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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.

QUEEN SUGAR: The Reality Unfolds, The Beauty Begins


Picture this:

Tuesday night. Dinner was done, the kitchen was clean. Hubby was on “Get baby ready for bed” duty, and I had hopped in the shower and back out just in time. With 10 minutes to spare until 10pm, I was more than ready to finally watch the heavily promoted premiere of Queen Sugar (the Ava DuVernay-helmed series on OWN). After soaking up all the press over the past few months about the show, I couldn’t wait to drink it all in – but I quickly learned my thirst wasn’t going to be satisfied. OWN Canada, for some nonsensical reason, isn’t airing Queen Sugar. So while I watched my entire Twitter timeline blow up over the wonders of the show, I was left stewing (and cussing) on my couch with an old episode of Criminal Minds staring back at me. Canadian television programming fail.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. I finally tuned into the first two episodes of Queen Sugar, and I am hooked. Based on the book by Natalie Baszile of the same name, the show chronicles the lives of 3 very different siblings who inherit their father’s sugarcane farm while trying to manage the complexities of their own lives. Quite frankly, this show is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Our three main players are the Bordelon siblings – Nova, the eldest (played by the inimitable Rutina Wesley – I’ve loved her since True Blood), a journalist and spiritualist; Charley, the middle (played skillfully by Gwen-Lyen Gardner), the wife and manager of David West, a top-level NBA star and mother to son Micah; and Ralph Angel, the baby (played powerfully by Kofi Siriboe); 6 months fresh out of prison and a single dad to adorable son Blue, played by Ethan Hutchison. Blue’s mom Darla is a recovering drug addict played by possible vampire Bianca Lawson (like, how has she looked 17 forever?), and the Bordelon patriarch Ernest is played masterfully by Glynn Turman.

Here are some of my favourite notable aspects from the first two episodes:

The opening scene + overall cinematography

The show opens with one of the most sensual scenes I’ve ever watched – Nova arising from the bed she shares with her lover, Calvin (Greg Vaughan). Instead of the usual sexy scene of getting undressed, we watch Calvin help Nova put her clothes on – and I was sitting there like:


This looked phenomenal, but seeing that Calvin is a white, married police detective means that there will undoubtedly be some rockiness in this love boat. The direction and cinematography in this scene give you an introduction to what the rest of the show looks like. The lighting, colours, shades, and languid pacing ensure that you see every bit of everything – the landscapes, the spaces that the characters inhabit, the emotion on their faces, and above all else, the beauty of Blackness. Black people are lit, shot, and framed in such a gorgeous way – Ava DuVernay spoke on this last year during an interview with Q-Tip:

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Skin tones of all kinds are luminous on the Queen Sugar screen, and I’m so thankful for that.

The expressions of masculinity

After Daddy Bordelon suffers a heart attack and ends up in the hospital, Ralph Angel reluctantly brings Blue to see his Pop-Pop – grandfather and grandson share an incredibly special bond. You see how Ralph Angel tries to shield his son from certain realities, how he’s both tender and tough with Blue, and how some of those same traits exist in the relationship between Ernest and Ralph Angel as well. We don’t know where Ralph Angel’s mother is or how long she’s been gone – but in one particular scene (that had me BAWLING), we see 3 generations of Bordelon men who are all just doing the best they can with what they have, showing a love and tenderness between Black men that has rarely been displayed in mainstream media.

In episode 2, Ralph Angel’s Aunt Violet (Tina Lifford) chides him for trying to protect Blue from everything: “Baby, coddlin’ him ain’t doin’ him no favours,” she says. “Ernest always regretted all the coddling he did with you, his only son up on a pedestal,” she continues. “You see how it turns out.”

“How’s that?” Asks Blue.

“Wrestling with the world. A world that ain’t got no pedestal for you.”

An interesting piece of the Ralph Angel/Blue relationship is Kenya – the Barbie doll that Blue carries with him almost everywhere. You see how it’s a comfort to the child and how it creates discomfort for the father, who in one moment obliges his son by helping to prop Kenya on the sink while he cuts Blue’s hair, then in the next takes it out of Blue’s backpack on the way to school, promising to keep her safe at home.

