TURN UP: Interview with Soca Star Bunji Garlin


Once upon a time, a young girl from a small city in Ontario met a young dude from the heart of Scarborough (in the east end of Toronto). The girl was from a Jamaican family, and the dude was from a Vincentian one – so while they vibed on a Caribbean diasporic heritage tip, two major arguments ruled their relationship: “fry dumplin” vs. “bakes” and reggae/dancehall vs. soca.

While we still argue about the former, the latter has simmered into an appreciation and reverence for all things Caribbean music. Admittedly, I used to be one of those “I can’t stand soca!” types, but life has gotten infinitely better since I righted the wrongs of my ways – and Bunji Garlin, one of my favourite soca artists, is a major part of that turnaround.


Photo credit: Oluwaseye

The Trinidadian soca powerhouse has been shaking up the scene over the span of his nearly 2 decade-long career. Known for his booming voice, lush sound, and sharp lyrics, he’s created a musical movement that embodies the celebration, determination, and creativity of the Caribbean while being recognized by the rest of the world. His 2012 single Differentology made waves, winning a Soul Train award and Hot 97 FM’s Battle of the Beats competition, being chosen by NPR as one of the year’s favourite anthems, and being featured on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Following that, Bunji released his new album Turn Up on VP Records this September, and is ready to take 2018 by storm, during Carnival season and beyond.

A number of songs from Turn Up have made their way to fetes and Carnival parades over the past year – most notably, the electrifying single Big Bad Soca. With this body of work, Bunji has created a versatile album that satisfies the ears of a variety of listeners, with nods to current EDM and Afrobeat sounds, cross-genre guests like Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, and songs fi di mandem/gyal dem and Carnival purists overall.

In true ‘power couple’ fashion, Bunji’s wife Fay-Ann Lyons is a noted soca force in her own right. VP Records just released the new video for her single High Heels – check it (and a video of the dynamic duo in action at BET) here!

I got to chat with Bunji via email about Turn Up, mainstream industry recognition, musical appropriation, and more – including the simple way that him and Fay-Ann make everything work.

BQ: Was there anything that specifically inspired your creation process with this album compared to your past works?

BG: Honestly, this album I kind of let it take its own course. Sometimes we try to fit music too much into spaces and I felt as though I should let it breathe its own life.

BQ: Ending the album with The Message ft. Damian Marley is such a great juxtaposition with the first song, Turn Up – if you could describe this album as a musical journey, where are you trying to take your listeners?

BG: I myself didn’t have a particular place in mind I want to take the listeners. Let them travel where they want to. Let them feel their own feelings when they listen, just let it feel good overall while breaking barriers.

BQ: You performed at Drake’s OVOFest this Caribana, and this year, Torontonians who are part of Carnival culture felt it was an improvement on his part to have a dedicated Caribbean music night. Do you feel that Caribbean artists are getting the respect they deserve from the mainstream?

BG: I mean, honestly the respect Caribbean artistes are getting now have grown by leaps from way back in one aspect, but the Caribbean sound is gaining more respect at a greater rate than the artistes per se – for example Shabba, Supercat, Buju, Mad Cobra, Ninja Man, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, also Born Jamericans – we some serious household names on the Caribbean forefront, and every other nationality that’s into other music knows those names no matter what age you are. In this era now what we see happening is the music growing so rapid that people are more into the songs because they feel good – and not necessarily knowing who the artiste is on a household name level. So it’s more of yes than no.

BQ: Lines are being blurred right now between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation with regards to Caribbean music – what do you think is being done well, and what improvements need to be made as far as how artists partner with others or take inspiration from other genres?

BG: I think all the partnerships are working well. I think that if mainstream creatives borrow or directly take from the culture, most cases it comes across as though they invented it – and people would expect that [if] they have the ear of the public that they’d educate the public on where the sounds came from and origins and such. So when that doesn’t happen it automatically registers to the wider world as “they took it and we didn’t even get some credit.”

BQ: You seem to be navigating the journey into mainstream well – Grey’s Anatomy, NPR, BET, and MTV have all given you amazing looks lately. Is this something you’re actively seeking or are they coming to you?

BG: All these mainstream developments, most of the cases they came to us when they saw the movement, and from there we use the opportunities to make other opportunities happen. Part of the mission with us on our team is to keep the culture in their face aggressively as well. The previous approach was most cases friendly, which people tend to discard. What we see is people respond more to bold unapologetic moves. They either hate it or absolutely love it.

BQ: The Caribbean and continental North American music industries are very different, and I think that affects the lack of recognition that most soca/dancehall/reggae artists get from entities like the Grammys. Within your circles, are Caribbean artists seeking this kind of validation, or is recognition from within the culture more important?

BG: Caribbean artistes overall I think have their eyes set on the pinnacle that is the Grammys, but because it is so rare for us it makes us now work on our side to develop us more and for us to accept us as our own people. The reggaetón movement is the perfect example of “we won’t wait for you, we moving and you will hop on.” That’s the phase we’re in now on the soca side. My interactions with my Jamaican musician friends has also allowed me to see there is a reformatting of how many of them write to cover larger audiences because that is the goal of every creative, to spread your gifts further and further.

