• Aroni Awards; inspiring and building our community

    5 years ago I attended an award show which embodied a unique sense of family, community and inspiration, it was the Aroni Awards; a show created to honour the memory of Aron Haile. An accomplished entrepreneur and software developer, Aron died tragically at the age of 30 in an accident in Eritea.

    Aron was known in the community for his willingness to mentor, which provided him with many meaningful relationships while giving back to his community.

    Honouring a young man taken all too soon, the Aroni awards standout because where many award shows may celebrate a body of work that encompasses a lifetime, the Aroni’s recognize not only lifelong work but also those in the infancy of their community activism.

    After 5 years the show has garnered a reputation for its innovative approach and youthful energy, and this year was no exception. The showcased its diversity, through its awardees, sponsors and volunteers.

    This year’s recipients included Aliyana Reshamwalla who at 5 years old was being honoured for her community service. She also deserves special mention for being the most adorable recipient of the evening. After spending 3 years in Sick kids hospital, Aliyana has gone on to organize fundraisers for Haiti and Pakistan disaster victims. Her story was not only inspirational but a great reminder that recognizing community spirit should not be dependant on a long list of accomplishments.

    Also honoured was female entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Belinda Barrocks. She was given the Youth & Entreprenurship award, because of her work mentoring teenagers. Her acceptance speech was a beautiful tribute to her family, her faith and the power of believing in your dreams.

    Not only were the recipients showcased but sponsors from the community. One standout sponsor was Dreammaker Realty, a Community brokerage firm, committed to building generational wealth in marginalized communities.

    Dreammaker Brand and Community development executive, Ike Okafor, expressed why it was important for his firm to support the Aronis this year.

    “The demographic they’re honouring, speaks to the vision of the organizers. A critical aspect of mentoring is acknowledging the work of the youth in our community. Acknowledgement is important for the community and for the city because it is not only empowering our community but others.”

    Aron Haile exemplified the best our community has to offer, through his selflessness and hard work, and thanks to the Aroni Awards his memory and these leadership qualities will continue to thrive.

  • Exclusive interview with the Grammy and Juno award-winning chanter/songwriter Dan Hill

    Although Mr. Dan Hill doesn’t need any introduction, in case you have been living in another planet, allow us to present a résumé of his professional accomplishments. Mr. Daniel Grafton Hill IV was born in Toronto (Ontario, Canada) the 3rd of June 1954 to American parents who, as an interracial couple, moved to Canada to escape the twin scourges of racism (including laws against miscegenation) and McCarthyism. The couple also believed at the time that Canada provided a better environment to raise their family. The internationally renowned artist Dan Hill comes from a prominent family. His late father, Daniel G. Hill III was a social scientist and public servant. Before he came to Canada, he collaborated in the U.S. with the late eminent American sociologist E.  Franklin Frazier.

    Dan Hill’s father became in 1962 the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the first black in the country to hold this position. Mr. Hill Sr., Ombudsman for Ontario was called Canada’s father of human rights. His wife, Donna Hill, was also a human rights activist when she was active.  Daniel Grafton Hill’s brother, Lawrence Hill, is a prominent writer. His sister, Karen Hill, is an authoress and a poetress. 

    Dan Hill [IV] is ranked among the world’s elite singers/songwriters; he is also a musician.  He plays piano and guitar. As a teenager, he admired artists such as Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. He began writing songs at the tender age of 14. He started to play professionally in small gatherings and coffee houses by the time he was 17. Two years later he signed with GRT Records in Canada and began his quick rise to fame.

    Hill became popular in North America after the release of his first album entitled Dan Hill in 1975. The song from this album “You Make Me Want To Be” was a hit in Canada. In 1977, Hill co-wrote his mega hit “Sometimes When We Touch” with Barry Mann ; he was just 23 years old. The popularity of “Sometimes When We Touch” made Dan Hill one of the youngest successful songwriters in the history of the music industry. This song became a Top Ten smash hit in the U.S. and an international success. This single went Gold in Canada. 

    “Sometimes When We Touch” was the first co-writing experience for Dan Hill.  He was named Top New Male Vocalist in both Cashbox and Record World. He won Juno awards for Composer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. “Sometimes When We Touch” also earned him his first Grammy nomination in 1979 for male vocalist of the year. The song was subsequently covered by Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Newton and Tina Turner.  It is among the most covered pop songs of all time.  The success of the song resulted in appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show and other shows. In 1985, Dan Hill was one of the many Canadian performers to appear on the benefit single "Tears Are Not Enough" by Northern Lights.

    Dan Hill made a come back in 1987 with another Top Ten hit “Can’t We Try”, a duet with Vonda Sheppard followed in 1988 with “Never Thought (That I Could Love)” which was number one on the charts.  Since then, his work has appeared on Billboard’s adult contemporary charts. A road trip to a Hill concert was the subject of the 1994 Canadian comedy film, South of Wawa. In 1997, Hill won a Grammy Award for co-writing and co-producing the song “Seduces Me” from Céline Dion’s breakthrough 1996 album Falling Into You (which sold over 32 millions albums). “Seduces Me” was re-released on Dion’s Collectors Series in 2004. It is important to note that in several concerts and interviews, Céline Dion mentioned that her favourite song from Falling Into You was Dan Hill’s “Seduces Me”. This single was written with John Sheard and co-produced by John Jones and Rick Hahn. In 1997, “Love of My Life” rose to number one on the U.S. country charts. In November of the same year, Dan Hill received The Harold Moon Award, a prestigious honor bestowed on Canadian songwriters for remarkable international contributions in songwriting. In 1999, prolific artists such as the R&B singer Deborah Cox collaborated on Dan Hill’s CD Love of My Life (The Best of Dan Hill).

    Dan Hill’s song “I Do (Cherish You)” was recorded by the pop group 98 Degrees and was featured in the worldwide hit movie Notting Hill (which starred Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant).  Dan Hill chanted the title song “It’s a Long Road” from Sylvester Stallone’s movie First Blood and the theme song from Rambo I. Hill has licensed his songs for countless other Hollywood movies such as The Phantom of the opera.

    Dan Hill’s work is eclectic, his songs have made it to country music charts, pop charts, and so on. The chanter also has his own U.S. label. His work has resulted in sales of over 100 million albums.  Hill has also written a best selling novel Comeback and a candid memoir I Am My Father’s Son:  A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness, published by Harper Collins. The book is dedicated to his late father, Daniel (Grafton) Hill III and to his mother Donna Mae Hill.  The Canadian magazine Now classified I Am My Father’s Son among the top 10 books of the year after its release. It recounts Dan Hill’s childhood and his complex relationship with his late father, as well as parents’ expectations of their children, his career as a performer and songwriter, his search for identity.  In essence, it is Hill’s inside look at growing up as a biracial child in Canada.  Many other subjects are covered in the book and taboos are wrecked such as ageism in the music business with all the complexities in this changing industry.  Thus, the book offers the reader an introspective insight into the artist’s personal and professional life.  On the cover of the memoir is a powerful and lovely picture of a child’s hand holding his father’s index finger. I Am My Father’s Son is a very well written memoir. The future readers will be deeply touched by the content. This intense, critically acclaimed book illustrates the universal relationship between fathers and sons. The author, Dan Hill is a very good story teller with a wonderful sense of humour.  He penned also several articles for prominent media settings such as the news magazine Maclean’s.

    When Dan Hill stops recording and performing to concentrate solely on writing for other acts, he resolves to never again play his songs and talk about his career except when he was working.  But he broke his promise and played one last song for his father the month before he went into his last coma. The song which has the same title as his book, “I Am My Father’s son”, is from his latest album, Intimate , released in 2010. The seamless single has power and grandeur; treats the complex father-son relationship with authenticity and it talks about forgiveness.  The album Intimate unites anew producers Matthew McCauley and Fred Mollin both working with Dan Hill for the first time since 1978. Together, the trio produced Dan''s first four platinum-selling albums. On Intimate, listeners will discover a great new acoustic version of his classic song “Sometimes When We Touch”.

    In spite of all his accomplishments, Dan Hill remains a down-to-earth and generous man who gives back to the community. For instance, he gives workshops to aspiring songwriters children across Canada.  He also devotes his time to social causes.  For example, he participated in a fundraising concert for Haïti following the devastating earthquake on the 12th of January 2010. In addition, as a community ambassador, Dan is a supporter of the Canadian Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.ca). The disease affects more than two million Canadians and an estimated 246 million people globally, as well as Dan''s grandfather, father, brother and himself. The latter was recently involved in a federal initiative to expand diabetes research with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canada.

    Dan Hill nearly lost his son to gang violence and has become involved in Stop the Violence (www.stoptheviolence.ca/index.php?id=8). He is also dedicating much of his time to supporting World Vision (www.worldvision.ca), which works with children, families and communities to overcome poverty.

    To sum up, Dan Hill is a legendary talented and versatile artist with more than 30 years in the music business. His body of work draws on his personal experience and themes which touch his heart.  This is evident in his songs such as “McCarthy’s Day”, “Africville Skies” or “I Am My Father’s Son” to name a few. Throughout his career, Hill has earned  four number one songs released twelve top ten records, won a Grammy Award, five Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy), four platinum albums in Canada, two gold albums (also in Canada), etc. It is important to note that Dan Hill is one of the few artists in North America who was granted a Grammy and five Juno awards among several other distinctions. It is a rare accomplishment. His songs have been performed by numerous top artists such as Céline Dion, George Benson, the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, Michael Bolton, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Britney Spears, Alan Jackson, Jully Black and others.

    Dan  Hill, the “Picasso of songwriting” is one of the most respected and accomplished high-caliber artists in the music industry. On a more personal level, he lives in Ontario (Canada) with his wife, an accomplished barrister, Beverly Chapin-Hill.  The couple has one son.  Mr.  Hill and his spouse have written two songs, “Can’t We Try” and “(Can This Be) Real Love”.  On August 23, 2010 we had the honor to speak to Mr.  Dan Hill who gave among other things priceless advice for aspirants who wish to follow in his footstep.  The interview was conducted in Canada by the columnist of Afrotoronto, Patricia Turnier, also Editress-in-Chief of www.megadiversities.com.

    Patricia Turnier talks to Dan Hill:

    P. T.  What made you decide to go public with your life story which focuses on your relationship with your late father? Was it a cathartic and healing experience for you to write your memoir I Am My Father’s Son?

    D.H.  When my father died, for the first time in my life I couldn’t write songs.  I was always writing songs since I was 14.  They always came easily to me.  I was so broken hearted that for the first time I was paralysed in the figurative sense, which prevented me from composing songs.  It was a dire period of my life.  Nevertheless, I always turned to songwriting when I was emotionally distressed or had upheavals in my life because it helps me cope with my feelings.  But for some reason, things were different when I lost my father.

    When my dad passed away, I realised that I was writing practically all my life to get his attention and approval.  When he died, I didn’t feel the need to pen because I could not try to impress him anymore.  So, I needed to take somewhere all the creative energy that I had inside of me.  This is how I realised that I should write a book, about my dad and me, our parallel lives, what made the man, my father…  It was a way to fill the void of not being able to write songs.  The more I wrote, the more intense and powerful it became.  The story had a grip on me and it gathered momentum.

    P.T.  In your book, you talk about your mixed heritage.  As a biracial individual, did you go through an identity crisis when you were younger?  If so, how did you overcome this?

    D.H.  I did go through an identity crisis based on my biracial background.  I grew up in an almost totally white neighborhood.  At some point, it was really hard for me and I even went through a period of self-locking and soul-searching.  I had to find out where I did fit in with my mixed heritage.  I overcame this issue by writing about it through prose, such as articles and songs.

    P.T.  You began to write songs at a young age, you were 14 years old.  Did you have at that time songwriters you looked up to?

    D.H.    Music is my first love and I grew up with it which has always been part of my family.  There was always music in my house.  My father had a wonderful singing voice.  All the time, he played great music and I heard great singers through him such as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and so on.  In itself, it was a wonderful learning experience which was an important part of my knowledge in the artistic arena.  I consider myself a music lover. Music has always been part of my life as long as I can remember.  I often sang to the beautiful tunes that my parents loved.  The way that my mother and my father responded to music with joy was an inspiration for me.  In other words, my family provided me an important musical influence.  This rich experience allowed me later to develop and perfect my style in the artistic realm.

    P.T.  In your brother’s (Lawrence Hill) book Black Berry, Sweet Juice, a best-seller in Canada, we learn that your late father had an amazing voice and you just spoke about it in answering my last question.  Was he one of the earliest people in your life who inspired you to become a chanter?

    D.H.   Yes, definitely.  He sang a lot and he had so much joy doing it.  He really had a beautiful voice.  I think unconsciously it inspired me to embrace a singing career.  I loved watching him sing which made him very happy.

    P.T.  Do you know if it was a dream of your father to become a singer when he was younger and did he decide to suppress this desire because he thought it was unrealistic?

    D.H.  It was never a dream of my father.  His singing was a hobby for him.  If we look into his background, his father was also into music; he sang, wrote songs, played many instruments.  However, the tradition in the Hill family is academic with earning Ph.Ds.  So, he followed this tradition of seeking a higher level education.

    P.T.  Since your teenage years, you started to write essays, short stories, poetry and articles.  Do you think that having the ability to write poetry is one of the greatest assets to become an excellent songwriter?

    D.H.  It is important to have the ability to express yourself with written words. You have to know how to be articulate. It really helps as a songwriter. Since my childhood, I was surrounded by people in my family who were writing. I had to pen letters and so on to relatives.  My parents and my grandfathers wrote books. Being in this kind of intellectual environment was a second nature for me.  Therefore, songwriting is very easy for me. I have a strong voice and I master some instruments such as the guitar. I think that having a training of different styles (poetry, prose) is an excellent basis to become a great songwriter. Having other abilities as a vocalist or as a musician is another great credential for songwriting.

    P.T.  What is your favourite song you wrote in your career and why?

    D.H.  This is a great question and a hard one. It is like trying to choose your favourite child. I have to say “I Am My Father’s Son” which is the last song I played for my dad before he passed away.  I think the lyrics are authentic, intense and powerful. I believe also that the theme is original. It is seldom that one hears this topic in a song.

    P.T.  When you co-wrote and co-produced  “Seduces Me” sung by Céline Dion (from the CD Falling Into You, one of the best-selling albums of all time, released on Women’s Day (the 8th of March 1996)), did you know it would be Grammy material and how did you feel when you received the award in 1997?

    D.H.  I thought it was an unusually strong song. It is powerful and has an erotic component to it. I do believe that it is one of the best songs that I penned. I did not conceive of it in terms of a Grammy. I try not to think about those things.  However, I knew it was a great song. When I co-wrote the single, I had the certainty that Céline [Dion] would do a great job. I knew that it would really resonate with her background. She comes from Québec and I knew she would bring the French romanticism in the song.  As a woman, I was convinced also that she had what it takes to bring the female sensuality in the song. She felt it and knew how to bring emotions into it. In other words, she understood the emotion behind the lyrics and knew how to get all that across. She has the ability to get deep into the song.

    P.T.  In what settings do you feel more comfortable to write your songs and how do you find your inspiration?

    D.H.  I try to write in almost any setting.  Also, I have to say that it depends on the situation.  Sometimes, I have to write with well-known singers and I have to pen with them in their settings.  When I am by myself with my own devices, I like to be in an acoustic place with my guitar and piano.  I keep playing until some interesting stuff begins to surface.  What can I say about my inspirations?  Well, let’s put it this way.  I think that every moment I am inspired.  It is like that for writers.  When they say they are not writing, they are doing it even in their mind.  You find the inspiration by being observant of everything around you and inside you.  When you compose a song in ten minutes, it is not really the case because unconsciously you were building all these things for the single with the use of experiences and knowledge before putting it on paper.

