Wood and Water for every varied taste, Davis continues the often difficult task of booking diverse, top acts. He goes on to say that, “Over the years, Jamaican artists that have performed for us, have told others about Jamaica Day.” Subsequently, artists and various acts now look forward to this showcase.
Whether it’s Conscious Reggae, Dancehall, Old Time Reggae or Jamaican/Reggae Gospel, the music of the largest English speaking Caribbean nation invokes a movement of the hips, a bobbing of the head or a tapping of the feet. It is perhaps the infusion of that rhythmical DNA, acting as a fervent pulse that allows Davis to continue the task of sharing a slice of Jamaica for over two decades; A slice of a resilient people with a penchant for prayer, who could easily sing “If Jah is standing by my side, then why should I be afraid of the pestilence that crawleth by night?” These lyrics from the Jamaican artist Tony Rebel’s If Jah Is Standing By My Side epitomize the sentiment of many in the Jamaican population – at home and throughout the Jamaican diaspora. It is fitting then that the Reggae Icon should be the latest headliner for Jamaica Day.
Initially a singer appearing as Papa Tony or Tony Ranking in local Jamaican talent contests and on sound systems, Tony Rebel’s first release was the single Casino that appeared in 1988 on the MGB record label. His 1990 hit Fresh Vegetable established a sing-jay style of delivery that continues to thrill audiences worldwide.
Columbia Records released his 1993 predominantly reggae fusion album Vibes of the Times. It spawned some of Tony Rebel’s more well-known international singles such as the title track Vibes of the Times and Nazerite Vow. In 1994 Rebel held a reggae festival named Rebel Salute in Mandeville, Jamaica, which has developed into an annual event through his production company, Flames Productions, in celebration of his birthday.
One of the few dreadlocked cultural deejays of the ragga era, the world renowned and multi-award winner “promises to bring nothing but the best in sweat reggae music for the families attending.” With 11 albums spanning a quarter century, the 51 year old is sure to thrill in classic Tony Rebel style.
Also set to perform is fast-rising Gospel Artist Patrick Blair. Composing and writing music not only for himself, but also other artists, he has released his freshman project Peace and Love. Blair has shared the stage with several artists including, Sanchez, Prof. Nutts, Prodigal, Min. Goddy Goddy, Sherwin Gardner, Lt. Stitchie, Marvia Providence, Papa San and George Banton. His energetic performance must be experienced to be fully appreciated – and what an experience the audience will have!
Great music will be further represented by Stevie Face. Crooning his way across Gospel and Lover’s Rock, Face has under his belt performances at Reggae Sunsplash, the Luther Vandross Power of Love concert, Eastfest, Summer Sizzle and Ghetto Jamboree. He now adds Toronto International Jamaica Day to his list of impressive venues.
Veteran entertainer Little John will treat the crowd to a sound not often heard in today’s fast paced world. Having begun performing at the age of nine, the forty-three year old is regarded by some as the first dancehall singer, known for his ability to create lyrics over any backing track. His smooth sound and easy delivery is will transport listeners to a more calm time along the musical wave.
Among the current wave of quality musicians is Steele. Having shared the stage with some of reggae’s most respected artists, such as Freddie McGregor, Rita Marley, Tony Rebel, Sanchez, Luciano, and Queen Ifrica, Steele has made an indelible mark on the music industry. The singer is an accomplished musician, songwriter, and producer who has earned a reputation as a perfectionist with his professional approach to his music. The Canadian artist was awarded with the first Irie Music Award for Male Artist of the Year in 2011, followed in the same year with his JUNO nomination for his single, Woman. Steele is expected to deliver a heartfelt performance at Wild Water Kingdom.
Each year the Jamaica Day team “present special awards to individuals who display commitment and dedication towards the reggae music industry.” Some 2013 recipients are: Tony Rebel, Legend Music Award; Little John, Lifetime Achievement Music Award; and Patrick Blair, Legend Gospel Music Award.
Emceed by Sir B (CHRY 105.5 FM Deejay), Karlene Nation (CTV Reporter / Producer), and Nathan Downer (CP24 Reporter / Anchor), the 2013 Toronto International Jamaica Day Celebration is slated to be an experience that can be had no other place in the country. The team says they want to, “invite the community at large to attend this family oriented day of celebration and fun activities and experience a piece of Jamaica for a day.”