BQ: What do you think is waiting for you, and for soca music in general in the next 5 years?

BG: I think something special is waiting for me as one of the pioneers of this new movement of soca. Fortune favors the brave and the whole soca world now is newer, more modern and extremely brave. Years ago in the US, soca crowds would normally stay to themselves within the soca events – now they are the craziest partiers in the hip hop events and dancehall and EDM events, which works for us, the artistes. When I appear in one of these events, which is also read for soca still in a sense, the whole scenario goes down better because we have soldiers with us on the field to really drive home the message.

BQ: Switching gears: I’m also a huge fan of your wife Fay-Ann, and love her Instagram! How do you both make life, family, and love work while you’re both so prominent within your careers?

BG: We do almost everything together which simplifies everything.

Follow Bunji on Twitter and Instagram.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

I STAND WITH ISHAWNA: Dancehall’s ‘Equal Rights’ Fight

Ishawna-Bounty (1)
In a piece I wrote last year for The Establishment on women in Jamaica’s dancehall culture, I said the following:

Misogyny, violence, and homophobia permeate [hip hop and dancehall], with the male-dominated nature of each being highly prevalent. Through the transition from girl to woman, I loved my culture, but didn’t always feel like it loved me. Where was the room for women’s ownership and expression of dancehall music and culture? In what ways could women siphon some of the control from men and create space for themselves?

Through my reverence for Carnival and love for women in dancehall who helped pave the way to my own brand of womanism, that positivity is all-too-often interjected by a misogynistic, patriarchal, homophobic poison that reminds me just how much my culture doesn’t love me – or anyone who isn’t a heterosexual, cisgender male.

BFF-bounty-ishawna (2)

Some of that poison permeated the general bashment and bacchanal of my life a few days ago, when I got caught up on the latest gendered controversy happening in dancehall. Long-time artist Bounty Killer issued an Instagram post “warning” to fellow artist Ishawna, demanding that she not perform her new hit single at a Labour Day show they’re both billed on for tonight (EDIT: post has since been deleted, but screenshots live forever). Why would he do such a thing, especially after recently speaking out against gender-based violence? Follow me, camera. (RIP Messy Mya!)

Dancehall artist Ishawna recently released her new single, “Equal Rights,” which explicitly details her preferences for a sexual partner who can provide her the oral satisfaction she desires. Now – dancehall enthusiasts know that discussing the merits of heterosexual sex is not off-limits in the music, and explicit lyrics ensure that the point is not misconstrued. However, dancehall’s (and Jamaica’s overall) patriarchal culture has normalized the permission for male dancehall artists to speak on sex as they see fit, and hypocritically clutches its pearls at a woman doing the same.

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Enter, the current eruption over “Equal Rights.” A significant amount of men (and women who uphold the practice of misogyny for their own myriad of reasons) have condemned Ishawna and the song, seemingly unable to swallow (pun intended) a woman who is calling the shots on her own sexual pleasure – what she’s willing to give, and what she wants to receive.

From the dawn of dancehall in Kingston’s inner-city communities to now, men have detailed exactly how they like sex, how dem bad inna bed, how they (think they) pleasure women, and how they’re “champion lovers” and “bedroom bullies” drinking peanut punch and magnum tonics with the stamina to ‘tan pon it long.’ Anything other than penis-inserted-into-vagina sex is shunned, with an interesting juxtaposition between the gunfingas that fling up when a DJ says “dem nuh bow,” the women who look around the club and see the men who they know are lying, and artists like Vybz Kartel, who openly sing about receiving blow jobs.


Ishawna isn’t the first woman in dancehall to share how she likes it. Lady Saw and Tanya Stephens came before her, and Spice is currently touring Europe, letting audiences know she likes when her partner “stab up mi meat, mek mi tear up di sheet.” It hasn’t been an easy road for any woman in dancehall – but Bounty Killer took it to a new low when he threatened Ishawna and tried to blackball her by refusing to do any future shows with her (actually, not that new – since male artists did the same to Lady Saw in her heyday).

Misogyny, sexism, and homophobia weren’t invented in Jamaica, and aren’t unique to dancehall. However, for the purpose of today’s blog post, I’m going to put the videolight squarely on men like Bounty Killer who exhibit their fragile, toxic masculinity in reaction to a woman making a song for other women. These men stay firmly pressed about what others do in their bedrooms, inserting themselves into conversations no one invited them to, and puffing out their chests to share what they will or won’t do in their own encounters. These men exhibit their innate sensitivities at not being the head of the sexual pyramid, recoiling at the idea of *gasp* reciprocity in sex and pleasure. They react with violence when they feel threatened, when their status quo is rocked, when others dare to love differently from them, when sex isn’t just about getting pussy and getting their dicks wet. These men put their cards on the table, and all of them show weakness. In Bounty’s case, being braggadocious on Instagram and threatening the livelihood of another artist – a younger woman who will do something for the audience that he can’t – is the only way he can scramble to clutch at some semblance of strength. These men and their delayed evolution are a pox upon the richness of dancehall, supported by a society that serves as a Petri dish, allowing their bacteria to multiply.