    P.T.  You said in the past that it helped you in your career as a lyricist to be a singer.  Do you think that for aspiring songwriters who want longevity in their career they need to be versatile?

    D.H.  I think it helps to be versatile and flexible.  Flexibility allows one to write songs in different situations.  Sometimes, people in the music industry send you a track without any words and ask you to put a melody on it with lyrics.  It is an asset to be a singer in the studio because you can show artists how the song can be better.  As a singer, I hear the music and I can demonstrate with my voice how to improve the melody.  When I do vocals, I demonstrate to the performer how to sing the lyrics.  It shows how it really sounds.  There is an important aspect in delivering a song with emotions when you present it to other artists.  Another great asset is to be able to write the chords that you are playing when you pen a song.  Personally, doing this really helps my work.  In this respect, it is good to know as much as possible as an artist.  It is a real advantage to learn to read, play and write music with a good musical ear.  You can save hours of studio time if you are able to translate the tunes into notes.

    Great songwriters know how to touch the heart of the audience.  I think also that it is important for them to not be afraid to address powerful and honest issues.  In other words, in their creative process they have to be bold to expose themselves and be naked in the figurative sense.

    P.T.  It is very interesting to hear this.  I thought that it is more as a performer that you must feel naked than as a songwriter.

    D.H.  As a songwriter, in a different way you can feel naked.  You have to go deep inside your heart, your memories… It’s like a self-hypnosis process.  You can’t be afraid to say things which are revealing.  It is hard sometimes and when you get older it becomes more difficult because with age we have more defences.  In this respect, with age we can have the tendency to reveal less of ourselves.  As a songwriter, you have to learn to not let that happen.

    P.T.  About your latest album Intimate, what message do you want people to take away from it?

    D.H.  I would say the importance of connections.  I think we stumble in this world by trying to find how we can relate to one another.  In fact, we are too often disconnected.  In Intimate, I am trying to establish anew the need for interrelationships.  These days, with all the technology we might think that we communicate better, but it is not necessarily the case.  I could add that it is very easy to be disconnected.  The technology has the ability to take us away from other people.

    P.T.  Talk to us about your moving song “I Am My Father’s Son” on your latest album.  You talked a little bit about it before but can you elaborate further?

    D.H. I knew my father was dying.  There were a lot of things that I wanted to say to him.  However, I really didn’t know how to express it.  So, when it is difficult for me to communicate something, using songwriting is a great tool for me.  “I Am Father’s Son” is really about the last connection that my dad and I had.  It is also about the disappointment that I felt from him.  The song is also about how I learned to forgive him which is a big part of love.  I needed to write that song in order to process all the mixed emotions I had about my father.  It allowed me to see him more as a human being.  I was able to understand more about what motivated him as a man and about what shaped him.  The song itself helped me to pen my book “I Am My Father’s Son”.

    P.T.  In Intimate, you wrote a beautiful song about Africville called “Africville Skies”.  What does Africville mean to you as an Afro-Canadian and how does it feel to have been approached by the Montreal-born jazz pianist/composer Joe Sealy  to pen about this town?

    D.H.  I was proud to have the opportunity to sing about the oldest black community in Canada established gradually in our country after the war against England (which took place from 1812 to 1814).  In 1838, the community was complete and it was comprised of descendants of American slaves.  In this respect, free land and equal rights were promised to Black Loyalists. Africville was a beautiful and strong population which was self-sufficient.  This community had his own infrastructure:  schools, church, etc. So, I was enthused to sing about this historic population.  Joe Sealy’s father was born in Africville.  When his father died, one of his feelings was to write an album called Africville Suite where we find beautiful pieces about Africville.  Joe Sealy wanted me to write lyrics about this community.  To be more specific, Africville was a small unincorporated community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin in the city of Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada).  In 1967, the community and its dwellings were razed and the residents were evicted.   They were forced to relocate.

    I feel honoured that I have been approached by Joe [Sealy] to pen “Africville Skies”.  I love him and I think he is a brilliant composer.  More importantly, he is a fabulous human being.  He received the Order of Canada.  I was very proud and I was moved to write lyrics for this great artist.

    P.T.  In your book, we learn about your hurdles as a songwriter, especially at the beginning of your career.  The music industry has changed tremendously and has its challenges, particularly with all the downloading.  What advice do you have for young people who want to make it as songwriters and singers?  What can you tell them regarding the protection of their work through the royalties?

    D.H.  They need to do their homework about the music business, through reading for instance.
    There are great books on the market which allow people to understand the intricacies of the music industry such as All you need to know about the music business written by Harvard alumni lawyer Donald S.  Passman.  This book gives an excellent overview of the music industry.  Young people can also seek guidance from individuals who have been in the music industry for many years.  Mentors and connoisseurs of the music business can give access to people and resources needed to develop a career.  It is always from the best that you learn.  This will allow young people to save a lot of time and energy.  It will also permit them to avoid traps.  I would like to add that it is important for artists to get a business understanding of their career.

    For the people who want to make it, more specifically as songwriters and singers, they can learn to play an instrument.  It is important to write daily.  You have to practice and study on a regular basis.  It is useful to listen to records and try to understand what the artists are doing by looking toward what it is resonating with what you are creating.  You have to go through this process with authenticity and by bringing your own originality.  It is important also to catch up to novelty because the music domain evolves constantly.

    It is helpful to broaden your horizon.  In this respect, if you are an artist who doesn’t sell much with your CDs, you can consider other venues such as commercials, movies, TV shows, etc.  There are many ways for songwriters to make money, even more now than when I started in the business.

    P.T.  In your book, we learn that your father who became the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission placed great value on you to pursue an academic profession and didn’t accept easily the artistic road you chose.  What message do you have for young people who want to be in the music industry but are being deterred by their family who want them to choose a liberal profession?

    D.H.  This is another very great question.  I think that it depends on the individual.  It is extremely competitive to make it in the music business.  For instance, Jay-Z said it was ten times harder to make it as a rapper than as an NBA basketball player.  So, to make it as a musician or as a performer it goes back to what was discussed earlier, you have to be really versatile.  I mean, it is helpful to be able to play and master an instrument.  If for some reason, you do not end up to be a pop star maybe you can consider teaching guitar, give voice lessons or become a record producer for instance.  So, it is possible to see the music field as a broad canvas of which there are many different ways to make a living instead of seeing the prospects in a much narrower way.  It is not everybody who will become the next Nelly Furtado for instance but I don’t think either that it is unimaginable to make a good living in the music industry if you have more than one string to one’s bow.   In other words, young people can’t limit themselves and it is important to see how to be prolific across many genres.

    I encourage young people to follow their passion and exploit their talent.  They have to assess their lives and find out what they’re good at and focus on that.  Doing what you love will always make you a winner.  However, they have to be willing to work very hard for it and make some sacrifices.  For instance, the late Charlie Parker practiced saxophone fifteen hours per day.  He didn’t become the pioneer of bebop just by coincidence.  There is no such thing as an overnight success. In other words, there is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.  Success means diligent work and discipline. There are a lot of talented people who will never be discovered because they will never develop their potential by being determined to put in the hard work, or some will surrender too soon.  You have to be patient to see the results of all the efforts. One of my favourite mottos is:  “Strivers achieve what dreamers believe”.  When opportunities are presented, young people need to be prepared.  By the way, whatever the domain chosen by young people, they must have a serious work ethic and not rest on their laurels.  The best physicians, for instance, need to be retrained regularly to stay current on the latest research and procedures.  There are no shortcuts.  Young people have to be focused and diligent.  I could add that my determined mantra is:  Never give up, dream big and do not settle.

    P.T.  To finish, what are your future projects that you can share with us?

    D.H.  I am writing a lot of new songs, some for myself and some for other artists.  I have a couple of new articles coming out.  I pen a lot of articles for magazines.   I am also doing a lot of concerts.

    P.T.  Thank you so much Mr.  Hill for your time and attention.  It was an honor to interview you!

    •    1975 - Dan Hill
    •    1976 - Hold On
    •    1977 - Longer Fuse
    •    1978 - Frozen in the Night
    •    1980 - If Dreams Had Wings
    •    1981 - Partial Surrender
    •    1983 - Love in the Shadows
    •    1987 - Dan Hill
    •    1989 - Real Love
    •    1991 - Dance of Love
    •    1994 - Let Me Show You (Greatest Hits and More)
    •    1996 - I''m Doing Fine
    •    1999 - Love of My Life (The Best of Dan Hill)
    •    2010 - Intimate

    I Am My Father’s Son:  A Memoir Of Love And Forgiveness, available on the market since February 2009 on www.amazon.com or .ca and in bookstores in North America

    An excerpt from Dan Hill’s book  I Am My Father’s Son (p.  368-369):

    “Dad, it’s David.  Stop leaving home.  Stop leaving Canada to always go to America.  Choose a country.”
    Ouch.  Like so many Hills, my eleven-year-old son had a scary way with words.  “Choose your love,” David was saying.  “Is it music or family?”  It brought back the image of him, at four or so, looking balefully out our living room window, searching, as he did every day when I was gone, for his jet-setting father.  Bev had described this wrenching scene many times to me over the phone but until I saw him there, as I pulled up our driveway from yet another songwriting journey, I hadn’t understood.  There he was, his small face squished up against that big bay window, waving excitedly in my direction.
    On my flight back to Toronto the day after David’s message, I couldn’t get one particular song of mine out of my head.

    Memories of when I was a little boy, four years old,
    Waiting for my daddy to come home
    Now I look into the eyes of my own son
    Wondering what he’s thinking of
    Waiting at the window, when I come home
    Watch his eyes fill up with joy and wonder
    He reaches out his tiny hands, I feel the bond between boy and man

    Memories of my mom crying, my daddy gone for weeks at a time
    Not knowing how to comfort her
    Face in my pillow, pretending not to hear
    Now I write this letter to my little boy, I’m far away
    Not knowing really what to say, except I’m sorry, oh so sorry

    I don’t wanna make the same mistakes my daddy made with me
    Still his voice rolls off my tongue when I say boy, protect your mom
    Memories of my wife crying on the phone
    Wondering when I’m coming home
    My voice sounds detached and cold
    Reminds me of someone that I knew
    He had a funny attitude, when I needed him to be
    All the things only a daddy could be to me

    I don’t wanna make the same mistakes my daddy made with me
    Still his voice rolls off my tongue when I say not now, I’m busy son
    Memories of lying in bed with my wife and son
    Overwhelmed by so much love, trying to explain how a man can cry
    Yet still be happy

    Thinking of all the dumb mistakes I’ve made
    Now I understand my father’s pain
    He did the best with what he knew, I love you daddy
    I watch my son fall asleep, and wonder what he’ll think of me
    When years from now, he sees his son
    Reaching out his tiny hands, for love

    Dan Hill’s Official Web site:  www.danhill.com

    This album is available on www.amazon.com or .ca

    An excerpt from the song “I Am My Father’s Son”:

    “It’s about you and me, Dad
    It’s called My Father’s son”
    I took the CD out of its casing
    And started to feed it into
    The stereo system

    “Uh oh.  So now you’re gonna
    Take some pot-shots at me?
    I gotta listen to another song
    About what a terrible dad I
    Was to you?”

    “No, Dad, honestly, no pot-shots.
    It’s hard to explain- Just listen!”

    “The strongest man I ever knew
    I never was a match for you
    Always wanted your attention
    Never knew just how to get it, so I rebelled
    Tried to be your opposite,
    I did it well, strange but true
    How our lives are like a circle now
    I’m very much like you
    You were my unsolved mystery
    Always barely out of reach”

    “Memories die hard, love dies harder still,
    I forgive you, I have no choice
    ‘cause when all is said and done
    I am my father’s son”

    Praise for Dan Hill’s book I Am My Father’s Son:

    "Inevitably, Hill''s musical sensibility infuses his prose. . . . The story has a musical pulse, an exactness of comedic timing. Like his father and brother . . . Hill possesses the gift of storytelling, in the broad, oral, African-American tradition." --Ottawa Citizen

    "Took me on an intellectual, emotional and spiritual pilgrimage that instantly changed my life forever. . . . Dan Hill is my hero. His compassion, fearlessness and resilience reignited a flame in me that was almost dim. Thank you for the laughs, thank you for the tears, and thank you for your moments." --Jully Black

    "Describes a complicated family, in a complicated situation, in a complicated time, and does it with honesty and verve."  “[I Am My Father’s Son] jolts us, like hearing a soon-to-be-classic song for the first time.  The book uses the glitz of the 1970s music scene as a back drop for a soul-searching story of a father and a son   --National Post

    “A compulsively readable memoir.  It is a fine contribution not just to Canadian showbiz lore but to our country’s social history.  Dan Hill dishes lots of fascinating backstage gossip… [but] also strikes universal chords.” –Winnipeg Free Press

    [Dan Hill’s] raw memoir, I Am My Father’s son, [is] a searing examination of his relationship with Daniel Grafton Hill III”-- Toronto Star

    Media’s comments on Dan Hill’s CD Intimate:

    “…I’ve been to a lot of concerts and a few of them I consider to be the best from start to finish — my own hall of fame entries — and this one by Dan Hill is one of them. I don’t think I’ve been to an event that was as moving as that was. Dan’s voice seems not to have aged. It was just spectacular and it’s too bad there was room for 500 more people in the Opera House.”
    - John Swartz, Orillia Packet and Times

    “This album has to be the album of the year 2010, and according to Atlantic Seabreeze, the album is a masterpiece, with many awards in the making. The music and Dan''s great voice is simply outstanding and make one play the CD over and over again. According to Dan, it took 15 years to write the songs on the CD, and most of them penned for other artists and he had no inkling that one day he would be recording these songs. He states, that''s the great thing about music-you never know where it may lead you”, www.atlanticseabreeze.com

  • d'bi.young: the ultimate storyteller


    Award-winning Jamaican-Canadian dub poet, storyteller and actor d'bi young is an overall performing arts phenomenon. She is known for such performances as her outstanding role in the 2005 production of ''Da Kink in my Hair created by Trey Anthony and her defining play Blood.claat – the first play in her Three Faces of Mudgu trilogy.

    AfroToronto.com recently touched base with d'bi young to catch up on what she’s been up to and to ask her about her performance scheduled for tonight (Fri. October 30th) in the Distillery District as part of the Canwest Cabaret Festival.

    It’s immediately evident that the mother of two (5 year-old and a 10-month old) is a master at multi-tasking. On top of being a full-time mom, d'bi young is currently working on her Masters at Guelph and runs her own dub theatre youth mentorship program --- anitAFRIKA! dub theatre.

    “I’m working with 13 people whose ages range from 19 to 60 and basically I teach them how to write dub solo shows using these principles that I’m developing right now, and been developing for the last 3 years, called the ORPLUSI principles of story-telling. Which are orality, rhythm, personal is political, political is personal, language, urgency, sacredness and integrity. [These are] guiding principles towards the creative process. That’s the most exciting thing for me because I’m at Guelph as well doing my Masters developing theory around oral storytelling and traditions that come out of the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora” as she tells AfroToronto.com.

    Developing the residency program at anitAFRIKA! dub theatre is a long-cherished dream of hers in the process of realization. “My dream’s always been to have a school so I feel that the theatre is a choice in that direction” young says. She is a big believer in the creative potential of everyone. Young believes that we are all are in a way conditioned. As the daughter of one of Jamaica’s pioneering dub artists --- Anita Stewart, young feels that she may have become a storyteller with special abilities because she was told that she had special abilities.

    “I really do believe that we’re all storytellers. I mean not everybody could do it professionally but I think that we all have a responsibility to acknowledge that we’re storytelling in whatever it is that we choose to do. The minute we acknowledge that then we can make choices around how we actually communicate with people.”