Figuring out who Charley is

Charley is an interesting conundrum of a character. Leaving Louisiana for the bright lights of Los Angeles, she obtained an MBA, married a superstar basketball player, and has been living a life of success and riches ever since. When her husband David gets caught up in a sex scandal that unfolds simultaneously with the death of her father, Charley returns to her hometown and the siblings she left behind. You see the external tension, especially between Nova and Charley, who embrace at the end of episode 1, but engage in combat during episode 2. You see the internal tension as the L.A. Charley and the Louisiana Charley battle for space in one body. You learn that Charley has a different mother than her other two siblings, adding even more context to the issues that arise. Charley is undoubtedly going to be on a journey of self-discovery through the season, and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.


via Indiewire

The nuances of Blackness

There’s Nova tearing into Charley for hiring servers for their father’s repast: “You ain’t been gone that long – how come you don’t remember how it’s done?” Nova yells. “We don’t honour our father by having strangers serve those grieving. We serve comfort food to those who need comfort and we do it with our own hands!”

There’s the dissonance between the Bordelons and the funeral director when Nova wants to sew a special pouch into the lining of their father’s casket: “We don’t allow that kind of thing, Miss Nova,” says the director. “We run a straight Christian business here.” The juxtaposition between Christianity and diasporic spirituality creates an important moment here.

There’s Ernest Bordelon’s masonic funeral service itself, where the family sits dressed in all white as the patriarch is laid to rest. This Vulture recap references Ernest’s membership in the Prince Hall Affiliated Free and Accepted Mason fraternity, named after Prince Hall, an 18th century Black abolitionist.

Some aspects are familiar to me through disaporic channels, and some are new – but the effort to intertwine varied realities of Black life is both comforting and refreshing.

With an incredible cast and diverse writing and directing teams (Ava DuVernay tapped a lineup of all-women directors for season 1), this show feels like a gift delivered to us from Natalie Baszile, Oprah, Ava DuVernay, and the entire cast and crew. I don’t know about y’all, but I plan to stay tuned and stay sweet – I am 100% here for Queen Sugar.

#CTFF2015: Celebrating 10 Years Of Caribbean Film


Celebrating a decade of ANYTHING is an awesome feat, so this year is a really special one for the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival!

I’ve worked with the festival for a number of years now, and I’ve continuously been impressed and inspired by its dedication to Caribbean film. When most people around the world think of the islands, sun, sand, beaches, and temporary vacation bliss generally come to mind. But for those of us with roots and family and history from Cuba to Jamaica to St. Vincent to Trinidad, the Caribbean means much more to us – and that more is what we want the world to see. Using art to tell Caribbean/diasporic stories isn’t new, but finding new ways to accomplish that narrative creation through cinema is CaribbeanTales’ aim.

Similarly to Hollywood, Bollywood, and Nollywood, the Caribbean looks to be the next hub for film. It’s crucial to have a creative outlet to share our histories, present-day experiences, and imagery for the future – and it’s extremely crucial to create a self-sustaining industry that provides opportunities for people in front of and behind the camera.

This year marks the 10th annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, and possibly the best lineup of films I’ve seen. #AllBlackLivesMatter nights focusing on stories around diverse expressions of Blackness, Queer Caribbean night highlighting LGBTQ film, films on mental health in the Black community, shifting perceptions of masculinity, natural hair, and more are all covered in this year’s film lineup. Running alongside TIFF, this timing provides both healthy competition and room for partnership with CTFF, but ultimately provides an option for cinephiles who want a more diverse range of films to watch. Not only does CTFF have films made by Caribbean filmmakers and those of Caribbean heritage, but a large number of this year’s films were made by women – something I have been highly aware of, particularly with the rise of Ava DuVernay (especially after hearing her speak at the 2015 BlogHer conference).


This Sunday, I’ll be hosting the #AllBlackLivesMatter night, featuring a screening of Cristo Rey, a film from the Dominican Republic directed by Leticia Tonos. A Romeo & Juliet story set to the background Dominican/Haitian relations, this film entertains and educates at the same time. After the screening, I’ll be hosting a talk back featuring Ramabai Espinet (a Trinidadian professor of English and author) and Ramón A. Victoriano-Martínez (a Dominican professor of Law and author). Co-presented by Dr. Eric Pierre, Hon. Consul General of Haiti, we’ll get into a discussion on the film and the themes of identity highlighted within it.