Call me an overthinker if you want – but reactions to Ishawna’s song clearly tie to other issues across the Caribbean region and diaspora. The Tambourine Army in Jamaica and the #lifeinleggins social media movement started by Bajan women fight against sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence against women. Heteronormativity plays into the rigid gender roles and homophobia that are dangerously rampant across the culture. And though there’s further societal and historical context that can be applied to this entire discussion, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel if we continue to assume that things – and people – cannot change.

All this to say – #IStandWithIShawna and want her to do the damn thing tonight at the show. She’s already responded to Bounty, basically telling him to “bring it on,” so I hope she’s got a supportive circle and audience standing with her – and I hope Bounty is ready to get put in his place and watch how ‘oman run tings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Birthdays And The Promise Of New Days

birthday girl

My mom tells me that she laboured for a fairly long time when I was born. I finally made my grand appearance on the evening of May 10th, then caught my first sunrise on May 11th, beginning my first full day of life.

Whenever I think about what some of the energy of that May 10th must have been like, I see how it recreates itself on nearly every birthday that has followed. The flurry of activity, the anxiety, the flood of emotion, the celebratory well-wishes, the love, and the wondering of “OK – now what? What’s next?” May 10th is always a high vibration day, but after that sunrise on May 11th things start to settle into whatever “next” is, the same way I imagine it did back when I was born.

It’s felt like I’ve been labouring for a while. Life has been hitting me with wave after wave of discomfort that must be pushing me towards some kind of breakthrough – at least, that’s what I tell myself to have made it through the last 4 weeks with my sanity relatively intact.

There’s been the disappointment of reaching the end of a contract at a dope job after hoping that months of renewal plans would pan out, then learning 2 days before contract end that everything had changed. There’s the effort it takes to get used to switching a side hustle to a main, and hitting a new stride with freelance and entrepreneurial work. There’s the panic that sets in when one of North America’s most prominent children’s hospitals calls and tells you something might be wrong with the baby still in your womb, the days of anxiety before testing, and the overwhelming relief when everything turns out to be OK.

There’s the guilt you feel when you decide to take your toddler out of her regular daycare routine to be financially responsible, knowing that kids are resilient and she’ll love the time with Mommy before her sibling arrives, but still wondering how you blinked and became a stay-at-home, work-at-home mom. Then, there’s dealing with the aftereffects of a car accident. Being rear-ended as a pregnant woman, even in less serious collisions, has a greater impact – thanks to changing centres of gravity and shifting organs and loosened ligaments that are more easily sprained. At least, that’s what my physiotherapist tells me, who I see twice a week to stabilize my body – something that seems like an oxymoron because my pregnant body feels anything but stable.

So, I’m here. I’m OK. My babies, both the one breathing oxygen and the one swimming in amniotic fluid, are fine. Nothing has been catastrophic or insurmountable. It’s just been a lot in a short period of time, and my true Taurean tendency to have difficulty with change is something I have to keep in check every day. Focusing on everything that life encompasses these days led me to almost forget my birthday – something utterly unheard of, since I generally start counting down on April 10th then celebrate for the whole month of May. Even with all the distraction, this May 10th was still full of those usual birth day energies, but the two that won out were love and “What’s next?”

Being reminded that there are amazing people in this world who love me is sustaining. I drank it in and was nourished by it all yesterday. Little Magician sang “Happy Birthday” to me more times than I could count, and every time sounded like the first time to me. And now, it’s May 11th. I’ve seen my first daybreak on this new trip around the sun, and I’m ready to think about what’s next. I’ve been thrown out of my comfort zone and out of alignment, and my plans for what the next few months look like before #BossBaby arrives have been thrown out the window too. Maybe my plans have been thrown away so that my hands are free to catch something else. Maybe my comfort zones needed new, broader boundaries and maybe my alignment will be better now than it was before. Time will tell, but through it all I’m learning more about myself and the people around me than I possibly could without all of these ups and downs.

I have life. I have love. I have another day and another year to do my best in all things and to see myself bloom from the tightly closed bud I seem to have become lately. May 10th was for me. May 11th is for the future. And what a bright one it shall be.

EASY & FLY: Bee’s Crochet Braid Experience

Crochet braids! (right photo courtesy of Jessica Laforet)

Crochet braids!
(right photo courtesy of Jessica Laforet)

If you know me, you know a few things when it comes to hair:

  1. I get bored easily.
  2. I love low-maintenance looks that don’t look low-maintenance.
  3. I like to give my crown a break every now and then.

Those points being said, my usual go-tos that satisfy all three have been box braids and Marley twists. They’ve both allowed me to switch my style up in various ways, they’re both low-maintenance with the versatility to be glam, and when they’re not too tight or left in too long and I take care of my scalp, my natural hair flourishes.

Last year, I wanted to try another protective style that would satisfy my three hair points, and decided to give crochet braids a whirl. I quickly fell in love – and because I’ve had folks ask a number of questions about my crochet braid styles, I thought I’d share in this post!