    As an Afro-Caribbean Diaspora woman, d'bi young sees herself as perpetuating a long tradition of storytelling. “I want to learn as much as I can about that process and want to investigate how that was done among people who have oral traditions” she adds.

    Tonight, d'bi young celebrates the tradition of old-school dub by performing with dear friends and musical veterans Rakesh Tewari and Ian De Souza and Beau Dixon. The one-hour dub session will start at 10:30pm. The Canwest Cabaret Festival takes place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery District.

    “I do a lot of experimental stuff, I do my rock thing, my hip hop thing, it’s all dub poetry as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been feeling a bit of a combination of nostalgia and feeling that I want to go back to the first dub sound” says d''bi young.


    The Canwest Cabaret Festival runs until Sunday, November 1, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, located at 55 Mill Street , Building 49, in the Distillery Historic District. Ticket prices: Concerts $20. Buy 3 concerts and save 20%. Tickets are available by calling the Young Centre box office at 416.866.8666 or online at www.youngcentre.ca or www.canwestcabaret.ca.

  • Giving Black Dance a Voice

    An Interview with Patrick Parson, Artistic Director of Ballet Creole

    “We need to accept ourselves more in the community. Because you know we have this thing: “Oh I see ‘dem already”. But then a foreign company comes, no matter if they come every year, they’ll go back and see them.... But the Caucasian people, they will go and see the Nutcracker every single year. And some of our own folks will go out and see the Nutcracker every single year. But when its comes to see our own … “we see ‘dem already.” So it’s a mentality thing. So I educate, I entertain. That’s what my life’s path is about. To bring people to their own and share artistic endeavours through seeing or expressing.”
    - Patrick Parson, Artistic Director, Ballet Creole

    Speaking to Toronto''s Ballet Creole artistic director, Patrick Parson, over the phone ahead of the upcoming run of Glorious Soulful Messiah, I encountered a pioneer of this city's dance community. Moving to Toronto from his native Trinidad back in September of 1988, Parson has been instrumental in setting up the framework for what today is considered a vibrant Afro-Caribbean dance scene in Toronto -- counting several major dance companies (such as COBA, Dance Caribe, Canboulay Dance Theatre, and of course Ballet Creole).

    The landscape was dramatically different in the late '80s and early '90s. “Afro-Caribbean dance was not seen as professional dance then. They were mostly doing community gigs” says Patrick Parson. His goal was to help facilitate the creation of a professional institutional structure for the Afro-Caribbean dance community. To that end, Ballet Creole was born in 1990.

    Ballet Creole offers a widely international body a students the chance to gain professional post-secondary dance training right here in Toronto. Most of the students are from various countries such as Cuba, the Seychelles, Jamaica, Honduras, Mexico, Trinidad, St-Lucia, Barbados, and more. Quoting Parson: "Instead of going to New York to train at the Alvin Ailey school, they can do it right here. It’s so wonderful to go into a studio and see your own kind working in a professional manner." Indeed, Ballet Creole''s cultural diversity is one of the school's great strengths which Patrick Parson is proud of. As Parson goes on to say: "With some of the schools here, it’s like 99.5% Caucasian and you’ll see... between one to about six black students in the dance school. They become like a token. But here, the majority is of African-descent. Either Latino, Caribbean, that’s the focus here."

    But despite such a strong commitment to providing a sustainable forum and framework for Afro-Caribbean dance, it has often been a struggle to get the community out consistently to the shows -- particularly in the early years. “Well, I can tell you in the first five years, the whole audience was Caucasian. You could count the Caribbean or African people in the audience. After the first five years there’s a big change. Because people started to hold their own. That’s the next step" says Parson.

    In their effort to encourage that next step, Ballet Creole strongly believes in attracting the youth by exposing them to dance from a very young age. Parson believes in having his company's core dancers routinely involved in performing in schools. "That’s where I focus the company and they perform every single day up to five days a week. And they go into the schools. That’s our audience. We go from kindergarten all the way up to high schools and to university. We do approximately two shows every day. Everyday in the school year. You know how much students we're reaching out to if you think about it."

    Patrick Parson is optimistic about the future of Afro-Caribbean dance in general and about the prospects of individual dancers developing as professionals within the city. "The dance scene is booming now" he says. "There’s a lot of people from the diaspora that are training at Ryerson, York and elsewhere and they are looking for jobs.” Patrick Parson is aware that Ballet Creole serves as an inspiration for community dance companies looking to stage larger productions. He enjoys the good rapport he shares with them. Parson has also been teaching at York University for over ten years in various departments. From dance in the Fine Arts department to his current post in the Kinesiology department where he has been for the past five years --- applying dance to the science of movement.

    Ballet Creole's upcoming performance is their third year run of Glorious Soulful Messiah at the Premiere Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay West) from December 16th to 18th. It is a soulful rendition of Handel's Messiah based on a CD compilation entitled Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. "All the music goes way back from the ‘20s until now. From the blues, the swing, the traditional minstrel music, all of that is in this album" says Parson.

    Don''t miss your chance to see the show! It was sold out last year.

    Ballet Creole presents ''Glorious Soulful Messiah'', Friday December 16th & Saturday December 17th @ 8PM and Sunday December 18th @ 3PM at Premiere Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay West)

    Imagine the wondrous sounds of Handel’s Messiah sung by the spine-tingling voices of Aretha Franklin, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Patti Austin, Take 6, Gladys Knight, and more…coupled with the driving dance moves of the Ballet Creole cast of dancers. Celebrate the festive season with an intriguing, uplifting performance. Sold out last year! To purchase tickets call 416.973.4000 or visit our website at www.balletcreole.org

    Ticket Prices:
    Early Bird Prices Adult: $19.00 - $30.00

    Student/Senior: $16.00 - $23.00
    Regular Prices: Adult: $21.00 - $35.00
    Student/Senior: $16.00 - $23.00

  • What can a chiropractor do for you?

    Back pain

    Did you know that more than 4 million Canadians visit a chiropractor each year? Chiropractic health care has become one of the most utilized types of alternative medicine in Canada, yet there is still much speculation and wariness regarding what chiropractic treatment entails. I wrote this article to provide some insight into why chiropractic utilization continues to increase as well as to help dispel some common myths.

    Chiropractors are doctors whose purpose is to diagnose and treat mechanical disorders of the spine and musculoskeletal system with the intention of affecting the nervous system and improving health. We are also trained to prescribe therapeutic exercise, provide nutritional advice, and injury management strategies.

    Why Should I Consider Chiropractic Treatment?

    Chiropractors are experts in the treatment of neuro-musculo-skeletal injuries. Here’s what that means:

    Neuro= nerves. As chiropractors we specialize in conditions involving the peripheral nervous system. This includes conditions such as sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches.
    Musculo = Muscles.  We treat various muscle injuries including rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis, and muscle strains.
    Skeletal = Skeletal system. We are trained to treat injuries that affect the bones and/or joints of the body. This includes common conditions such as arthritis, ankle and knee pain.

    Do I need a prescription from my family doctor?

    You do not need a medical prescription to visit a chiropractor. We are doctors and are able to diagnose conditions as well as design specific treatment plans to meet patient needs.  Chiropractors must undergo university studies and then complete a rigorous four-year, full time education program and pass comprehensive Canadian qualifying examinations in order to become licensed to practice in Canada.

    What is an adjustment?

    Chiropractors specialize in manual adjustments. An adjustment (also known as a manipulation) is a precise manual procedure applied to joints of the spine. An adjustment helps to restore normal joint functioning by increasing mobility, relieving pain and pressure, and reducing inflammation.

    What are the benefits of Chiropractic care?

    A chiropractors hand on approach to treatment helps your body function optimally. Here are some ways it can help you:

    • Improve movement in the neck, back and shoulders
    • Improve posture
    • Relief from headaches, neck and back pain
    • Prevention of work-related and sports related injuries
    • Motor Vehicle Accident rehabilitation
    • Improved flexibility
    • Correction of gait and foot problems

    Is chiropractic treatment covered by insurance?

    Yes! Most work health insurance plans include chiropractic benefits. You should consult your insurance company for specific details.

    For more information regarding chiropractic care you can contact the Ontario Chiropractic Association, or visit their website at www.chiropractic.on.ca

  • Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Untold History; African images and Western Art

    A renowned scholar and literary critic, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. exudes an infectious enthusiasm for genealogical research, the arts, and life.  As Director of the W.E.B Dubois Institute for African and American Research at Harvard University, Dr. Gates is in the unique position of being a historian, producer and cultural commentator. In each of these roles the central theme underlying his work is one of commitment, a loyalty to unlocking the pieces of the puzzle of our collective roots but more specifically african roots. Housed at the Du Bois Institute’s archives are 26,000 images of black people in Western art, it is a collection created by french art collector Dominique de Menil.

    According to Dr. Gates, Madame de Menil and her husband relocated to Texas in the 1960s and embarked on a mission to showcase exemplary images of africans in European art. What was intended to be a modest under-taking resulted in an extensive collection of images from classical Greece and Rome to the 21st century, highlighting African nobility, writers and scholars. 

    As the key speaker at the Eva Holtby Lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr. Gates' passion for the collection is evident. He praises the effort of de Menil who wanted to show only positive images of Africans, but also makes an argument for including the not- so -positive representations to provide a complete retrospective of African representations in the arts. The most fascinating discussion of the evening focused on his final selection, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon or The Young Ladies of Avignon by Pablo Picasso. In this painting, Picasso uses African masks in an evocative portrayal of five women in a brothel.

    Dr. Gates is also known for his PBS documentary series African American Lives which uses genealogical resources and DNA testing to explore the genealogy and history of prominent African-americans, from Malcolm Gladwell to Tina Turner, Quincy Jones to Oprah Winfrey.

    So being treated to scenes from Dr. Gates' latest series Faces of America, was a pleasant addition to the evening. In the show he unravels the genealogy of Dr. Memhet Oz, Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert and Eva Longoria-Parker. We learn Eva''s ancestors arrived from Spain before the Mayflower even reached America''s shores and we also learn that Kristi Yamaguchi''s grandfather enlisted in the army at a time when it was virtually unheard of. These clips were mere glimpses into a body of work that provides a fascinating look at nation building, race and the nature of past historical discourse.

    Dr. Gates' engaging presentation ended with an eloquent proposal for an epitaph, one which highlights his commitment to uncovering the truth of our collective history.

    His legacy will not only include his work in genealogy but the impact his discoveries have had on how we see ourselves as a society. Hopefully, discussions on race relations and our history will no longer engender cultural polarization when proof of all our contributions have been made public, when we are all aware of the rainbow of ethnicities that came together to create who we are today and the communities we now live in.

  • Love, Loss and some Trey

    Trey Anthony

    For the past ten years we've watched Trey Anthony grow as an actor, writer, and producer.  Through “Da kink in my hair”,  she introduced audiences to the joys and pains experienced by women of colour.  But in Nora Ephron's “Love, Loss and What I wore” she hopes to show her range and her ability to go beyond the expected.

     On why she decided to be a part of the play?

    For me, I think I really liked the script and I wanted to do roles unlike what I'm usually cast as. I wanted to do something that wasn't stereotypical. A role that transcended race, its a female part. I also thought it was important for my fans and for myself , to see me in something different to know that I could do other roles, something that stretched me and scared me as an actor. It was good to come out of my comfort zone.

    On what inspired her character in “Love, Loss and What I wore”

    I think I draw from my first love, I think draw from my own relationships functional and dysfunctional, and my friends of course.

    On what drew her to Nora Ephron's work

    I think it’s her wit and her sensibility. I also like how she writes female characters. I think she''s able to transcend race, the things that she writes about are the things all women talk about. From remembering our first bra, fitting into clothing that’s too small for us, comparing ourselves to other women, our relationships with our mother and for me that''s what really drew me to the script, the fact that I found it relatable and so I said why not.

    On the cast of love loss and what I wore

    I think what's really great is just the range of women, especially age wise. There's someone in their 20s, me in my 30s, some women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. And I think just working with women who've been in the industry this long, to see what a trained theatre actor is about and how they approach the script and their craft. It’s been a learning experience to see how other women approach their craft.

    On what  the audience can expect to take with them

    At the end of the day, I think our experiences are very similar. Yes we have differences, there's race, there's class, there's sexuality but many of our experiences especially as women are very similar. I'm hoping that they (the audience) can see themselves in it but also be inspired to write their own stories as well. I truly believe that the reason the “Da kink” was so popular was because for the first time our story as the black community was on a mainstream stage.

    On why she writes

    I don't see myself as just an actor, being a writer is my most important role. I think for me writing gives me a level of power that I don't feel I get in any other role. It's my way of creating stories for myself and for my community. Telling a story authentically they way I would like to see it. So for me I really embrace writing and I don't  think there's enough of us writing our stories, so for me it’s very important. Until we take those positions of power, we''ll be seeing a lot of stereotypical stories because we''re not in those position to be writing our stories they way we want to see them.

    On Her Legacy

    Everything I produce, I'm hoping my community feels proud. I feel like I have made an impact and I feel that I've opened a door for more people to come in, and that's important to me, to be accessible, to remember where I came from and to encourage other women to be the best at their craft.

    Love, Loss and What I wore runs from October 7-30, 2010 at the Pansonic Theatre.

  • A portrait of the surgeon Dr. Patricia L. Turner

    Dr Turnier

    Dr. Turner, MD nee Patricia Lynne Turner was born in Maryland. Since her childhood, Dr. Turner knew that medicine was her thing. She had the confidence, the determination and the maturity to decide in an early age the career she would pursue. She told us in our interview: "In my earliest recollection of knowing about career options, in elementary school when I was about 6 year-old I wanted to be a surgeon". We asked her if she had mentors to look up to when she was a child: "I didn’t have specific inspirations from physicians. I didn’t have doctors in my family. However, I could say that my mother, as a science teacher was definitely an influence to pursue a career where we find math and other scientific related domains".

    During our conversation, we wanted to know why Dr. Turner chose surgery over other specialities and what attracted her in this speciality.  She expressed that she always was drawn to surgery since her childhood and this mindset never changed since then. “I wanted to be a surgeon since I was a child. I was always attracted to this speciality. I never had doubts and I never wanted to do anything beside surgery.  It wasn’t appealing for me to be involved in other fields of medicine especially in those who have to deal with chronic care.  I like the immediate gratification that this field provides when you solve the problem.  As a surgeon, you help improve the quality of life of the patients”.

    Dr. Turner is a general surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine.  She is an associate program director for the General Surgery Residency Program at the University of Maryland Medical Centre. She serves as chair of the Surgical Caucus of the American Medical Association Young Physicians Section and is a member of the Editorial Board of Surgical News. Her academic interests include teaching and training paradigms for medical students and residents in open and laparoscopic surgery. 

    Dr. Turner received her medical degree at Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and completed her surgical residency at Howard University Hospital.  Throughout the time of her residency, she was a senior staff fellow at the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, Laboratory of Kidney and Electrolyte Metabolism.  Dr. Turner’s fellowship training was in minimally invasive and laparoscopic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center & Weill-Cornell University School of Medicine in New York. 

    Dr. Turner''s clinical practice focuses on minimally invasive/laparoscopic, gastrointestinal and endocrine surgery. She has a diverse research background, including studying nitric oxide and the kidneys. In organized medicine, Dr. Turner has held the role of the resident on the general surgery RRC and was the resident member on the AMA Council on Scientific Affairs.  Seeing that Dr.  Turner has a considerable experience in her field, we asked her what was her best operation and why. “This is a tough question to answer”, she said. “I guess, I would say that every operation have a different scenario which is exciting.  It happens that I have to deal with trauma patients, life and death situations.  I enjoy to use new techniques (such as laparoscopy when we first tried it) which have not been used before. I like that kind of challenge and opportunity. There are specific patients which resonate with you”.