Get tickets for Sunday (and for the rest of the festival – running ’til Sept. 19th) and use the code ctff2015-bee for a discount!

If you’re in Toronto, be sure to support #CTFF2015 by attending a screening or two. In the years to come, CaribbeanTales will undoubtedly play a key role in the development of a Caribbean film industry – support diverse film and storytelling, and be a part of the movement!

MAKING HER WAY: Talking Black Actress, Diversity, & The Creative Process With Andrea Lewis


When you’re a young Black woman in Canada, there’s nothing like seeing another young Black woman from Canada doing her thing. There’s a pride in watching someone’s trajectory as they blaze a trail from the streets and neighbourhoods you share to corners of the world you haven’t touched yet – and there’s a comfort in feeling like that trailblazer hasn’t forgotten where they’ve come from.

Andrea Lewis is one of these trailblazing, young + Black + Canadian women. After roles in The Natalie Cole Story, Down In The Delta, and her starring role as Hazel on Degrassi: The Next Generation – and after also releasing two albums – Lewis has ventured into a new realm as a digital content creator with her webseries Black Actress and her production company Jungle Wild Productions. Backed by powerhouses like Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins, Lewis’ Black Actress webseries has carved a lane in telling the stories of Black actresses determined to make it – through intros from women like Jenifer Lewis, Amber Riley, Garcelle Beauvais and more, and through the journey of Kori, our thespian heroine played by Lewis.

In an effort to make a way for other artists and other stories, Lewis has launched Jungle Wild Productions, featuring “a collective of young, talented, content creators who are focused on producing a new generation of original television, film, and digital content that showcases women, people of color, and the LGBT community.”

I first reached out to Andrea when I was planning my Mirror Images event last year. We recently met, and finally got to connect names/email addresses to faces. Now, I’m able to share her story with you all – read on to learn more about her journey, and find out how you can help in the Black Actress/Jungle Wild Productions takeover!


B: As a singer and actress, when did you realize that entertainment was your calling?

A: I knew from a very young age that entertainment and the arts were my passion. I don’t remember a day where I couldn’t sing lol and I started doing commercials on TV when I was two years old. I was very blessed to be put into the right place at the right time to foster my talents.

B: What led you to create the Black Actress webseries?

A:  I came up with the idea for Black Actress after an experience I had while filming a movie in Vancouver, and my cast mate introduced me as “Andrea the urban one”. It was a very strange and awkward moment that let me realize he saw me the same way the script saw me and it was just as “the black girl”. From there I knew I had to create something that told the story of a woman of color pursuing the ups and downs of acting and chasing her dreams. Something that showed us just like everyone else. 

B: You explore a lot of themes through the character of Kori that are relatable to many Black women, whether or not they’re aiming for stardom. Kori seems so sure of herself at certain points, then seems painfully insecure. What do you want viewers to get from Kori’s flaws, failures, and successes? 

A: I think Kori represents the inner dialogue of insecurity. I want viewers to see a bit of themselves when they watch Kori. I wrote her based on a time in my life when I was very insecure and unsure of myself all while still pursuing my dreams and I just had to find my way through it. I hope to inspire everyone watching who may suffer from the same insecurities as Kori, to get out of their own way.   

B: Where did the name of your production company “Jungle Wild” come from? 

A: One of the definitions of “wild” is “unrestrained” and this is simply the way I live my life – I don’t want anything to hold me back, especially not myself. I came up with the name “Jungle Wild” because it makes me feel like that, like nothing can hold me back right now because I’m taking control of the wild nature of this business- aka the jungle – and making it my own, without any restraints. 

B: You’re gearing up to produce a few new series on Jungle Wild like “Beyond Complicated,” “Fuel,” and “Married.” What are the kinds of stories you want to tell through your production company? 

A: I’m so excited for the shows that we have coming this year! I’m working very hard at telling diverse stories that represent the voice of millennials. 

B: If someone wants to venture into vlogging or creating a webseries, what are 3 tips you’d give them? 