Now – crochet braids can easily be installed by yourself (visit YouTube University for tutorials), but my cornrowing skills are basically non-existent so I leave it to the pros. My pros in Toronto have been Hair By Glenna and V Crochet Braid Creationz (who did my hair at last summer’s Braids For AIDS braiding fundraiser).

The look basically consists of cornrowing your own hair, then hooking and looping extensions into the cornrows. The versatility comes in with your choice of extension texture or style – I’ve done crochets with two different types of curl (FreeTress Water Wave, and Outre Cuevana Bounce), but have seen people with straight styles, braids, twists, and locs. Aside from the usual loosening up of the fresh cornrows, I’ve experienced next-to-no pain or tension on my hair, making it a really comfortable style to rock.

FreeTress Water Wave (with some of the fabulous crew from Women's Health In Women's Hands Community Health Centre!)

FreeTress Water Wave (with some of the fabulous crew from Women’s Health In Women’s Hands Community Health Centre!)


Outre Cuevana Bounce

Styling it over the weeks of wear can get creative too. I always ask my stylists to cornrow my hair in a way that allows me to do a centre or side part to switch things up, and as long as the parts and loops don’t look too obvious, I’ll pull the top back with a hair clip when I need to get it out of my face. Accessories also become my best friends. Gold hair clips and scarves have been my best friends, helping me to jazz things up when I need to. Depending on curl style, your look may get even better as it ages, or you can reset and retwist to freshen up your look. I usually leave my crochets in for 4-6 weeks, and even when I think it looks horrible by the end days, a fly sista will always compliment me – so I figure it can’t look that bad 😉

So, how do I take care of the crochet braids and my hair/scalp? Hair By Glenna gave me some great tips.

It’s important to keep the scalp clean without disturbing or ruining the texture of the extensions, unless you have a type that can be wet and refreshed. With mine, I’ve cleansed my scalp two different ways so as not to ruin my texture: either by putting a bit of shampoo or conditioner on an old toothbrush, scrubbing between the cornrows, spritzing the parts with water, then towel/blow drying OR by using daily sprays of rosewater (read up on some of rosewater’s benefits here).


To moisturize, I’d apply my favourite light scalp oil like rosemary oil, and keep it movin’.

Depending on how your stylist finishes your cornrows, taking crochet braids out might feel a bit awkward until you get into the rhythm. I usually just start by un-looping or carefully cutting the extensions from my cornrows, then find the ends of my cornrows and start unraveling. A good wash and detangle later, and I’ve been left with beautifully rested hair.

Have you tried crochet braids? Leave a comment with your thoughts and tips!

PAST GEM: The Beauty of Bacchanal: Celebrating Feminine Freedom Through Carnival

As I recently said on Twitter, it’s getting close to that time of year where I mute any words related to Trinidad Carnival. I’m missing out on the bacchanal this year, and of all the flavours I could choose to be, I chose to be salty. To all my people headed down for the beaches and the fetes and the road, stay safe and have fun! I’ll try to leave my hating to a minimum.

I figured it would be a good time to share a past piece I wrote for For Harriet about my love of Carnival and how it makes me feel as a woman reveling in herself and her culture. Take a read!

Toronto Caribana 2015

Toronto Caribana 2015

“Ah feelin’ sexy,
Ah feelin’ sexy,
Ah feelin’ sexy,
Heyyyyyyy! Ah feelin’ mehself!” 

     – Patrice Robers, Ah Feelin’ Mehself

There was a moment during this year’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival parade when this song came on and my body reacted instinctively. Hands in the air, head thrown back, hips swingin’ and waist winin’. I belted out the lyrics with all my heart while all the women around me did the same.

We were all different shapes and sizes, decked out in our Carnival regalia under the summer sun. Some of us wished we had a bit more body to fill out our costumes. Some of us wished we had a bit less. Some of us arrived to the parade with insecurities showing themselves in the way we tugged at bra straps and adjusted bottoms and tried to cover rolls and stretch marks. When Patrice started singing, however, all of those worries evaporated. We were feelin’ sexy and we were letting the world know.

Years of attending and participating in Carnivals in Toronto, Miami, and St. Vincent have given me gifts that I don’t believe I would have received anywhere else. Carnival provides a unique opportunity to revel in my Caribbean heritage and unveil insights about myself as a woman, a new mother, and a sensual being, and I’m always grateful for it.

“I grew up as a real good girl,
Always home, don’t go nowhere
But since I was introduced to Carnival
They say I loose”

– Destra Garcia, Lucy

Though I love Carnival, I understand that it isn’t for everyone and the reasons therein are myriad. Some members of my extended family deride it as “sinful” and “unbecoming behaviour,” and while I respect their opinion, they’ve come to respect that I’ll play mas (participate in costume in Carnival parades) anyway. Attempts to enlighten each other to our respective positions on the topic are often unfruitful. I don’t accept that Carnival makes me a disgrace or shows a lack of self-respect. They don’t accept that Carnival makes me feel free.