    It is important to note that 76% of Baltimore’s African-American males (among 16 to 24 year-old young adults) drop out before graduation according to a 2001 study at the John Hopkins University.  Given that Dr.  Turner works in the state of Maryland, we wanted to know what kind of advise she has for those young people who want to succeed in any fields including medicine despite the hurdles. “Well, I think there is no reason that those individuals cannot pursue studies in medicine, law, engineering or anything else they wish to do.  The statistics do not define the destiny of an individual. The numbers may seem discouraging but I think the best deterrent is to focus on academical excellence.  In this respect, Dr.  Turner thinks that excellency is the key to break the glass ceiling for minorities.  “Superior grades are certainly the foundation for all of us”, she expressed.  She added:  “When you are among the best, there is always a place for you. Once the young people identified the area where they want to pursue their careers, they should find a mentor who succeeded in the field they chose.  For medicine, with excellent grades and research experience or community services these factors will be great credentials to distinguished themselves. I can also say that one of the best ways to not be deterred by negative people that you can find in every level is to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you ”.

    During the interview we asked Dr. Turner what is the best way (for students who want to pursue their studies in medicine) to seek the tutelage of prosectors or any other mentors in the medical field.  She responded:  “It depends on the level of the student.  If you are in high school you can find a mentor who will guide you to be admitted in college. There are organizations which have set mentoring programs such as the American College of Surgeons. They take students from high schools and colleges to surgery meetings. The AMA have mentors who are guiding the future physicians with teachings and trainings. They have also a community service projects where they go to high schools or junior highs.  I think many of the medical organizations intervene by providing mentorships”. 

    It is important to mention that the noteworthy Black Enterprise magazine (May 2008 issue) named Dr. Turner among the United States’ leading physicians.  The "America''s Leading Doctors" list of this magazine includes 140 top-rated African-American physicians and surgeons throughout the U.S. who are advancing medicine.  Physicians selected for the list are judged to be leaders in their respective fields, to be superior in service and reputation, and have been confirmed as being certified in accordance with the American Board of Medical Specialities. The 2008 list placed special emphasis on those who have been involved in medical breakthroughs across specialities.  The list''s editors consulted leading medical associations, health care organizations, the nation''s top medical schools, and other top-ranked physicians to compile this year''s.  We asked Dr. Turner what the Black Enterprise magazine’s recognition meant to her :  « It is a great honour to be appreciated among my peers.  It is a vessel to outdo myself even more ».  

    During our discussion, we wanted to know what advice Dr. Turner have for young people (regardless of their origins) who aspire to make their place in the medical world and who wish to become a successful surgeon:  “Surgery is one of the most competitive fields in medicine so, I reiterate that excellence is a must in medical school for everybody.  It is important also to develop a research expertise, experiences in volunteerism, community services and clinical practice.  They have of course to excel in all those spheres.  Strong letters of recommendation are imperative to be admitted in medical faculties.  Regarding more specifically the surgery field, the physicians need to develop special technical skills.  They need to create an excellent rapport with the patients to provide excellent care.  They have to be great communicators.  To finish they have to be life long learners to update themselves with all the novelties of their field”.  In addition to all this, Dr. Turner thinks that physicians can also distinguish themselves by pursuing an academical career with a contribution in the scientific literature. 

    It is interesting to note that Dr. Turner is quite active in the American College of Surgeons, serving as a member of the Committee on Informatics, the Committee on Young Surgeons, the Committee on Patient Education, and the Task Force on Practice Based Learning and Improvement.  It is also important to mention that Dr. Turner has been involved in other fields such as politics.  She was an AMA member for 17 years, a member of the YPS for almost 5 years, and a governing council member for about two years.  We asked her if she wishes to pursue in the future a political career.  She expressed during our interview:  “At this point of my life, I do not have necessarily political aspirations.  However, I always keep my options open.  I was fortunate enough in the past to work as a parliamentarian.  I was a Speaker of the American Medical Association, Young Physicians Section.  There are opportunities with the AMA to be a speaker for the entire House of Delegates of the AMA”. 

    At the end of the interview, we asked Dr. Turner what advice can she give to females professionals who have to manage their careers and their personal lives.  “It is important to ally yourself with people who will be supportive:  a partner, your family, your friends and so on.  A strong support system is imperative.  You have to be very efficient with your time especially for females who have responsibilities at home and at work.  They have to be able to wear different hats successfully”. 

    To sum up, Dr. Turner contributes in the medical field in a significant manner.  Based on her body of experience, we are anticipating her next contribution in the scientific field. Interview conducted by Patricia Turnier (founder of www.megadiversities.com) the 27th of April 2010.   

    Academic and Professional achievements: 


    - MD, Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, 1996

    - BA, Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 1992 

    Post graduate training: 

    - Clinical Fellow, Minimally Invasive & Laparoscopic Surgery -Mount Sinai Medical Center & Weill-Cornell University School of Medicine, New York, NY, 2003-2004 

    - Categorical Intern and Resident in Surgery, Howard University Hospital -Washington, DC, 1996-1998, 2000-2003 

    - Senior Staff Fellow, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, Laboratory ofKidney and Electrolyte Metabolism, Bethesda, Maryland, 1998-2000 

    - DSI Advanced Laparoscopic Resident Courses, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Cincinnati, OH, December 2001 & June 2012 

    Medical Licenses: 

    DC 1997

    MD 1998

    NY 2003 

    Board Certification: 

    American Board of Surgery 2005

    Special Interests: 

    ·        Minimally Invasive Surgery

    ·        Laparoscopic Surgery

    ·        Gastrointestinal Surgery

    ·        Endocrine Surgery

    ·        General Surgery  


    • American College of Surgeons
    • MedChi, Maryland State Medical Society

    Work Experience:


    Attending Surgeon & Assistant Professor of Surgery

    Program Director, General Surgery Residency Program

    University of Maryland Medical Center 


    JUNE 2003-JUNE 2004

    Clinical Instructor, Department of Surgery

    Surgery Attending & Minimal Invasive Surgery FellowMount Sinai Medical Center & Weill-Cornell School of Medicine 


    JULY 1996 - JUNE 1998 & JULY 2000 – JUNE 2003

    Surgery resident (Chief Resident 2002-2003)

    Howard University Hospital JULY 1998 – JUNE 2000

    Senior staff fellow, National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute

    Laboratory of Kidney & Electrolyte Metabolism, National Institute of Health 


    JUNE 1993 – JUNE 1996

    Graduate research assistant

    Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy, Bowman Gray School of Medicine  


    Honours and Awards: 

    1993 Bowman Gray School of Medicine Student Research Day Competition Award

    1994 Student National Medical Association Research Forum Award1994 Lange Medical Publication Award

    1994 Bristol-Myers Squibb/National Medical Fellowships Fellow in Academic Medicine1995 Slack Award for Medical Journalism

    1996 American Medical Association/Glaxo Wellcome Leadership Achievement Award

    1996 Richard L. Burt Research Achievement Award1998 National Institutes of Health/National Medical Association Travel Award1999 Pfizer Resident Travel Award; American College of Surgeons

    2000 American Physiological Society Travel Fellowship Award

    2000 American Federation for Medical Research Trainee Travel Award

    2000 American Federation for Medical Research Henry Christian Award

    2000 Drew-Walker Surgical Residents’ Research Forum, 1 prize for basic science

    2000 Aventis Pharma Hypertension Research Clinical Fellowship Award, American Heart Association

    2001 National Institutes of Health Fellows Award for Research Excellence

    2002 Chairman’s Award, Howard University Hospital Department of Surgery

    2002 Howard University Hospital Medical Staff Resident Leadership Award

    2003 Association of Women Surgeons Outstanding Woman Resident Award

    2005 Henry C. Welcome Fellowship Grant2008 Claude H. Organ, MD, FACS Traveling FellowshipAward 


    Research Grants:

    National Medical Fellowships

    Effect of b-amyloid protein on neuronal cell survival during development and following injury

    National Institutes of Health

    The regulation of neuronal survival and differentiation, (supp. to RO1 grant; LJ Houenou, PI)

    National Institutes of Health

    Effects of protease nexin-1 and neurotropins on neuronal cell survival during development and

    American Heart Association

    Long-term effect of nitric oxide inhibition on Na transporter abundance in kidney: a targeted proteomics approach 

    Joan F. Giambalvo Memorial Scholarship Grant (American Medical Association)

    The impact of attitudes regarding bearing and rearing children on female general surgery residents 


    Professional Societies: 

    American Medical Association

    Past Chair, Young Physicians Section Surgical Caucus

    Governing Council, Young Physicians Section (YPS)

    Alternate Delegate to AMA House of Delegates from YPS

    American College of Surgeons, Fellow

    American Society of General Surgeons

    Association for Academic Surgery

    Association for Surgical Education

    Association of Women Surgeons

    MedChi, Maryland Medical Society

    National Association of Medical CommunicatorsNational Medical Association

    Chair, Resident Physician Section 1999-2001

    Long-Term Planning Committee (HOD) 2000-2003

    Executive Committee, Surgical Section

    Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons

    Society of Black Academic Surgeons

    Southeastern Surgical Congress 


    2000-2003 American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs

    2001 Association of Program Directors in Surgery Task Force on Short and Long Term Issues

    2002-2004 Residency Review Committee for Surgery 

    002-2004 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Resident Council

    2002 Participant, American Board of Surgery Retreat on Graduate Surgical Education2002 Howard University Hospital Department of Surgery Research Committee

    2005-2007 Association for Academic Surgery Institutional Representative

    2006-Present American Medical Association Young Physician Section Alternate Delegate to HOD

    2008-Present Program Director, University of Maryland General Surgery Residency

    2007-2010 American Board of Surgery Examination Consultant to Qualifying ExaminationCommittee 


    Editorial Boards: 

    Surgery News 2004-2009

    Journal of Medical Sciences Research 2007-Present 

    Ad HocEditorial Reviewer:

    Archives of  Surgery

    Journal of  the American College of Surgeons

    Surgical Endoscopy

    Surgical Innovation

    American Surgeon 


    Askonas, LJ, Turner, PL, Penning, TM. Synthesis and evaluation of affinity labeling analogs based on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. FASEB 4: A1123, April 1990.

    Bush, PJ, Obeidallah, DO, Turner, PL. The pharmacist''s changing role in drug prescription techniques for pediatric otitis media. NCPIE, 1991.

    Obeidallah, DA, Turner, PL, Iannotti, RJ, O''Brien, RW, Haynie, DL, and Galper, DI. Investigations of children''s knowledge and understanding of AIDS. JOSH, March 1993.

    Turner, PL, Li, L, Houenou, LJ. The serine protease inhibitor, Protease Nexin I, rescues spinal motoneurons from programmed and axotomy induced cell death. N. Stud. Res. Forum, 35:149, 1994Turner, PL, Li, L, Proctor, VL, Burek, MJ, Festoff, BW, Houenou, LJ. Serine Protease Inhibitors, PN-I and PN-II prevent motoneuron cell death. Soc. Neurosci. Africa, Capetown, South Africa, April 1997.

    Invited Lecture:Turner, PL, Knepper, MA. The kidney’s role in hypertension. African-American Youth Initiative, NIH, June 1999.

    Invited Lecture: Turner, PL, Knepper, MA. The kidney’s role in hypertension. Biomedical Research Training Program for Underrepresented Minorities, NIH, February 2000.

    S Masilamani, PL Turner, I Reyes, GF DiBona, MA Knepper. Dysregulation of Na transporters in a rat model of congestive heart failure. FASEB 14:4, A372, March 2000.

    L. Milone, P. Turner, M. Gagner. Laparoscopic surgery for pancreatic tumors, an update.Minerva Chir. April 2004, 59(2): 165-73.

    Turner, PL, George, IM, Mastrangelo, MJ, Kavic, S, Park, AE. 3-Dimensional (3-D) modeling of CT scan data for preoperative planning in laparoscopic adrenalectomy, SAGES 2006.

    Franco E, Park H, Kavic SM, Turner P, Greenwald B, Park AE, Roth JS. Percutaneous

    Endoscopic Gastrostomy: A safe technique in patients receiving corticosteroids. SAGES 2007.

  • Freakonomics: Controversial economics best seller adapted to screen


    Freakonomics was a best-selling primer on Economics written by University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt in collaboration with journalist Stephen Dubner. Together, the talented twosome endeavored to make an inscrutable subject accessible for the average individual by breaking ghetto demographics and financial transactions down into layman’s terms even a street hustler could comprehend.

    For instance, they exploded the myth of selling drugs as a viable means of making it out of the ghetto by showing that the average dealer’s income is less than minimum wage. A more controversial conclusion arrived at by the authors and propagated by controversial pundits like conservative Bill Bennett was the notion that the U.S. crime rate could be significantly reduced by sterilizing all African-American females.

    Now, a film based on this incendiary tome has been brought to the screen by a half-dozen different directors, including Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney (for Taxi to the Dark Side), Oscar-nominees Morgan Spurlock (for Super Size Me), Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp) and Heidi Ewing (also for Jesus Camp), along with Seth Gordon and Eugene Jarecki. They divvied up the chapters and structured the picture as a discrete series of vignettes recreating the assorted content.

    Unfortunately, I have to report that, as is usually the case with adaptations of books, the flick fails to measure up to the source material. However, that bad news is counterbalanced by the fact that it is still likely to be very well received by anyone unfamiliar with the print version.

    Among the topics addressed are the aforementioned correlation between black criminality and the abortion rate, as well as such intriguing questions as whether 9th graders can be bribed to get good grades, whether Japanese Sumo wrestling is fixed, whether government incentives work, and how Bernie Madoff, pedophile priests and other disgraced “pillars of the community” managed to mask their crimes for so long.

    An iconoclastic expose’ featuring fresh cultural slants apt to leave the average armchair economist reevaluating a lot of conventional wisdom they’vetaken for granted.

    Very Good (3 stars)

    Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, nudity, drug use and brief profanity.

    In English and Japanese with subtitles.

    Running time: 93 Minutes

    Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

    To see a trailer for Freakonomics, visit:


  • Kickin’ back with K’Naan


    Somalia. The name alone conjures up images of unbridled destruction, merciless warlords and ruthless terror. A place where nobody is safe from the atrocities of war, and where 8-year olds handle AK-47s like toys. When Forbes magazine recently unveiled their "Most Dangerous Destinations," Somalia, above Iraq and Afghanistan, topped the list. But it’s also "The Nation of Poets," where a poem can both inspire peace and end wars.

    Growing up, it was both of these Somalias that informed musician/emcee K’naan Warsame, who is forging his own musical path via a unique blend of reggae, funk, pop, soul and, above all, hip-hop. Recorded primarily in Kingston, Jamaica at Bob Marley’s home studio, his second album, “Troubadour,” includes contributions by the likes of Damian Marley, Mos Def, Chali 2na, Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Adam Levine of Maroon 5.

    During his early childhood, the Western music which reached K’naan’s ears was pretty much limited to “Bob Marley and Tracy Chapman,” until at 10, he became fascinated by the hip-hop being emitting from a tinny car speaker. “I had heard a rap verse, but I had no idea what it was back then,” he recalls.

    At 14, K’naan and his three best friends were attacked by warlords, just one of countless indelible images for the impressionable teenager. Having chased them through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually cornering the boys in an alley, the men began shooting. K’naan avoided injury, but his three friends were brutally gunned down.