A: Build a great team of people to help you and who understand your vision. Write what you know and just do it! 


B: You clearly embrace and showcase your Caribbean heritage in Black Actress. Being a Black, Canadian, Caribbean woman, do these different layers colour your perception of being an actress in the U.S.? 

A: Yes, I’m a West Indian Canadian and that’s a very different experience from being an African American, but I grew up watching African Americans on TV and that was my example of people of color on screen and seeing images of people who looked like me. US culture is different from Canadian culture but I am able to pull from all of my experiences in Canada and living in the US as a Black Canadian to have a unique approach to my career and the stories I choose to tell in my writing. 

B: You recently took part in a campaign urging the Academy to disclose their numbers on diversity after what was deemed “the Whitest Oscars ever.” From your view inside the industry, what positive moves are being made to increase diversity, and what’s still lacking? 

A: Little strides are being made. Hollywood is still a predominantly white male business but the president of the Academy – Cheryl Boone Issacs – is the first Black president and she’s a woman. Despite what we saw this year, she is working on bringing diversity to the Oscars. I think we’re seeing bigger strides in television, with the amount of Black female leads and Black showrunners and directors that are doing amazing work. I’m extremely optimistic though, as disappointing as it was to see the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year, I’m still very hopeful next year and the year after that will be different. 

B: Amid all the concerns of competition among Black women, it’s so affirming to see the support you have through Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins – never mind the presence of all the featured actresses who give their words of wisdom in each episode of Black Actress. What has that support done for you, both professionally and personally? 

A: The support has been awesome! These women are my friends and my peers and I couldn’t ask for more with all of the support they’ve given me, my vision and the show. I always saw the show in this way and I knew that once I started telling people about it that the support would be there, because the story is positive. 

B: What have you learned about yourself throughout the process of creating Black Actress/Jungle Wild?

A: Black Actress is a huge project and it takes a lot of people, time and parts to make it work. I’m very grateful for my producing partner Brian Walker who’s been with me through this process. But through all of this I’ve learned that I’m capable of doing anything I want.


Black Actress is in its second season – you can catch Kori’s ups and downs (including features from Tristan Wilds, Reagan Gomez, Franchesca Ramsey and more) here! Lewis and team are in the homestretch of a Kickstarter campaign to help with production and distribution of S2 and S3 of Black Actress, so if you like what you see, donate!


Hey y’all!

It’s been a minute since I did an “upcoming events” post, but there are so many great things coming up that I just had to share! If you’re in the Toronto/NYC areas, take a peek at what’s going on in the next couple of weeks!

CaribbeanTales International Film Festival – Closing Night + Afterparty


I recently wrote about this year’s CaribbeanTales Int’l Film Festival, and #CTFF2014 has flown by! This Saturday is the final screening date, with festival awards, a special Q+A with soca queen Alison Hinds, and an afterparty at Hush Lounge!

Celebrating the indigenous populations, Caribbean literature, LGBTQ, and many other facets of Caribbean cinema, #CTFF2014 has again thrived successfully in light of TIFF – the film festival Goliath. If you haven’t yet hit up The Royal Cinema for a screening, catch features tonight, then come back for the closing tomorrow! Get your tickets here!

3 The Hard Way Comedy Show


If you’re a comedy show lover, you do not want to miss 3 The Hard Way going down at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday! Jay Martin, Trixx, and Jean Paul will be back for another gritty and hilarious comedy show after the first sold-out 3 The Hard Way last year – but this time, they’ve got special guests! Filipino funnymen Keith Pedro, Ron Josol, and Big Norm will also take the stage, so attendees will get two times the comedy in one show! Culture clash + comedy = an awesome night! Get your 3 The Hard Way tickets now!

Secrets Of A Side Hustler

side hustler

Last year, I was honoured to be on the panel for an innovative event called Secrets Of A Side Hustler held by my friend Chivon John. The event focused on the perspectives of those of us who are juggling full-time gigs and side hustles – the ups, downs, ins and outs of how to manage it all. This year, Chivon has curated another awesome group of panelists for the 2014 event happening on September 18th! Are you balancing more than one job/passion? Are you thinking of devoting more time to your side hustle dreams after you’ve finished your 9-5? This event is for you! Get more info and tickets here!

The Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show

toronto naturals

The Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show is back for its 9th year, and I’m sure it will NOT disappoint! On September 20th and 21st, tons of natural hair & beauty lovers flock to the event to take in educational workshops, shop from awesome vendors, watch beautiful hair shows, and meet and greet with other people in the community! I’ll be speaking again this year on the 20th, discussing Natural Hair In The Digital Sphere: Blogs, Beauty, & Building Bridges. My talk this year will focus on navigating the digital world of natural hair, and how the digital communities and natural hair professionals can work together to strengthen alliances. Get all the show details and ticket information here!

And for the NYC massive…

Live From The Background w/ Durand Bernarr

underground flyer

My homegirl Keya Maeesha is hosting yet another dope live show in NYC on September 19th, featuring Durand Bernarr with special guest Domi Jo. The premise of this event is a unique one – background vocalists are the backbones responsible for adding to the lushness and fullness of our favourite tracks, and Live From The Background will bring some of the industry’s finest to the forefront! This is also Keya’s last show until next fall, so whether you’ve never experienced one of her shows, or if you’ve been to ’em all – this one will be special and you do NOT want to miss it. Get details and tickets here!

#CTFF2014 IS COMING: Win Tickets To The CaribbeanTales Int’l Film Festival!


As my granny would say, “Idle hands are the Devil’s playground.” If that’s the case, ole Mr. Lucifer is having NO fun with me.

Over the past few months, I’ve reprised my role within the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, working on film curation, programming, and more for this year’s festival. Three years ago, I sent in an email with fingers crossed, hoping I’d be able to get the opportunity to do something, ANYTHING with the festival, and I came on as a social media volunteer. In 2013 I was asked back as a film juror, and this year, I’m stompin’ with the big dawgs on the festival team! There’s another post in here around the idea of taking risks, asking for what you want, and watching things grow as you pay your dues – but I may save that for another day. On THIS day, I want to give you the scoop on #CTFF2014, and give one lucky reader the chance to win a pair of tickets to the festival’s opening gala on September 3rd!

Running from September 3-13, the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival is the David in the David and Goliath structure of Toronto film festivals. CTFF runs alongside TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because CTFF and TIFF partner strategically for various programs like the CaribbeanTales Incubator – a mentorship program for Caribbean filmmakers. It’s a curse because media coverage sways like a tidal wave over TIFF, leaving CTFF to reach out to niche audiences that would be interested in its films. Jamaicans say “wi likkle but wi tallawah” (“we’re small but mighty”), and that phrase undoubtedly fits perfectly with CTFF.

The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival features films from Caribbean and diasporic filmmakers, highlighting the region as the world’s next hot film industry. The Caribbean has always been mined as an ideal location for Hollywood film, but until recently hasn’t had the infrastructure to stand on its own. That infrastructure is still being built, but CTFF does a major part in highlighting the amazing work being done by filmmakers in the region, and those in the diaspora.

The theme this year is “Our Lens, Our Perspective,” and features films on sub-themes like “Indigenous Caribbean,” “Caribbean Literature,” “Queer Caribbean,” and more. In a day and age where diversity and representation are hot topics in film and media, CTFF provides an outlet to embrace those very elements. If you’re looking for something fresh and off the beaten path when it comes to film, CTFF has got you covered!

We’ll be joined by some special guests this year – soca/calypso legend Sparrow will be in town for the opening gala for an exclusive Q&A and world premiere screening of Geoffrey Dunn’s The Glamour Boyz Again! Sparrow and Superior on the Hilton Rooftop. On the festival’s closing night – named Bajan Invasion –  soca queen Alison Hinds will be here for a Q&A and screening of thriller Too Smart, where she makes her feature film debut. In between opening and closing are a number of incredible screenings – see film lineup (including details on the FREE community screening on August 30th) here, and purchase your tickets (opening gala, closing night, single screening, and all-access festival pass) here!