After taking a year off with the birth of my daughter I was back on the road this summer, to the surprise of some. “But, you’re a mom now!” is the rallying cry of those who incorrectly thought that motherhood would remove the bashment and bacchanal from my spirit. I’m a mother with a daughter who will be immersed in her Caribbean culture, which includes navigating Carnival and playing mas should she choose. I want her to be safe, but I want her to have the space to receive the gifts of self-expression and self-acceptance I’ve gotten from mas. I’m raising a Carefree Black Girl, and nothing is more carefree than a wonderful Carnival experience.

“A new day dawnin’, in fete it callin’
No time for stallin’, let’s go let’s go!
Wake up everyone who sleepin’
Meet me on the road
New inspiration, no contemplation,
Deliberation, let’s go let’s go!
Wake up everyone who sleepin’
Meet me on the road”
– Fay Ann Lyons, Raze
Carnival reminds me to love my body — the way it looks in my costume, the way it moves when the music courses through it, the way it feels when Carnival is over and my muscles have that good burn. It gives me room to wave my island’s flag with abandon, to hear patois and creole and kreyòl spoken proudly, and to submerge myself in the familiarity of my culture. It allows me the opportunity to educate people who have no clue what all the fuss is about, or wonder why fete-lovers hop from Carnival to Carnival, or who fixate on sexualizing the event without understanding the history and context behind it.

Carnival has helped me to assess my ideals of respectability, evolve past my judgment of others, and give myself permission to fully embrace different aspects of myself. Carnival is an indelible part of my expression of womanhood and the freedom, celebration, and exuberance that it contains.

I’m still on a post-Carnival high where I dance instead of walk and I’m finding glitter remnants on my body even after multiple showers. Until the next mas rolls around, my goal is to hang on to this vibe for as long as I can without letting the humdrum of the everyday cloud it over. Even if life’s stresses threaten to box me in with no exit in sight, I know it’s only a matter of time until Carnival comes around to make me feel free again.

STAY FLY: Fashion Inspiration For The 2017 Black Diamond Ball

We’re in the midst of Hollywood award season and I don’t know about y’all, but taking in the range of red carpet style – from the daring Grammys to the glamourous Oscars – always makes me yearn for a moment to get dolled up, too.

If you’re like me and in (or can get to) Toronto on February 25th, get your fashion fix at the Black Diamond Ball at the Fairmont Royal York, put on by ArtXperiential Projects and TD!


Now in its second year, the Black Diamond Ball has become one of the most anticipated Black History Month events in Toronto. Among all the planned entertainment for the evening will be performances from Glenn Lewis, Michie Mee, Divine Brown, Vita Chambers, Simone Denny, and the one and only Brandy! Tickets are going fast but still available at via their website, so get yours before they’re gone!

Once you’ve snagged your ticket, you might be thinking about the inevitable: What do I wear??? Well, I’m here to help! Let’s take some style inspiration from recent red carpet looks, then follow up with some tips from Toronto-based stylist Megan Hamilton of MKH Styling!

Gabourey Sidibe gave colour and print at the 2017 Image Awards - and I loved that her eyeshadow was the perfect matching blue to her dress!

Gabourey Sidibe gave colour and print at the 2017 Image Awards – and I loved that her eyeshadow was the perfect matching blue to her dress!


Mahershala Ali gave a clean white look at the 2017 SAG Awards. The black accents and sockless-ness (is that a word) tickled me. Man was made for a suit.

Mahershala Ali gave a clean white look at the 2017 SAG Awards. The black accents and socklessness (is that a word?) tickled me. Man was made for a suit.


Solange always comes through with ethereal style! At the 2017 Grammys she was all gold in a structured gown with high slit. Don't be afraid to try a new shape to your dresses!

Solange always comes through with ethereal style! At the 2017 Grammys she was all gold in a structured gown with high slit. Don’t be afraid to try a new shape with your dresses!


I loved that Donald Glover went with this chocolate, textured suit for the 2017 Golden Globes. The purple bowtie was a beautiful pairing. Suits don't have to be boring!

I loved that Donald Glover went with this chocolate, textured suit for the 2017 Golden Globes. The purple bowtie was a beautiful pairing. Suits don’t have to be boring!



Speaking of suits, Mya wore this fly red outfit for a sexy yet structured look at the 2017 Grammys.


TV writer Kirk Moore showed that suits in colour are red-carpet worthy. Don't be afraid to have fun with your 'fit!

TV writer Kirk Moore showed that suits in colour are red-carpet worthy at the 2017 Image Awards. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your ‘fit!


And speaking of colour - Viola Davis shows you how to do it right.

And speaking of colour – Viola Davis shows you how to do it right at the 2017 Golden Globes.


Want to really step out of the box? Try pairing separates like Rihanna did at the 2017 Grammys!

Want to really step out of the box? Try pairing separates like Rihanna did at the 2017 Grammys!