    Certain that it was only a matter of time before her family met the same fate, K’naan’s mother would travel daily through the firefight to the U.S. embassy in the hopes of securing visas for her and her loved ones. Despite daily denials, she persisted, and on the last day the U.S. embassy was in Somalia, received visas to leave for America.

    “You can’t even describe it,” says K’naan. “It is the most sensational, liberating feeling. There was the weight of a world of hope on your shoulder that has suddenly landed. It was only then that I started to get this certain value of life that I never had before.” With little possessions and no knowledge of English, K’naan and his family boarded the last commercial flight out of Mogadishu for New York before settling in Toronto.

    The tunes on Troubadour reflect the sum of K’Nasan’s life experiences. Having spent the better part of the last two years on the road, visiting over 50 countries from Slovenia to Peru to Vietnam to Uganda, the album is the sonic document of an artist with much to share, and disproves rap music’s detractors who say that hip-hop has nothing new left to say.

    The CD’s first single, "Wavin'' Flag," has become an international sensation, and was the official anthem of the World Cup Championship hosted this summer by South Africa. Reaching over 150 countries, the signature song was featured on K’Naan’s FIFA-sponsored Trophy Tour, which saw the emerging rap star spreading his message to soccer fans in concerts staged all around the world.

    K'naan has also re-recorded new versions of the track with Will.i.Am and French dance producer David Guetta and a bilingual versions with Spanish pop singer David Bisbal, French MC Fefe, AI Otsuka from Japan, Jackie Cheung and Jane Zhang from China, Tattoo Colour from Thailand, Nancy Arjam from Egypt, HHP from South Africa, and other artists in Greece, Turkey and elsewhere.

    Kam Williams: Hi K'naan, thanks so much for the time.

    K: My pleasure.

    KW: Celia Chazelle asks, what was the inspiration for Wavin' Flag?

    K: I can’t remember specifically, it was just one of those moments when I had a melody in my head and a discontented, melancholy feeling. I just wrote that.

    KW: Did it emanate at all from your childhood?

    K: I think everything kinda’ does. Everything is kind of shaped by life in general, so I guess it does feel like my childhood might have been an influence. But those things are pretty subconscious.

    KW: Do you still feel a strong connection to Somalia?

    K: Yes, I have many, many memories which have impacted my life.

    KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

    K: We used to have an open-roofed courtyard. My earliest childhood memory is of sitting around as a child looking up to the sky and dreaming while listening to poetry.

    KW: Were you listening to a lot of American music while growing up?

    K: You could live in Somalia forever and never need music from outside Somalia. There are a lot of different styles and a variety of musical ideas developing right there.

    KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks, what did it mean for you to have Wavin' Flag become the anthem of the World Cup?

    K: I used to get very excited watching the World Cup on TV as a child. So, to have any kind of involvement with the World Cup is a big, big honor.

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls was wondering whether you’re a soccer fan and if you played soccer in your youth?

    K: Yes I am, and I did play, like most other children.

    KW: Author/filmmaker Hisani Dubose asks, how have you been received by the American hip-hop community?

    K: Great! You can tell from what’s been happening for me. They’ve all been very supportive and showing love for what I do.

    KW: Irene also asks, where do you think hip-hop is headed?

    K: I think it will always go through phases, like how philosophy in ancient times would celebrate the body and the physical for awhile, then focus on the mind and the spiritual. I think that those phases happen to us as well, and hip-hop is one of the best barometers of what is happening, because it reflects the feeling of young people. I see my music as following the feeling.

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    K: [Chuckles] Interesting… I often try to find the face of my teenage years. I don’t know whether it’s like this for everybody, but I can’t find it.

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    K: It probably would be good if I cooked more, but I just don’t do it very often. When I do, I find it very enjoyable. I made a dish about a year ago. It was stir-fried vegetables with Szechuan sauce. I made it a little too spicy, I admit, but I think everybody enjoyed it, aside from all the sweating.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    K: “The Story of Forgetting.” It’s a novel about Alzheimer’s.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?

    K: Vampire Weekend.

    KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Do you have a favorite clothes designer?

    K: I probably do, because I know what I like, but I wouldn’t know who it is by name.

    KW: Uduak also asks, “How do you think African music will influence the rest of the world in the coming years?”

    K: I think it’s actually already affecting the world in a big way now. People just aren’t aware of it. For instance, there’s a great tune by Coldplay called “Strawberry Swing.” It’s essentially Afro-Pop music. And most of Vampire Weekend’s music is Afro-Pop. Africa has influenced many of the biggest bands. So, I believe Africa has already crept in and changed music in the West. People just don’t know to call it African.

    KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

    K: Wow! That would be for a sudden shift in my country from war, distrust and death to peace, love and harmony.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    K: About a week ago on the road with my band when we were talking. It was just one of those things where we’ve been together so long, that a running joke that’s about five years-old could crack us all up for about an hour.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    K: Yes I am, but not of what people ordinarily fear, fortunately. My fears are all internal. I’m afraid of my own self more than of anything external.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    K: Happiness, I think, is one of the most elusive things on the planet. I believe that happiness is only appreciated in retrospect. So, I’m always happy, given that I later find out that I was.

    KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

    K: By being understanding of the fact that I don’t make music for them, but that I make music that’s about my past and about my most honest internal instincts. They need to understand that more than anything else. Wherever I go, it’s not about them, but where the music takes me.

    KW: What has been the happiest moment of your life?

    K: The birth of my first son.

    KW: The Zane question: Do you have any regrets?

    K: I guess I do have some regrets, but none big enough to obsess about.

    KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

    K: As someone who was always interested in walking through life in a positive way and in affecting people in a positive way.

    KW: Thanks again for the interview, K’Naan, and best of luck on your world tour.

    K: Thank you so much, Kam.

  • Book review: The History of White People

    Nell Painter (Photo credit: Robin Holland)

    "Most Americans envision whiteness as racially indivisible, though ethnically divided; this is the scheme anthropologists laid out in the mid 20th Century. By this reckoning, there were only three real races (Mongoloid, Negroid and Caucasoid) but countless ethnicities. Today, however, biologists and geneticists no longer believe in the physical existence of races—though they recognize the continuing power of racism (the belief that races exist, and that some are better than others)...

    Although science today denies race any standing as objective truth, and the U.S. censes faces taxonomic meltdown, many Americans cling to race as the unschooled cling to superstition. So long as racial discrimination remains a fact of life and statistics can be arranged to support racial difference, the American belief in race will endure.

    But confronted with the actually existing American population—its distribution of wealth, power and beauty—the notion of American whiteness will continue to evolve, as it has since the creation of the American Republic.”
    - Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xi-xii)

    A quarter century ago, comedian Martin Mull published “The History of White People in America” a book which took a lighthearted look at the contributions of Caucasians to this society. The droll humorist even served as the host for a made-for-TV adaptation of the popular best-seller, a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary starring Steve Martin, Harry Shearer and Fred Willard.

    As might be expected, Nell Irvin Painter’s version of “The History of White People” tackles the same subject-matter, only in the deadly-serious, methodical and academic fashion expected of a Princeton University professor who also happens to be African-American. Weighing-in at 500+ pages, her informative, encyclopedic opus ponders whether white people even belong to a separate race, which one might presume to be the case, judging by this country’s long legacy of a strictly-enforced color line.

    But the author’s examination of the history of Western Civilization from ancient Greece and Rome to the present reveals the emergence of “whiteness” to be a relatively-recent phenomenon, having only really caught hold as a viable philosophy in the 1700s in the wake of a Germanic propagating the notion of Caucasian features as the epitome of beauty. Professor Painter’s persuasive thesis that there is only one race, the human race, rests on evidence unearthed in recent years by the Genome Project. Yet, in spite of conclusive scientific proof, we see that the arbitrary, artificial construct of race tends to persist, even if undergoing alterations in accordance with dictates of ever-evolving cultural mores to a certain degree.

    If there is any hope in finally making racism obsolete once and for all, it rests in the widespread embrace of the sort of sensible conclusions upon which Nell Painter’s monumental research and scholarship were based.

  • Corinne Bailey Rae: The “Live from the Artists Den” interview


    Corinne puts her record on and lets her hair down

    Corinne Jacqueline Bailey was born in Leeds , England on February 26, 1979, the eldest of three girls to bless the union of her British mother and Caribbean father from St. Kitts. As a child, she studied classical violin at school, and only sang in the church choir, until she formed an all-female rock band at the age of 15.

    Corrine went on to major in English at the University of Leeds , and after graduating in 2000, took a job as a hat check girl at a local jazz club. It was there, while sitting in with various bands that she developed the sultry, soulful vocal style which would become her trademark. It was also at the pub that she met saxophonist Jason Rae, the love whose last name she would take when they married the very next year.

    In 2006, she released her self-titled debut CD containing such hits as “Like a Star” and “Put Your Records On” to rave reviews, earning Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year (“Put Your Records On”) and Best New Artist. Sadly, tragedy struck a couple years later, when her husband passed away unexpectedly.

    A period of withdrawal from the public eye to grieve ended when Corinne reemerged in 2010 upon the release of her second album, “The Sea,” a relatively-sober CD in comparison to the light and breezy collection of melodies on her initial offering. Recently, she reflected with me about her life and her career, in celebration of her PBS special, “Live from the Artists Den,” a concert recorded at the Hiro Ballroom in New York City. (See here)

    Kam Williams: Thanks so much for the time, Corinne. I’m honored to be speaking with you.

    Corinne Bailey Rae: Thank you.

    KW: Did you have fun shooting the “Live from the Artists Den” concert in New York ?

    CBR: I really enjoyed recording it, yeah. I had great time in front of a really appreciative audience. The way that it was recorded was really unobtrusive, so we really kind of got lost in the moment. So, yeah, I loved it.

    KW: Do you have a special affinity for New York ?

    CBR: Yes, New York was definitely one of the first gigs we did in America . And that was also my first chance to get to New York . So, the first time I ever saw it I was playing there. It’s all tied up for me, playing in America for the first time, being in New York, experiencing this different culture, and finding this cool place to hang out. So, I always love coming back to New York.

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, “Who were your musical influences?” Let me guess, Billie Holiday and Al Green. You remind me of a combination of them.

    CBR: Wow! I definitely love Al Green’s singing, how vulnerable and delicate it is, and how there’s a lot of texture to his voice. And similarly, Billie Holiday has a great deal of texture in his voice. She was an amazing find for me at 11 or 12 when me mum started playing her records for me. I remember being a little annoyed that I hadn’t discovered her voice before, because I always had so much texture in my voice, and always loved singing, but never really considered myself a singer because of that croakiness which I’d never heard in another singer. So, I was always trying to get rid of that croakiness. Then, Billie Holiday arrived like a real lightning bolt letting me know that there was a place for me. In fact, there’d been a place for me all along. And later I appreciated singers like Bjork, who was really special to me, and Macy Gray and Erykah Badu. They were all influences in the sense that they give you more confidence in your abilities. I also love Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi singing’s so casual, and his phrases amaze me. And when I was a teenager, I loved Nirvana’s kind of homemade music, and Belly and the female indie scene. It was amazing to me how their songs could be dainty and small, yet still have value.

    KW: When you say “homemade” music, it makes me think of your Grammy-nominated debut album, a masterpiece which you managed to make on a shoestring budget. How did you achieve that?

    CBR: Wow! Thank you very much. I guess we worked on it a lot, did a lot of the playing ourselves, did a lot of layering, and we called in a lot of favors. For instance, we’d ask a friend to come over and play bass on a few songs. And we couldn’t afford drummers, so we began trolling for different drums sounds, and we kind of intricately pieced them together. So, it was really time consuming, but in a way it was good because you had a great deal of control over what was happening in all the different sections. Yeah, if you have the time to make a record like that, I think it’s a good way to work.

    KW: By contrast, I found it interesting to hear you on stage say that you sort oof just found yourself singing the songs that you put on your new album, “The Sea,” that that’s how they came to you, rather than by composing them in a conventional manner.

    CBR: Yeah, it was weird. I felt with this record I wanted to work on my own. I was sort of making it up, as I went along. I wasn’t trying so hard. When I was playing the chords, I was just kind of singing things out, sometimes recording it, but sometimes not, and just singing along. And it’s the stuff that stuck that I felt the song was meant to be. Other times, I’d be walking around the house singing something new, and say to myself, “Now, what was that?” And it eventually ended up on the album. I think because other people weren’t involved, it was a much less conscious process. It was just me in a room playing my guitar, and with all this stuff coming out… trying to sing words without thinking about what they meant or putting a filter on them. That was really an important part of the process.

    KW: That’s funny, because the first album sounded so effortless, while the new one has so much emotional depth, I would have guessed that the second was the result of a more work-intensive process.

    CBR: Yeah, when you write breezy melodies, you really have to think about it. I love melodic music, but it’s definitely more of an effort for me. It’s a skill I’d like to develop further, maybe for my next record.

    KW: Larry Greenberg says, “I am completely mesmerized by the beauty of your new album. I know you studied the violin but you don’t play it anymore. Is there any chance I might get to hear you play the violin in the future?

    CBR: It’s a hard instrument, especially to get the intonation right, if you haven’t played it in a long time. It’s a completely different discipline, but yeah, I would love one day to mess about, sit and write some string parts and sort of layer them up. And if my playing were good enough, I would be really happy to play violin on a record. But I haven’t played for so long, I don’t know how good I would be.

    KW: What age were you when you studied violin?

    CBR: I started when I was about 6, and I studied it until I was 16. I played in youth orchestras.

    KW: Were you good at it?

    CBR: Maybe the first 5 years or so I was really good for my age, and stood out. But then it started too catch up with me, and I started to struggle, because I never could afford private lessons.

    KW: Larry also mentioned that you were on tour in August with Norah Jones. He wants to know what’s your favorite flavor of Chex Mix, because Norah sang a song about that cereal.

    CBR: I like Frosties. We don’t have Chex Mix in England . We have Frosties.

    KW: Yale Grad Tommy Russell asks, “Do you think the music industry suffered an irreparable period from Napster and other online downloading sites, and from the music industry''s obsession with appearance over substance, or do you think there''s hope for hearing more and more creative musicians like yourself?"

    CBR: I think the industry really suffered from music being available online because it made young people feel, “why should you pay for music, if it’s so readily available for free?”

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, “Do you prefer performing in a large stadium or in front of a small audience?

    CBR: I guess I’ve played a few massive gigs, and they’re a thrill if they go well. But I mostly prefer to play more intimate venues where you can see everyone and everyone can see you. I recently did a concert in Switzerland , where they actually had a couple of huge screens on either side of the stage. It was strange, because when you look out into the audience, no one’s looking at you. Everyone’s looking to the far left or to the far right. I found it quite disconcerting. So, I much prefer when everyone can see me and vice-versa, up to 3,000 or 4,000 people. After that, it gets too big.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    CBR: Nothing springs to mind.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    CBR: Yeah, we were driving back from a festival on a tour bus the other day, when we felt this sort of really hard brake, and we all sort of slid down in our bunks to the bottom. Things like that are scary, that brief moment when you think, “Oh no, we’re in a car crash.” It was a relief to be able to escape safely. But things like that which are out of your control can be shocking.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    CBR: That’s a very good question, actually. It’s kind of sad that I can’t remember when. I haven’t a real, proper abandoned laughing fit for a while. Yeah, I haven’t fallen out laughing on the floor for ages.

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    CBR: I always think it’s weird when you see yourself in mirrors. I try not to look in mirrors. I think people can overanalyze how they look. When I do look in the mirror, I feel like I didn’t think I looked like that. I don’t like looking at myself so much. I’m not one of those people who poses in front of the mirror.

    KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

    CBR: My earliest childhood memory is of a really hot morning when I was about 3. I was living with my parents in this fifth-floor flat where one of the walls was all windows. The sun was just beating in, and I remember a friend coming around, and he brought me a box-toy present in a plastic bag. Out of it came a stuffed penguin. It always stuck with me, so I must have liked the penguin.

    KW: You’re from Leeds . Also from your hometown is Mel B of the Spice Girls. Have you ever met her?

    CBR: I’ve never met her. But I have met her sister, Danielle a few times, because she attended the same acting school as my sister, Rhea Bailey, who is also an actress.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    CBR: “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter. It’s a really, really interesting book which goes through history examining where this idea of different people came from.

    KW: I’ve interviewed Nell. She used to teach here in Princeton .

    CBR: Really. I’d like to meet her. I also recently read “The Long Song,” a novel by a British writer name Andrea Levy. It’s sort of a fictionalized slave narrative.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?

    CBR: I’m listening to Erykah Badu’s new record. I really like that. We went to a listening party for that, and I just love it. I’ve got it on vinyl, which is a real pain, because we’re sort of in and out of airports, and I have to pack it in my suitcase.

    I also listen Fresh, the Young Natives, and to an American singer named John Grant,

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    CBR: I like to cook stews and things, dishes where the heat does all the work. So, it’s just like chopping and flaving. Veggie chili would be my favorite thing to cook because it’s really great but not much work.

    KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

    CBR: I really like Stella McCartney, and what Marc Jacobs is doing. It would be like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Lanvin, Stella and Miu-Miu. She’s always got great ideas that are really fun, really cool, and really different.

    KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

    CBR: For increased tolerance of individuality among people. It’s all of our world.

    KW: The Tavis Smiley question: What do you want your legacy to be?

    CBR: Professionally, writing good songs. Personally, I’m not sure yet.

    KW: Corinne, thanks again for the interview, and best of luck with the album and the tour.

    CBR: Oh, thank you very much.

    To see Corinne Bailey Rae perform several songs on “Live from the Artists Den,” visit: http://www.hulu.com/watch/123035/live-from-the-artists-den-corinne-bailey-rae#s-p2-sr-i0

    To order a copy of Corinne’s debut album, “Corinne Bailey Rae,” visit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000HBK3MM?ie=UTF8&tag=thslfofire-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000HBK3MM

    To order a copy of Corinne’s new album, “The Sea,” visit:


    To see a video of Corinne singing “Put Your Records On,” visit:


  • Fraternizing with the first brother-in-law

    Craig Robinson

    Craig Robinson was born in Chicago on April 21, 1962, to Fraser and Marian Robinson and raised in a modest home where he had to share a room with his younger sister, Michelle. With help of devoted parents, who made major sacrifices on their behalf, both children were inspired to excel academically and were admitted to Princeton University.

    6’6” Craig was also a basketball phenom who was twice voted the Ivy League Player of the Year during his college tenure. This meant that Michelle grew up in the shadow of her protective big brother. But today, those roles are reversed with Craig in the shadow of his world famous sibling, since she’s now the First Lady of the United States.

    After playing basketball professionally in Europe, he earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, and entered the world of finance where he enjoyed a meteoric rise until another dream beckoned, namely, to coaching. Craig spent two years as the head coach at Brown, where he spearheaded a revival of the school’s flagging program, winning more games in his first two years than any other head coach in the school’s basketball history before being named the Ivy League Basketball Coach of the Year.

    Kam Williams: Hey, thanks for the time. Much appreciated.

    Craig Robinson: Oh, my pleasure, man. Thank you for reading my book.

    KW: I really enjoyed it. How should I refer to you, as the First Brother-in-Law?

    CR: [Laughs] You can call me Craig, Coach, or whatever you like.

    KW: How does it feel, as a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, to find yourself suddenly overshadowed by your sister for the first time?  

    CR: It’s ironic, but it’s kind of fun for me. As I mentioned in the book, for most of her life, until just a few years ago, she was always known as Craig Robinson’s little sister. It’s much more fun being Michelle Obama’s big brother.

    KW: In reading the book, you emphasized the importance of both family and basketball in shaping your character. Which would you say played a bigger role?

    CR: I’d say the split is really about 70% family, 30% basketball. The foundation I learned from my parents. It just so happened that my father was into athletics, so he often used sports to reiterate some of the lessons he had already taught me at home.  

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls’ asks, “How does it feel to be the First Lady''s brother?” And, “Seeing politics up close and personal, do you have political aspirations of your own?”

    CR: I’ll answer the second question first. I don’t have any political aspirations. I so much enjoy coaching. I feel so rewarded having the opportunity to help shape the lives of young people. As to how it feels to be the First Lady''s brother, it’s really been an eye-opener for me to work on the Presidential campaign, and to get an insider’s view of Washington and politics. It was humbling and quite an honor to be able to go around the country and talk about my family. And to see the inner workings of the White House, just from my own inquisitive point of view, has been really interesting. It’s been almost all positive.

    KW: What did you think of the issue of the New Yorker Magazine that came out during the campaign with the cover suggesting that your sister and Barack were terrorists?

    New Yorker

    CR: It didn’t bother me, because I knew who my sister and brother-in-law were. While it might have been disturbing to some people, it really didn’t upset me. Whenever trailblazers are trying to break through a ceiling into uncharted territory, they have to be prepared for pushback and challenges, and for it not be pretty.

    KW: Have you ever read the book, “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” by Ellis Cose? He’s also from Chicago. The book talks about the frustrations encountered by many black professionals upon entering the corporate world. I know plenty of folks like the ones he describes whose careers never fully flourished despite impressive credentials and their showing dedication. Why do you think you, your sister and President Obama have fared so differently?  

    CR: I haven’t read the book, but I’m going to run out and try to find it. I certainly understand the point it sounds like he’s making. Having worked in corporate America, the only thing I can say is that growing up in our house Michelle and I were taught to do our best, to be content with that, and not to gauge our success by how much money we made. And we saw that ethic demonstrated every day, watching our father getting up and going to work, despite his being disabled, and my mom working so hard, too. My parents’ prevailing mantra was self-confidence. They taught us not to let anybody else define us, and to not worry about what other people thought. What that does is instill the confidence and determination that you need to compete when things are so much against you.

    KW: It makes me think of PBS anchorwomanGwen Ifill’s memoir, where she recounted being greeted on the first day of work at a Boston newspaper by a note on her desk which read, “[N-word] go home!”

    Luckily, she wasn’t crushed by the insult like the racist undoubtedly hoped. The incident only served to strengthen her resolve. But not everybody is blessed with the combination of intelligence, grace and intestinal fortitude needed to survive and even flourish in a toxic environments like that. 

    CR: You have to have the type of personality that doesn’t care about that sort of intimidation. It helps to feel in every fiber of your being that, “I’m here to do something that I’d love to do. And if you think this is going to scare me away, then you don’t know who I am.”

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, “How has the family dynamic changed since your mother and sister moved to the White House?” Also, “Are all family events now at your sister''s?”

    CR: No, all family events are not at my sister''s, although things obviously have changed a little. Now, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare to get together, but I still talk to my mother and sister at least once a week. And the things we speak about haven’t changed. It’s family stuff: parenting, the kids, and how they’re doing.

    KW: I forgot that you and your wife just had a baby. Congratulations!

    CR: Yep, in January, thank you.

    KW: Are you getting any sleep?

    CR: No, but I’m at the point where I don’t need a lot of sleep.

    KW: Bernadette has a couple of follow-ups. “Do you have Secret Service following you around all the time?” And, “How often each week do people reach out to you just to get to Barack?”

    CR: I can’t comment about our security. As for the second question, people reach out to me incessantly to get through to Barack. Because I’m a coach, my contact information is easily accessible, and people write, call and send things to me constantly.    

    KW: Hot Rod Williams wants to know, who was best player you ever played against? Having read the book, I’d {sidebar id=1}guess your answer is gonna be Michael Jordan.

    CR: Right. That was in a summer league game.

    KW: He also wants to know, what was your greatest basketball moment as a player?

    CR: The NCAA Tournament my senior year, when we won two games, including an upset of Oklahoma State, is my fondest memory from my playing days..

    KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles would like to know your thoughts about the Gulf oil spill.

    CR: Well, my thoughts are that this is an awful tragedy that sounds like it could have been avoided. My heart just goes out to the families of the people who lost their lives, and to the people of the Gulf who are going to feel the effects of it for years to come.

    KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell wants to know if you think your brother-in-law is doing enough in response to the crisis in the Gulf.

    CR: That’s a loaded question that I’d prefer not to answer.

    KW: Tommy also asks, when you visit the White House, do you stay over? And if so, in what room?

    CR: I’ve only spent the night there once, and I stayed in the Lincoln bedroom. I imagine I would stay there any time I’m invited, because it’s got the biggest bed.

    KW: Reverend Florine Thompson says, “I read that your mother refers to you as Philosopher-in-Chief. This being the case, what is the wisest quote that you are known for in the family?”

    CR: [LOL] I don’t know that I’ve been quoted yet.

    KW: She also asks, when life seems most challenging, who gets you through those difficult times?

    CR: I would have to say my family, specifically, my wife, my mom and my kids.

    KW: Another one from Reverend Thompson: What leadership/management style do you commit to and why?

    CR: As a coach, it involves a lot more teaching and instructing than it did when I was in the business world. I try to get my players to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own.

    KW: Her follow-up is, “What is your primary goal as coach of the Oregon State Beavers?”

    CR: The primary goal is to compete for the national championship. That’s the ultimate goal. But I’d say that right now we’re just trying to compete for the Pac-10 championship every year.

    KW: Is recruiting easier or harder, being the First Brother-in-Law?

    CR: We’re still trying to figure that out, but being related to the President and First Lady of the United States certainly gives me some brand awareness.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    CR: No, although every now and then I get a question I’ve never been asked before. This is the first time I’ve ever been interviewed where the reporter has had questions from readers. That’s different.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    CR: For my life, probably not. I haven’t been afraid in a long time. But I’m definitely a worrier.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    CR: Yes.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    CR: This weekend.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    CR: John Adams by David McCullough.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod? 

    CR: I listen to a little bit of everything: hip-hop, R&B, reggae and jazz. And I’ll even tune-in to a Top-40 station on the radio. 

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    CR: When I look in the mirror, I hope I’m doing the right thing. I see someone who’s trying to do his best to leave a mark which helps rather than hurts people.

    KW: Guess what? Just this second I got an email marked “URGENT!” warning me not to open any email with the subject heading “Blacks in the White House,” because it might be a virus.

    CR: [Chuckles] That’s ironic, huh?

    KW: Yeah, but I’m sure it’s not true. They never are. The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

    CR: Oh, man, it was when I was 3, before we moved out of our first apartment. I remember my mom holding me up to the window so I could see my dad coming home from work.

    KW: What was it like sharing a room with Michelle as a child?

    CR: It was a lot of fun. We were very close. My parents never pitted us against each other, so it was a really easygoing childhood. Because she became First Lady, people want me to say that I predicted it back then. But I didn’t.

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    CR: Fried chicken.

    KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

    CR: That my dad could have lived to see all the stuff that’s going on for us right now. 

    KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

    CR: I don’t have one. Being 6’6” and 260 pounds, I like any designers who can make clothes look good on me.

    KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

    CR: Krispy Kreme donuts. They’re a real test of willpower.

    CR: Do you ever wish you could get your anonymity back?

    KW: [Laughs] Yeah, sometimes, for my daughter’s sake. When we go out to dinner, she would love to make sure we share some quality time together. But sometimes, that’s just not possible, between my being a basketball coach, and my sister being the First Lady.

    KW: How do you want to be remembered?

    CR: As somebody who gave more than he took.

    KW: Thanks again, Craig, good luck in the Pac-10 next season, and give my best to your sister and brother-in-law.

    CR: Alright, man, I appreciate it. This was fun. 

  • Book review: Bitch Is the New Black

    Bitch is the new black

    “I’m such a badass. I am literally the baddest bitch on the planet. If there was a bitch contest between me and every other heartbroken, hissing, red-eyed, puffy-faced woman in the world, I would defeat every last one of them--handily… I’m a bitch, but I swear I don’t want to be. Really, I think I have to be.”
    -- Excerpted from Chapter One (pg. 4)

    Normally, I’d say it takes a lot of nerve to publish your memoirs before you even turn 30, but in the case of Helena Andrews I have to concede that it turns out to be totally warranted. For this fiery young sister not only already has a lot of life experiences under her belt, literally and figuratively, but has cultivated a wealth of wisdom to share well beyond her years. And, perhaps most importantly, she has a most beguiling way with words which keep you intrigued with what’s coming out of her mouth next in this shockingly-frank autobiography.

    As for credentials, Helena’s a seasoned journalist who has worked for The New York Times, O Magazine and Politico since her graduation from Columbia University. This impressive resume’ sounds fairly conventional, until you factor in that she was raised by a lesbian on Catalina Island, where she was the only black kid in town.

    Her writing style might best described as a non-linear stream of conscious reflecting that Ivy League pedigree but blended with an introspective compulsion to bare her soul. The upshot is an unexpurgated opus which primarily focuses on her frustrations over a never-ending string of failed relationships.

    The author is not at all hesitant to dish the dirt on her ex-lovers as she reflects on what went wrong while issuing cautionary warnings about the hazards of dating in the 21st Century. So, over the course of this alternately angry and steamy page-turner, the author shares her {sidebar id=17}feelings about everything from the guy who took her virginity to having an abortion as a college sophomore to the sexual tension between her and a black lesbian colleague to sabotaging a budding romance with a dreamboat for calling her the “perfect girl.” Curiously, she also admits to not knowing “whether to take it as a compliment or a curse,” upon being told that she “had the best p*ssy in the world.”

    Bitch Is the New Black’s terminally-irreverent slanguage is offset by somber asides like “This is why I never win” and “I want never to be in love again.” Consequently, don’t be surprised if by the time you finish it Helena has you thoroughly convinced that she is entitled to her dismal outlook on the battle of the sexes.

    Her fatalistic view is summed up best by this exchange about a man who is clearly afraid to flirt with her. “Is it because I’m black?” Helena asks her girlfriend. “No, it’s because you’re a bitch,” comes the telling response. Listen, you know you’re in for a heck of a wild, roller coaster ride when a sister’s opening line announces, “Problem is, I’m black and I have a vagina.”

  • Jada Pinkett Smith Interview

    Jada Pinkett

    The many shades of Jada, from TV Nurse to Karate Kid’s mom

    Besides playing the title character on the U.S. TNT series HawthoRNe, which is starting its second season, Jada Pinkett Smith executive-produces the show through her production company, 100% Womon. With her husband, Will Smith, she is serving as producer of The Karate Kid, starring their son, Jaden, and also of Fela!, the Broadway musical nominated for 11 Tony Awards. Jada’s recent film credits include Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, as the voice of Gloria, and director Diane English’s remake of The Women.

    In the past, she’s teamed up with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle in Reign Over Me, and enjoyed a pivotal role opposite Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Michael Mann’s Collateral. However, she perhaps remains best known as the take-charge Niobe of Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions fame.

    Here, Jada reflects on the challenge of balancing career and family when each member is a showbiz celebrity in his or her own right.

    Kam Williams: Thanks for the time, Jada. It’s nice to have an opportunity to speak with you again.

    Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh, thank you!

    KW: Well, first of all, let me say congratulations! You’re blossoming on every front. Let’s see, HawthoRNe’s starting its second season, you’re going t be on the cover of the July issue of Essence magazine, your Broadway musical has been nominated for 11 Tonys, and Jaden is starring in The Karate Kid, a picture you and Will produced. How does it feel?

    JPS: It feels good. These are the moments that you keep in your back pocket to remember, “All of those were good times!” [Laughs]

    KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, and I think they often come up with better questions than I do. So why don’t I start right of with some of them. Lester Chisholm says, “Thank you for the production of Fela,” and asks, “What would suggest as a lifestyle to keep young entertainers focused?”