Megan Hamilton is the founder of MKH Styling, where her aim is to not only make people look good, but feel good too. Full disclosure – she’s also my sister, so I’ve been able to utilize her services, and she came THROUGH when I was pregnant with Little Magician! Here are some quick tips from her on putting your best foot forward for the Black Diamond Ball:

  1. If you’re not comfortable in a dress, a pantsuit or jumpsuit can be an equally fabulous option for a gala affair.
  2. Trying to think of a cool accessory? Don’t forget your nails! Nail colour and/or design can be the perfect touch to your outfit.
  3. Rocking a suit? A statement sock with a bright colour or print can set your entire look off in a memorable way.
  4. If you’re wearing any kind of sheer item, remember the importance of nude undergarments. For women of colour, check out lines like Canada’s own Love & Nudes to match your foundation pieces as closely as possible.
  5. For suits especially, don’t leave the house until your clothing is properly pressed or steamed! There’s nothing worse than being on the red carpet in a wrinkled outfit!

So, there you have it! Some inspiration and some helpful hints to get you ready for the Black Diamond Ball! Have fun, and stay fly!

*Disclosure: this was a sponsored post in partnership with the Black Diamond Ball.

#HIDDENFIGURES: Uncovering Our Stories [+ CONTEST]


We’re in a new year, filled with new dreams, goals, plans, and wishes. On a micro and macro level though, I’m seeing how important it is that we know where we’ve been so that we can know where we’re going. A perfect example of this is the upcoming official premiere of Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Here’s a synopsis of the film:

Hidden Figures is based on the best-selling non-fiction book written by a Black woman (Margot Lee Shetterly) about three amazing Black women at NASA.

The film recounts the story of the African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who, while working in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center, helped NASA catch up in the Space Race. Using their calculations, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth.

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When news of this movie came out, the resounding commentary centered around the fact that this incredible story has gone relatively unknown until now. How much of our history – especially the history created by Black women – has gone uncovered?

In my writing last year, it was of great importance to me to use my platforms to share the oft-hidden stories of Black women, past and present:

For The Establishment, I wrote about Black Caribbean women who came to Canada in the 1950s under the country’s West Indian Domestic Scheme.

Over at For Harriet, I wrote about 8 women dancehall artists the world needs to know.

Speaking of dancehall, back at The Establishment I wrote about women in Jamaica’s dancehall culture and how they control their spaces within it.

On the Globe & Mail, I interviewed Eden Hagos, founder of Black Foodie, and discussed the intersections of food, race, and culture.

For Revolt, I featured the women of Gyalcast, to highlight the unique way they helped put Toronto on the map in 2016.

And on this very blog, I recently wrote about Viola Desmond and why she should never be called “Canada’s Rosa Parks.”

With so many people saying “I didn’t know about the women in Hidden Figures!” how do we avoid that same erasure in the future? Hopefully by continuing to uncover our histories and share our stories as they unfold in the present, we’ll be able to combat the disrespect shown to the contributions that marginalized people have made to society. It’s imperative that we not only find ways to learn about the hidden aspects of our relative histories, but to also use whatever platform we have to spread that knowledge to others. When we know better, we can do better.

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I’ve questioned some of Hidden Figures’ marketing strategies (I mean, it’s nice to say that strength, courage, and genius have no gender, limit, and race, but those are very real obstacles these women had to overcome – let’s own that and not sanitize it), but I’m ultimately extremely excited to see the film when it opens this weekend. Little Magician is too young to sit through the flick, but I feel it’ll be one of those oldies but goodies that I’ll bring out for her to watch when she’s older, so that she can be inspired by the accomplishments these women made in the past and – hopefully – how far we’ve come since then, and now.

Are you excited to see Hidden Figures? Comment below and let me know why – you could win a pair of tickets to see it during the crucial opening weekend when it officially opens on January 6th*

*contest open to Canadian residents only

VIOLA ISN’T ROSA: Viola Desmond & The Erasure Of Black Canadian History

Viola Desmond's sister Wanda Robson with Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau - via lpress.com

Viola Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson with Canada’s Minister of Finance Bill Morneau – via lpress.com

I’m not sure what troubles me more – that so many Canadians are unfamiliar with Viola Desmond, or that so many feel the need to validate her experiences by comparing her to Rosa Parks.

Both of these options are tragedies. Let me tell you why.

Last spring, the Bank of Canada launched the #bankNOTEable campaign, soliciting votes from Canadians on which woman they would like to see on a new bank note. 26, 300 submissions were narrowed down to 461 eligible candidates, which was further whittled down to 5 finalists: E. Pauline Johnson, Elizabeth MacGill, Fanny Rosenfeld, Idola Saint-Jean, and Viola Desmond. Desmond was announced today as the winning selection for the campaign, thus becoming the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulated bank note, other than the Queen. Starting in 2018, Desmond will replace Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, on the $10 bill.