    JPS: Wow… Whew! Man, that’s a hard one, because part of the challenge of being young is finding what to be focused on. It’s a time of exploration when you have to discover who you’re not, in order to know who you are. I would say being deeply involved in the art world would help keep a young artist on track. Doing what you love, so that your focus is your artistry.

    KW: Reverend Florine Thompson and filmmaker Hisani Dubose had the same question: What is the key to balancing motherhood, marriage and such a successful career?

    JPS: Staying true to yourself, and being able to prioritize. It’s very important to prioritize. I know, for me, my family comes first. That makes every decision very easy.

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls Are there any arenas left for you to conquer?

    JPS: [LOL] Definitely! And I’m always looking for them. But as I’ve gotten older, and now that my kids are starting to do what they do, I am now really focusing on sharing my knowledge and insights with them to help guide them on their journeys.

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman observes that you and Will come across as down-to-earth and very family-centric. She wants to know, how you keep your family values intact with the children becoming stars themselves? Do they have chores and an allowance?

    JPS: [Laughs] They definitely have chores, and they get an allowance from money they make, believe it or not. I think that critical to keeping them balanced is giving them purpose, and part of giving them purpose is allowing them to do things that they love to do, which is being part of this industry. And as wacky as that might seem, it allows them to contribute to the family, and it allows them to develop their own self-worth. And I feel that when a child has self-worth and purpose, that’s what keeps them grounded.

    KW: Cinema Professor Mia Mask asks, do you think the roles for women of color -- black women in particular -- have improved?

    JPS: I’d say they’ve improved, but there still aren’t enough. And I’d say that’s the case, not only for African-American women, but for all women in the Hollywood game. It’s just slim pickings, and a very challenging time for us. I think that’s why more of us need to work our way behind the camera in order to create roles that really illuminate who women are. We still have room for growth in that area, without a doubt.

    KW: Marcia Evans says that she’s a true fan of yours because she really respects the mature manner in which you approach being a wife and mother. She wants to know whatever happened to your TV sitcom "Good News."

    JPS: I never had a show by that name, but I did have one called “M.I.L.F. and Cookies,” that got picked up and was set to air until the network and I had a disagreement at the last minute. They wanted to change the concept a bit in a way I wasn’t in agreement with, so we had to go our separate ways.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    JPS: I’m sure there is, but I really can’t think of one right now.

    KW: Larry Greenberg says Richmond, Virginia is a beautiful and unique choice for the setting of Hawthorne. Were you involved in that decision?

    JPS: We felt like Richmond was an area that’s growing, but hasn’t really been explored on television at all, in the way that New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have. So, we decided it would make a great location.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    JPS: Yes.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    JPS: I am happy. I have my moments when I’m not, but I am. I’m very happy.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?

    JPS: Oh, I’m listening to so much right now. I looooove Alicia Keys’ new song, “Unthinkable.” I’m blasting that all over the place, but I’m also listening to Sade’s new album, and I always have my Heavy Metal, Mastodon. [LOL]

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    JPS: I’m reading a book right now by John Dewey called “Art as Experience.”

    That has been a very interesting read for me. And I’m also reading one called The Heart of Sufism, which is about a more esoteric approach to Islam.

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    JPS: Oh, man, when I look in the mirror, I see about a thousand different Jadas... Yeah…

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    JPS: I don’t really cook much. I’m more of a baker. My favorite things to bake that everybody loves, and I can only keep in the house for about ten minutes, are 7-Up cake and Pineapple Upside-Down cake.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    JPS: Oh, I laugh hard every day. I mean, my husband is Will Smith! [Shrieks] I’m telling you, that’s one of the joys of being married to him. My life full of laughter. Thank God I have him. My life is full of laughter because of that man.

    KW: How do you want to be remembered?

    JPS: I don’t know yet. I have no idea.

    KW: Well, thanks for another great interview, Jada, and best of luck in all your endeavors.

    JPS: Thank you, Kam.

    To get a sneak peek at HawthoRNe Season 2 which premieres in the U.S. on TNT on June 22nd at 9 PM, visit: http://www.tnt.tv/dramavision/?cid=47834

  • African programming at Luminato 2010

    The African Trilogy

    After much fanfare and anticipation, the Luminato arts festival kicks off later this week. It will run from June 11th to 20th at various locations in Toronto’s downtown core. During the last three years, Luminato has attracted 5.5 million festival-goers. This year, Luminato will present over 150 events over ten days. Among those selections, the festival has some truly amazing features through its African programming that are must-attends.

    As Devyani Saltzman, curator of literary programming at Luminato and accomplished author herself, told AfroToronto.com, the festival is excited to feature some of the top new voices in African literature this year. Luminato is particularly proud to showcase Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri. On Monday, June 14th at the Al Green Theatre, the festival will present an evening with the remarkable winner of the prestigious 1991 Man Booker Prize for The Famished Road. Ben Okri will discuss his newest work, Tales of Freedom.


    The African literary program also features Kenyan author and scholar Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who wrote Decolonizing the Mind and Petals of Blood , for the Canadian launch of his new memoir Dreams in a Time of War. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o passionately advocates for African authors writing in their native languages. The event, which takes place on June 12th at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St. W.), will be hosted by well-known local African-Canadian author Dionne Brand and will also feature emerging writers Brian Chikwava (a young Zimbabwean author from London who wrote Harare North) and Carole Enahoro (a Nigerian-Canadian novelist and author of Doing Dangerously Well).

    The literary program explores how we write about Africa and tackles preconceptions about the continent. The events also take an inquisitive look at cross-generational writing and asks: What is Africa’s continuing literary legacy shaping out to be since the first publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart?

    Exploring Africa and the West on stage


    The pièce de résistance of the theatre program is The Africa Trilogy. Inspired by the 2005 Massey Lectures (specifically Race Against Time) by Stephen Lewis, The Africa Trilogy seeks explores the often complex relationship between Africa and the West with three playwrights and three directors from three continents, offering three different points of view. Produced by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre and commissioned especially for Luminato, the trilogy features three one-hour-long world premieres.

    The directors Josette Bushell-Mingo (from the UK), Ross Manson (artistic director of Volcano Theatre) and Liesl Tommy (from South Africa), join forces with the playwrights Christina Anderson (from the US), Roland Schimmelpfennig  (from Germany), and Binyavanga Wainaina (from Kenya) to examine this interesting concept.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak to The Africa Trilogy’s dramaturge, Toronto’s own Weyni Mengesha. She told us that the energy from all these voices rehearsing at the same time was not only a logistical challenge but most importantly represented a potent incubator of ideas and perspectives.  As the Volcano Theatre company’s artistic director, Ross Manson says: “Here is a subject matter that is vast, inviting and invisible on the stages of our theatres.” He goes on to say that this international collaboration taken on by a small but respected company gives it the particularity that “it’s a young, fresh, an experimental take”. Echoing this sentiment, Mengesha told AfroToronto that she was excited by the concept of delving into a theatrical analysis of the relationship between Africa and the West. Too often, she says, Africa is seen as a single monolithic entity. But Africa is a continent comprising of 54 countries with many stories to tell. We are only scratching the surface.

    As the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie rightly pointed out in her inspiration 2009 TED talk: “What’s dangerous is the single story, and the West has a single story about Africa.” Also pointing out this fact several years ago in an exclusive interview with AfroToronto.com back in 2006, Adichie said she was first stunned at how warped the image that the West had of Africa was when she first went to study in the United-States.

    Hence the need to tackle many of these sometimes even well-meaning misconceptions.

    In one of The African Trilogy’s plays, Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, Roland Schimmelpfennig follows two couples, one of which has recently come back from working as missionaries for six years in Africa. Interesting comparisons are made between the two couples to show how their decisions have affected their lives.

    In Shine Your Eye, Kenyan journalist turned playwright based in New York Binyavanga Wainaina takes a look at African Internet scams. Set in a chaotic office environment in Lagos, Nigeria, the play examines the internal struggles of a young computer hacker as she comes to terms with her choices of living as an African or as a Westerner.

    The third play, Glo, by African-American playwright Christina Anderson looks into the notions of globalization, diversity and identity through the eyes of an African writer invited to New York to be a keynote speaker at a diversity conference.

    All three plays make notable forays into analyzing what Paul Gilroy called “the Black Atlantic”. In Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, he argues that modern black identity is very much a product of these balancing cultural poles between the West and Africa.

    The trilogy is in previews from Thursday, June 10 - Sunday, June 13; Tuesday, June 15 (opening night) - Sunday, June 20 at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queen’s Quay W.). Tickets: $30 – 45

    Sights and sounds of Africa at Luminato

    In addition to the literary and theatrical programming, Luminato presents two free concerts in the park: Global Music: Rock the Casbah & An African Prom featuring Béla Fleck (USA), Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), Tony Allen (Nigeria) and Rachid Taha (Algeria) and the National Bank Festival: World Divas and Global Blues featuring Afro-beat singer Razia Said, Toronto’s own Katenen “Cheka” Dioubaté and international star Salif Keita from Mali. The first outdoor concert (Global Music) will take place in Queen’s Park on June 12th (1:00pm to 11:00pm) and is a free event. The second outdoor concert (World divas) will also take place at Queen’s Park on June 19th (1:00pm to 11:00pm) and is also a free event.

    An exiting exhibit of contemporary African photography is currently ongoing until August 2nd on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.). The free exhibition, entitled Bamako in Toronto, coinciding with Volcano Theatre’s The Africa Trilogy, is a collection of photographs from a rising generation of photographers from across the African continent.

    Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will also present a documentary film on Saturday, June 12th, at the NFB Mediatheque (150 John St) entitled Sembène: The Making of African Cinema. The 60-minute film richly documents the legendary late Senegalese filmmaker Sembène Ousmane. This is a free screening.

  • AfroToronto.com's Hot Docs 2010 picks

    Hot Docs

    North America’s largest documentary festival, Hot Docs, is going on right now in Toronto until Sunday, May 9th. Celebrating its 17th edition, the 10-day festival is showcasing 170 documentary films from 40 countries. AfroToronto.com can recommend a few great picks this year, even as the festival winds down. The best was perhaps saved for last starting with last night’s world premiere presentation of “Grace, Milly, Lucy... Cild Soldiers”, presented by the National Film Board. Under the direction of Canadian filmmaker Raymonde Provencher, the film explores the devastating reality of child soldiers in Uganda. Another screening is scheduled for Saturday, May 8th.

    Hot Docs

    Through the bone-chilling recollections of former child soldiers Grace, Milly and Lucy, the documentary reveals the naked atrocities perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army. With little regard for the dignity of human kind, the rebel soldiers go into villages to abduct unsuspecting children for the purpose of training them as soldiers and to force them to become wives for the rebel commanders.Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers, sheds a revealing light on the considerable number of young girls who are forced into becoming child soldiers.The honesty with which all three women bring us into their tortured past is at times very troubling. They describe how they were forced to raid villages and commit mass murder while carrying babies on their back. Grace, Milly and Lucy managed to escape the horror and made the conscious decision to tell the world about these abuses and to no longer suffer in silence as so many other ex-child soldiers do. They hope to be able to save other girls from a similar fate.See trailer at: http://www.nfb.ca/film/grace_milly_lucy_child_soldiers_trailer/ Screening info:Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers

    Canada, Run Time: 71

    Director(s) :Raymonde Provencher

    Sat, May 08 4:00 pm --The Royal Cinema


    Thunder Soul
    Another film recommended by AfroToronto.com is Soul Thunder. Directed by Mark Landsman, the documentary traces the reunion, some thirty-five years later, of an iconic Houston, Texas high school band from the 1970s known as the Kashmere Stage Band. A special focus is placed on the band’s legendary mentor Conrad “Prof” Johnson Sr  who is now 92 years old.

    Johnson was the patriarch of the all-black high school band that changed the rules of the game by introducing Top 40 funk hits to nationwide band competitions. Before long, they were touring the throughout the U.S. and internationally, won several national championships and released eight studio albums --- including the top selling “Texas Thunder Soul”. Conrad O. Johnson’s vision was revolutionary at the time since most high school bands stuck to the traditional big-band style. Johnson also created his own original music pieces.

    After the group disbanded in 1978, several members went on to become professional musicians. The film captures the magical reunion of KSB’s illustrious alumni in 2008 who return to the school for the first time in three decades. Although the big afros were gone and given way to a few bald spots, the returning musicians, now in their fifties, sought to play again to honour their beloved mentor, Conrad "Prof" Johnson.

    Screening info:Thunder SoulUSA, Run Time: 83Director(s) :Mark Landsman

    Fri, May 07 9:00 pm --Cumberland 3

    Sat, May 08 6:00 pm --Bloor Cinema

    Sun, May 09 1:45 pm --The ROM Theatre

    “When I Rise” is a feature-length documentary about the life of Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted African-American University of Texas music student. Hers is a story of perseverance and love for oneself and others as she became embroiled at the epicenter of racial controversy during the Civil Rights era.

    Conrad faced strong adversity for trying to forge her way in the opera world. She was the target of racial discrimination and regular insults on the University of Texas campus. Tensions hit an all-time high when she was cast to co-star with a white classmate for a performance. The controversy made national news when she was subsequently expelled from the cast.Screening info:When I Rise

    USA, Run Time: 74, Canadian Premiere

    Director:Mat Hames

    Fri, May 07 6:30 pm --Bloor Cinema

    Sun, May 09 4:00 pm --Cumberland 3



  • A portrait of the first Afro-Canadian Oscar and Emmy nominee filmmaker: Hubert Davis

    Hubert Davis
    Photo by Joseph Michael

    Hubert Davis grew up in Vancouver BC and was raised by his mother. Davis is a writer and director who earned his BA in Film & Communication at McGill University in 1999. He also studied Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia with screenwriter Peggy Thompson (The Lotus Eaters, Better than Chocolate). Hubert Davis is a filmmaker and a commercial director at Untitled Films. He worked as a Commercial Editor with the edit house Panic&Bob from  2002 until 2005.  His work has been reviewed in various media including publications such as Who’s who in Black Canada (by Dawn P. Williams), Metro newspaper (in French and English), The Vancouver Sun, Sway Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Le Devoir, Canada AM, CTV.ca, etc.

    Since his teenage years, Hubert Davis knew that filmmaking was his thing.  “I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was 17.  I saw two films that really had a strong effect on me; Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas” he expressed during our interview.  As an aspiring filmmaker, his first work Hardwood received an Oscar nomination in 2005 for Best Short Documentary and an Emmy in 2006 for Outstanding Cultural and Artistic Programming for his directorial debut.  For this short film, Davis became the first Afro-Canadian in history to earn a nomination for the prestigious Academy Award and for an Emmy.

    Mr. Davis learned of his nomination when he clicked on the Academy Awards site in 2005.  He shared how he felt about being the first Afro-Canadian filmmaker nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy for his first documentary.  “ There are so many great African-Canadian filmmakers that came before me – Clement Virgo1, Stephen Williams2, Sudz Sutherland3 just to name a few.  So, it’s a huge honour” he said. Thus he extols filmmakers who paved the way to future directors as himself.

    The documentary Hardwood is divided into three movements — "love," "recollection" and "redemption."  Hubert Davis directed, edited and wrote this documentary. Hardwood is a tour de force autobiographical documentary.  The film is based on his father, Mel Davis, a former Harlem Globetrotter and NBA basketball player (in the ‘70s) and their family relationship.  Hardwood explores many themes such as the parallel element of Davis''s childhood fascination with his dad''s celebrity.