Upon hearing the news, I started a tweet thread about Viola Desmond and her history. Desmond was a Black businesswoman from Nova Scotia, who was arrested in 1946. While waiting for her car to be repaired, Desmond went to watch a movie at a theatre in New Glasgow, NS. Desmond had specifically requested a main floor ticket, but was given a balcony ticket – unbeknownst to her, the main floor was for Whites only, with Black patrons segregated to the balcony level. When the ticket taker blocked her from entering the main level, she went back to the cashier to clarify her request for a main floor ticket. The cashier refused, saying “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Desmond took a seat on the main level anyways, once she realized that the only thing barring her was the fact that she was Black. Theatre staff later demanded that she move to the balcony, but she refused – she could see better from the main level, and could afford to pay the difference between the two tickets. The manager of the theatre advised that he had the right to “refuse admission to any objectionable person,” and refused to take her money to pay for the main floor ticket. Because of her resistance, police were called and she was dragged out of her seat, suffering a hip injury in the process. She was put in jail overnight, charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the tax difference between the balcony and main tickets (1 cent), and freed in the morning when she paid the $20 fine.

Desmond knew that tax was not the reason for her arrest – it was her Blackness. She was not informed of her rights during her arrest or her trial and was subsequently convicted. After two unsuccessful appeals, legal action on the case slowed to a halt. In 2010, Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon by the Government of Nova Scotia (Canada’s first), and today, the Bank of Canada named her as the new face of our $10 bill.

The fact that so many people have admitted to not knowing who Viola Desmond was says so much about Canada’s past and present. Thinking specifically about Black Canadian history, so much has been ignored, buried, brushed aside in favour of Canada’s European history, or supplemented by African-American history. The lack of knowledge about the history of Black people in this country is a contributing factor to our “othering” – when you aren’t taught that you have a solid foothold in the development of this country, it’s that much easier to feel like the Canadian identity (whatever that looks like) doesn’t belong to you. We didn’t all arrive here thanks to former PM Pierre Trudeau – Black people have existed and contributed to this land for generations, and our stories deserve to be told and learned about by all Canadians.

Another example of this erasure was made clear yesterday, when CBC News shared a story of backlash against an incident of blackface in Chatham, Ontario. A grocery store in Chatham held an event featuring Dutch holiday staples Sinterklaas and his sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), a character displayed in blackface. The store manager addressed the backlash with the following: “It isn’t intended to be racist, it isn’t intended to offend anybody,” he said. “If we offended anybody, we apologize, but it wasn’t intended to offend anyone.”

Any time a “but” is placed in an attempt at an apology, just know that the person doesn’t really feel apologetic. But I digress.

Knowing that this happened in Chatham, which was called the Black Mecca in the 1800s due to its place as a prosperous town for Black people in all industries, makes it all the more egregious. Black people contributed to the Chatham we see today, yet that history still plays second fiddle to Dutch tradition. That hierarchy is explicit when it’s gasp-worthy that blackface could be offensive, especially in a Canadian town with such important Black history. We all need to know better. That’s how you do better.

Knowing better to do better is crucial when it comes to the connections between Viola Desmond and Rosa Parks. Viola Desmond is not “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” yet this need to lean on African-American history to validate Black Canadian history is the only thing that helps some people to see us and our experiences here. Both women’s stories centre around racial discrimination and a sense of resistance, and that’s pretty much where similarities end. To equate the two is ahistorical and reductive to both women’s experiences and impact – but most people won’t readily know that. For one, Viola was arrested 9 years before Rosa. Additionally, Rosa was part of extensive activist work long before she decided to stay in her seat on that Alabama bus in 1955 – she’s credited as a meek, mild woman who innocently launched the American Civil Rights Movement with her actions, but she was an activist and part of organizations that strategically worked towards that moment in 1955. The book “At The Dark End Of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance” by Danielle McGuire explains this in depth. Comparatively, to my knowledge, Viola was not part of any activist networks in Nova Scotia prior to her arrest – though she supported and empowered the Black community through her entrepreneurism –  and didn’t have the full support of her community when she chose to appeal her conviction. These women’s stories are very different, and until we do the work to ensure that the fullness of their stories are shared, we’ll continue to see myopic linkages made.

The desire to equate Black Canadian history to African-American history is another sign of how we distance ourselves from Blackness in this country. It helps to perpetuate this idea of racism and bigotry being American ideals – if we continuously attach our history of these ills to our neighbours to the south, it helps Canada to maintain some semblance of decency, even when those same ills have been rotting this country from the inside out since forever. People will call Viola Desmond our “Rosa” because they don’t see enough validity behind her just being Viola – Black people, experiences, and histories in this country are not considered worthy without a connection to America, further diminishing our existence and sense of belonging right here. It’s lazy, it’s insulting, and it needs to stop.

Canada will be going all out for its 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. My wish (and where much of my efforts will be placed) will be for a real push for better and more thorough inclusion of Black history within our Canadian tapestry, and a broadening of what the Canadian experience and identity looks like within our full scope of Canadians. Viola’s history, like the history of so many other Black Canadians, deserves better – and our present and future deserve better as well.

SICK & TIRED: A Few Things I’m Tired Of


I’m tired. This isn’t going to be a sunshiny post, and I may not have any effective words of wisdom at the end.

But bitch, I’m tired.

There are things that I used to accept as compliments – things people have said to me about my ability to carry burdens, persevere through obstacles, and deliver the goods. Those comments used to make me smile and feel seen, but I reject them now. I feel increasingly invisible the more I’m buried under them – so what is there to smile about?

I’m tired of feeling valuable to people simply because of what I do for them. I’m tired of my skills being “rewarded” with additional tasks siphoned from people who get paid much more than me, because I’m “so much better at it.” I’m tired of getting a kiss on the cheek and a sheepish “Thanks for taking care of that” after cleaning up someone else’s literal or figurative mess. I’m tired of saying “No problem,” thinking that they’ll realize I didn’t say “You’re welcome” and maybe realize that there is a problem.

I’m tired of putting in 100% for people who dig in their couch cushions and offer me a measly 50%. I’m tired of showing up on time and prepared to give my best to people who are late and raggedy. I’m tired of seeing that same raggedy, mediocre work get pushed to the forefront and heralded as greatness, knowing that if I ever dared to be raggedy or mediocre, there would be no second chances.

I’m tired of saying “I’m sorry” first. I’m tired of putting down an invitation that isn’t picked up. I’m tired of being too available for some and not available enough for others.

I’m tired of always feeling like I have to be smarter, faster, better, the best. I’m tired of feeling like my smart isn’t smart enough and my best isn’t good enough. I’m tired of wondering which step to take next, which door to knock on, which doorway is meant for me to build on my own.

I’m tired of being asked to educate people who don’t really want to learn. I’m tired of being expected to reason with the unreasonable. I’m tired of my mistakes being magnified and of not being allowed a modicum of grace.

I’m tired of wearing the “Strong” mask, the “Everything’s Fine” mask, the “Don’t Worry About It, I’ll Do It” mask. I’m tired of wondering when it’s safe for me to take them off. I’m tired of people acting like something is wrong with me when I do. Au contraire – that’s when everything starts to feel a bit more right.

I’m tired.

All I have left is a bit of energy to change the trajectories of what exhausts me. I’m going to get some rest. I’m going to remind people how to treat me. I’m going to live as authentically as I can. I’m going to dust myself off and try again. I’m going to go get what’s mine.

LIKE DEAD LEAVES: Doing The Work Of Purging & Pruning


For the past couple of months, nothing has made me feel as good as purging things that I no longer need in my life. Little by little, I’ve been going through all my spaces – physical, mental, emotional – and clearing out the things that aren’t serving me anymore. I haven’t felt this light in a long time.

It started innocently enough, with me going through my closets and transitioning from summer to fall. Away went the wispy fabrics that reminded me of warm nights and sunny days, and out came the comfort clothing that enveloped me in hugs each time I put them on. I encouraged myself to undo the emotional ties to my clothing at the same time, and started my grand purge. Things had to go: worn out shirts, way outdated skirts, and pants that I kept around “just in case” when the case for their continued presence never made itself clear. Soon, drawers that were overflowing could shut properly again, things didn’t topple off the top shelf of my closet anymore, and laundry was no longer as overwhelming a task. After my clothes were addressed I blazed through my home, de-cluttering my night tables, bathroom cabinets, and office spaces, filling garbage bags with things I thought I needed, but truly didn’t.

It felt like I could breathe a bit easier. I liked the feeling, and wondered what else I could let go of.

I started attacking my financial debts with a gusto unseen in recent years. I’m tied to many things, and a lot of them are more suffocating than supportive. Debt was one of those constraints, and I wanted to end that relationship as soon as possible. Having a plan and being utterly serious about sticking to it made all the difference in the world, so seeing positive change each month let me know that some relief was on the way. (This is a wayyyyy simplified few sentences about something that could be its own blog post. But the sentiment stands.)

I decided to let go of some projects I was involved in – some that weren’t serving a purpose, and some that had just run their course. In this new season of the purge, I’ve gotten honest with myself about being busy vs. being productive. There’s a comfort in being busy – a comfort that makes it easy to hide fears and insecurities behind stuff. The Bee who’s everywhere and does everything is a great cover for the Bee who frets over failure and fears that nothing she does will ever matter. Being busy has only left me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated, and I want to be happy, accomplished, and ever-evolving. Shedding some layers of busyness will be good for me, and will help me to uncover the real skill of balancing downtime and productivity.

Finally, I took a look at some key relationships and purged what I needed to from them. In some relationships, I purged my inability to ask for what I want. In others, I purged old grudges and gave elephants in rooms their long overdue exit. Other relationships had to come to an end completely, but the main area of purging was looking at relationships I wanted to keep and finding ways to make them better. There have been some tough conversations and some peering through fingertips as I hit “Send” on an email, but every move was a step towards more freedom, and I feel it now.

The thing with purging is you need to know when to stop. I’ve gone through multiple areas of my life and pruned the excess and the overdue, but now it’s time for the new cycle of life – the resting period before allowing new growth. I’ve never been a minimalist, but the freedom of letting things go has renewed my excitement at what’s to come. There is room for the good things now, and I welcome them. I’ll keep them around for as long as they’re good to me – and as I’ve learned about myself these past few months, I won’t be afraid to let them go when their time is up.

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