    Hardwood premiered in 2004 and has been screened at over 30 film festivals. It has gained wide acclaim as well as various awards.  The documentary allows the viewers to understand the dynamics of family, of not having a father or of meeting another sibling later in life.  These are worldwide and boundless issues.  The National Post (Toronto) wrote that Hardwood is “a fascinating and deeply personal documentary about history, hoops and the human heart”.

    At first, Davis only hoped to create a documentary about his father’s life (in Hardwood) as a professional basketball player.  Hardwood in the end became a reflection of his family and the courage they showed by sharing their personal stories.  When asked if he had some reservations at the beginning in taking a personal road,  Davis responded:  “ Making Hardwood a personal film was an extremely tough choice. It took a lot of time to get my head around it – but ultimately the decision became about what was going to make the best project”.  Hardwood evoked emotions and became a catalyst for healing, redemption, enlightenment and openness.

    1 He did Rude, Love Come Down, etc
    2 He directed the ABC-drama series Lost (Williams was also a co-executive producer on this show), the series Soul Food, 21 Jump Street, etc
    3He was involved in episodes of Da Kink In My Hair, Degrassi:  The Next Generation, etc

    Regarding the additional work of Mr.  Davis, his 10-minute fictional short Aruba, was presented at the Sundance film festival in 2006.  He received the Don Haig Award for top emerging Canadian director at the 2007 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.  Hubert Davis worked on other films such as The Republic of Love as an assistant-editor, Bollywood/Hollywood (directed by the Indo-Canadian Deepa Mehta who received an Oscar nomination and Genie Awards for Water in 2006 and 2007).  She had an early influence in Davis’s filmmaking career:  “ Before directing, I worked on post-production.  I had the chance to work with Deepa Mehta. She was one of the first directors I got to see work behind the scenes. It always becomes more realistic to pursue your dream when you get a chance to see people doing it – it makes it real”, he said.

    Invisible City (a TVO-NFB production) is the latest documentary of Hubert Davis.  It is the story of young residents from Toronto’s Regent Park, Canada’s oldest public housing project.  The Regent Park Revitalization plan involves the tearing down of the existing community over the next 15 years, which has given rise to many questions, one of the most important being:  What will happen to the displaced community?

    Invisible City focuses mainly on the lives of two teenagers Kendell and Mikey (who are childhood friends) in their last years of high school.  Those teens and their mothers were able to share in front of the camera very personal issues.  When asked how he was able to make them open up in such a profound way, Davis stated:  “I think I just try and come from a place of understanding. I am not there to judge anyone – I am there to ask questions and really listen to what people are saying”.

    In the film, Davis introduces viewers to Ainsworth Morgan, a former Canadian Football League player who grew up in Regent Park and returned to work as a teacher and mentor.   Mr.  Morgan introduced Mr.  Davis to the two teenagers and was instrumental in allowing the filmmaker to enter the world of Kendell and  Mikey.

    Hubert Davis explained during our interview why it was important for him as a director to make a film touching subjects such as racial profiling, issues surrounding the school system, the absence of older male role models:  “I wanted the film to reflect candidly and honestly the many issues that several young, black men face in the city today. At the same time I don’t want to simplify or sensationalize those issues either”.

    Redemption is a recurring theme in Davis’s documentaries.  The filmmaker commented on this aspect that we also find in Invisible City: “Redemption is an important part of my films because I believe we can always change our lives for the better”.

    It is essential to note that Mr. Davis was inspired by Ralph Ellison’s American classic novel Invisible Man which used numerous images, metaphors and allusions to enhance the emotional and intellectual impact of the book.  Hubert Davis related why it was fundamental to use the invisibility allegory of Ellison for his documentary: “I think most young people feel invisible.  Growing up isn’t easy for anyone but if you are also facing issues of race and poverty then I think the realities of how one is perceived are even more profound. Do people really see you or, do they just see the clothes you wear and neighborhood where you are from?”

    Invisible Man was narrated in the first person by an unnamed African-American man who considers himself socially invisible.  We can draw a parallel between this novel and the reality of the kids at Regent Park who are dealing with invisibility in a figurative sense.   The metaphor of invisibility is used to depict the struggles of growing up in an inner city housing project, where issues of race and crime, of success and failure, of family and manhood can affect the outcomes.  Likewise in Ralph Ellison’s novel, the boys at Regent Park are looking for their identities and their places in society.  The title Invisible City depicts in a candid way the lives of those young people.

    During the interview, Hubert Davis shared how he wishes Invisible City will impact the youth: “I hope young viewers, whatever their background, will be able to see some of themselves or people they know in the film”.  Invisible City premiered at the Royal Theatre in Toronto and in February 2010 on TVO.  The French version of the film La Cité Invisible was also presented during Black History Month 2010 at the ONF (The French sector of NFB in Quebec). Invisible City ends on a very powerful quote. It will be up to the future viewers to discover it when they will see a screening.

    During the interview, Mr. Davis was asked what advice he wished he had been given when he was in the process of becoming a filmmaker.  Thus Hubert Davis gave us some advice for young people who want to follow his path:  “Figure out what kind of stories you want to tell and be persistent.  Never, ever give up”.  He added:  “I think it’s important for young people to understand it’s very hard to break into filmmaking. So, you have to be prepared to get a lot of rejection. You need to have a thick skin”.

    To sum up, Hubert Davis is a brilliant filmmaker with great capacity to evoke powerful emotions in his documentaries and to illuminate hidden issues with unequivocal messages. As aforementioned, Hardwood and Invisible City are about the power of redemption and the healing of the bonds between one another.  Davis knows how to bring layers of emotions and nuance in his films.  His documentaries are notches above other films of its genre. His remarkable works should be translated into numerous languages.

    At the end of the interview, the filmmaker concluded by letting us know about his future plans:  “ I am currently working on a couple of dramatic feature projects”.  Based on Davis’s past body of work, we are anticipating his next productions.

    Invisible City will be available on DVD next June at:
    www.nfb.ca/boutique and our public centres, the Mediatheque here in Toronto and the Cinérobothèque in Montreal.

    Interview conducted by the reporter Patricia Turnier in March 2010 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  Madam  Turnier holds a Master’s degree in law, LL.M.

    Nominations for Hardwood:

    - Oscar nomination in 2005

    - Emmy nomination in 2006

    Additional awards:

    - Golden Sheaf Award of Excellence, Yorkton Short Film & Video Festival, 2004

    - World Wide Short Film Festival Best Documentary, 2004

    - Hardwood was also selected for the InFact Film Series in LA, 2004

    - Big Sky Documentary Film & Video Festival Best Documentary Short Award, 2005

    - Black Maria Film & Video Festival (a Jury’s Choice), 2005

    Award for Aruba: Palm Springs Panavision Grand Jury Award 2006  Award for Invisible City: Hot Docs Film Festival Best Canadian Feature 2009

  • Who Knew Grannie preview

    ahdri zhina mandiela’s new play, who knew grannie, is and isn’t a play in the same way that mandiela is and isn’t a playwright.  In her career she has applied her inherently rhythmic voice to spoken word, film, theatre and other forms from a firmly dub-rooted place.  Her exploration of self and culture are manifest in the application of afro-caribbean oral traditions to contemporary forms.  The poet establishes the further evolution of her form with this dub aria produced by Obsidian Theatre in association with Factory Theatre.

    mandiela recently directed Pamela Mordechai’s El Numero Uno for Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, delving into her childhood to inspire the staging of a good mas which simultaneously evoked ragmen, jabjab and carnival of all kinds in their terrifying glory.  She takes up the role of director again, guiding her aria through curious corridors and choral trips that will elevate the audience into the inexpressible heartspace of four individuals’ journey home to pay respects to their departed matriarch.

    who knew grannie is a flight through psyche that recounts memory - not as incidents actually happened, but as memory actually occurs. The play follows synaptic links and sentimental signposts to draw out the depths of intergenerational linkage, while unfolding layers of familial diffusion that are all too familiar in the West Indian diaspora.

    Grannie’s place in the family is inviolate. Is grannie mek di rules and is grannie ah enforce dem. Even those grandchildren dispersed throughout the world are tied by a thread of discipline, standards and expectations, echoing back to themselves oft ingested aphorisms from early days. Guidance not to be discarded, despite tyetye’s evident willingness to skirt legalities; despite likklebit’s feeling of foreignness at home; despite kris’s disapproved romantic choices and velma’s adamant independence.

    In this play grannie’s grown brood call back to their own simpler selves using games, chants and rhymes taught by grannie to inculcate values and offer connection. There is a mutual promise of constancy in the repetition of “paddle mi own koonoo” and their assertions of “we doing good, large outta grass,” reiterate the debt of success each child owes for sacrifices made on their behalf.

    And in the midst of this mental landscape, viewed through  emotion’s steam-obscured windows, there is the absolute clarity of an adult lens on childhood learning. The recollection of a frivolous game is accompanied by historical context. The folkloric character of kunnu, a village fool prototype, is revealed to be a thin veil over one slave’s story of the middle passage journey. In this single anecdote is the much larger recollection of a people whose ancestral stories, rituals and language s are not dead or absent, but have been transmuted by the necessities of survival, transmuted into games and music like later songs of escape through the underground railroad. A code becomes apparent and the entire aria assumes a new, more critically informative role for a contemporary diasporic Caribbean audience.

    This world premiere takes place from March 18-April 4 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street.

  • Single with Baggage: On the fringes of Trinidad Carnival 2010


    I am in Trinidad now to do a 3 month artist in residence placement, and the first two weeks of my time here were during the Carnival Season (I swear I did not plan it this way!). Though my family is originally from Trinidad and Tobago and I have been coming back home since 1995. I have never come here for Carnival before, but I have been here for Christmas and to perform in the Rapso Festival. I can’t explain why I have never had the draw to come back home for Carnival, but this time there was no avoiding it.

    One of the first things that you will notice about Carnival time is that this is like an unofficial holiday for many of the people on the island. Also people walk by and say HAPPY CARNIVAL. And of course all of the hotel bed and breakfast rates go up to much more than they normally charge because of the tourists who come to the island to celebrate.

    So, given the fact that I have had a few knee injuries and I can’t see myself playing Mas, I decided to observe Carnival from a different perspective. I enjoyed my Carnival not so much on the Front Lines but from the Fringes of Carnival.

    Landing in Trinidad 

    When I first arrived in Trinidad I stayed at the Palms Hotel on the Eastern Main Road and it was definitely a great place to land and stay. It was close to the airport, the rooms are clean they have security and they also serve a free continental breakfast each morning. If you are looking for other meals they have some great places to eat within a 2-3 minute walk from the hotel. 

    It was here that I got a taste of the tourists who come into town and began to get their party on a week and a half before (thanks for waking me up guys!)… I also got to see the excitement that seems to build around the island even in an area like Arouca which is quite far from Port of Spain.  

    A bit later on that week I attended a Carnival Jump Up at a daycare… yes I said daycare. It was so cute, the children ranged in age from 1-4 and they all had on their costumes to play Mas. My little cousin won for best designed costume. She’s only 1 and very tiny but she had her banana sign and her hand painted outfit and she marched out in front of the judges as tiny as she was… proud to be a part of carnival. Her banana sign was a bit heavy but she insisted on holding it up.  Later on all the little kids gathered to jump up and there she was again one of the smallest ones there but she jumped and jumped in the heat for a long time. So you see Carnival really takes over Trinidad and even the little ones celebrate by playing Mas wearing costumes and jumping up.

    To Mas or not to Mas

    Time passed and it was now getting close to Carnival Monday and Tuesday, I knew that I did not want to take part in Jouvet Morning and that I was not going to be playing Mas, but I still wanted to get a feel for Carnival. I did not come all of this way to not see anything, especially since part of my research is on the history of Carnival. I decided to go with my cousin’s girlfriend Ava who was working as a personal assistant to a make up designer. Her name is Kiola Toussaint she’s based in Camden, New Jersey but she came to Trinidad to do make up for an array of clientele who were playing Mas in the two day event. One of her top clients is of course famous Soca Artiste Alison Hinds, but I was really interested in some of the regular people who came here from abroad and decided to play Mas. What was their motivation and what brought them to Trinidad?  

    On Jouvet Morning I had to wake up at 2 am to head out with Ava to the school where Kiola would be doing the make up. She had a team of 4 – 5 other make up artists with her and I watched them set up the room and then waited for the first clients to start rolling in during the wee hours of the morning. On Monday they started to come at about 6:30am.

    People were getting different things done, some had their faces or bodies airbrushed, and some were getting sprayed on their stomachs to erase stretch marks so that their mid riffs looked perfect and ready to be exposed for an entire day. I was quite fascinated by the entire process. Now while this was going on inside the school, Jouvet Morning was happening full throttle outside on the street. So, picture a nice serene school room set up with make up and make artists and bright lights and then just outside there were people covered in black oil and blue and yellow paint jumping up and wining and doing some other things that I can’t mention in this article. I knew at that point that I was in the best place to observe Jouvet… behind a fence!  

    They come from all over for Carnival

    Out of all of the clients that came to get their faces and mid riffs done, there were three clients that I was drawn to. Three friends who came together from the United States to play Mas. There names were Njoke (Denver, Colorado), Kaye (Denver, Colorado) and Christine (Washington, DC). On the first day I took pictures of the three of them so that I could get a before and after shot of what they looked like as regular tourists/civilians and then as their faces were transformed, by Kiola and her team. You see on the first day of Carnival many people do not wear their full costumes. Jouvet morning happens first and then Carnival Monday is a parade but not with full costumes. Then on Carnival Tuesday that’s when all of the gear comes out, the head pieces full costumes and full make up. I talked to each of these women who came here to play mass and asked them what made them come to Trinidad and in one word describe the island.

    Njoke was originally from Trinidad but she moved to the United States, in the past her mom had played Mas and now that she was older she found herself wanting to get back into the culture. She played Mas in 2009 for the first time and she was excited to come back for a second time. When asked to describe Trinidad in one word the word she used was Bacchanal. An official definition for those of you who don’t understand the term – The term originated from Bacchus the Greek God of wine. But in Trinidad a Bacchanal time is drinking partying and having a real good time.  

    It was Kaye’s first time in Trinidad she came for the experience because she is a close friend of Njoke’s. She felt that she needed the education. The one word that Kaye used to describe Trinidad was Colourful.

    Finally, Christine was also back in Trinidad for the second time but it was also her first time playing Mas. She had been told many times that she at least needed to have this experience once in her lifetime. She described her experience as a great one except for some of the experiences at her hotel. The one word that Christine said describes Trinidad is Beautiful.  

    On day two after talking to the people and watching a large number of people get their make up done for many hours, I decided to take a walk down to Aripita Avenue to watch a bit of Carnival. My cousin Randy came with me and I stood on the side of the road and took pictures. I saw an array of sights, and amazing costumes…some costumes were breathtaking and others were completely home made, so there was a definite contrast in what was taking place in the street.  They had security to keep you from jumping up with the bands, and some of the bands had a rope around them, some areas of the sidewalk were even fenced off.

    I got some great pictures after watching for about two hours, but I must admit that one of my main highlights was seeing my cousin Nigel and his Wife Camille approach us. I had left with them very early in the morning and secretly hoped I would get to see them actually jumping up and playing Mas and I did. So given that I took part in Carnival from the Fringes, but still watched a bit of it and enjoyed the festivities, my one word to describe Trinidad during Carnival time is Stimulating. 


    Kiola Toussaint is based in Camden New Jersey and her company is called Cosmeticon Prime Make Up Services http://www.cosmeticonprime.com/

    This experience is rated 5 Planes out of 5

     Airplane  Airplane Airplane  Airplane  Airplane 


    For more information on travel columnist Anne-Marie Woods please go to http://www.imanicreativeconsulting.com/

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