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All that being said – I’m giving away a pair of tickets to the #CTFF2014 Opening Gala! One lucky reader and a guest will join me and Sparrow at The Royal Cinema on September 3rd at 6pm for the gala held in partnership with the Consulate General of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. It’ll be a night to enjoy some delicious food, incredible film, exclusive Q&A with a Caribbean legend, and ring in the festival while rubbing shoulders with major figures in the Caribbean/diasporic film and media industries!

You’ve got two ways to win: 

1. Email me at and let me know what your dream Caribbean vacation would look like. Where would you go? What would you do?

2. Tweet this in order to enter for your chance to win!

Either way you choose, you’ll be entered to win! I’ll pick a winner on August 21st – good luck!

Early bird ticket prices end on August 15thget your #CTFF2014 tickets today!

ARTSY FARTSY: Black Nativity Toronto Screening Recap


Though us Canadians celebrated our Thanksgiving 6 weeks ago, it’s not hard to get caught up in the festivities with my American homies as they prepare for feasts of gratitude this weekend. I know that as soon as the food has settled and the tryptophan has taken hold, it’ll be time to look forward to the Christmas season – and thanks to the good folks at Fox Searchlight, I got a dose of the holiday warm and fuzzies at a Toronto screening of Black Nativity on Monday night!

Starring Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore, Tyrese Gibson, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker, Black Nativity is a modern film adaptation of the classic play by Langston Hughes. Filled with themes of family, struggle, forgiveness, and love, the film centres around the traditional Christian Nativity story. I won’t give away any more, but I will tell you my 5 favourite things about Black Nativity!


1. Harlem

This summer, I spent a weekend in Harlem for the Blogging While Brown Conference, and fell ALL the way in love. I know there’s nothing new about New York City serving as the backdrop for cinema, but I was giddy as the camera shots panned past spots I ate at, shopped at, hung out at…you get the point. I don’t remember how many times I grabbed HomieLuva’s arm and said, “I went there!” He rolled his eyes, but you know he allowed me my moment. The Harlem shots in the film (and the brownstone where a chunk of the movie took place) were gorgeous.

2. Angela Bassett

I’ve always been a fervent worshipper at the altar of Angela, but my standom exploded this year with her amazing turn as Marie Laveau on American Horror Story: Coven. It was a shift to see her playing a prim and proper preacher’s wife and grandmother in Black Nativity, but she was fierce all the same. I love the diversity of her work, and thought she played this role with the perfect amount of emotion without tipping into ‘corny’ country. She even sang a little bit, and I was surprised to hear that she can carry a note! G’on then, Auntie Angela!


3. Jacob Latimore

Now, I didn’t know much about this young whippersnapper before coming into the movie, except for the random fact that he’s supposedly the newest member of Mindless Behaviour (don’t ask me how I know this). I admittedly don’t have other work to compare him to, but I really enjoyed his role as Langston, the star of the film. The tough-shelled teen with an immense love for his mother and a desire for more out of life…he did that. His voice is amazing, and he has the makings of a wonderful actor, so it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.

4. The Church

Now, I’m not the most church-going person in the world. I wasn’t raised in the church, and only started going when I fell in love with a boy who was. Church still often feels like a foreign place where everyone is speaking a language that I don’t understand, but I’d be lying if I said that my symbolism- and ceremony-loving self didn’t see beauty in it. Given that the film is called Black Nativity, I knew there would be an indelible religious overtone. Sometimes that can be intimidating to me, but the film’s presentation was actually quite lovely. Forest Whitaker played a great preacher (even if his pseudo-Brit accent seemed a bit off for a preacher in Harlem), and I could tell that the majority of the audience was really into it.


5. The Music

Black Nativity trailers let me know early on that this was going to be more of a musical than anything else. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t that keen on watching people skip from dialogue to musical solos on the big screen, but thought I’d give it a chance. The voices in the film – Jennifer, Jacob, Tyrese, Mary J. Blige, and guest spots by Luke James and Grace Gibson (Lynn Whitfield’s daughter!) were very well-chosen. Nas also had a couple of prime pieces in the film, threading hip hop throughout in a cool way. My boo, Raphael Saadiq, was the musical director, so as the credits rolled in the first few minutes of the film, I got excited. The music is definitely the star of Black Nativity, and I was pleasantly surprised!

Black Nativity opens in theatres everywhere today, so if you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie that you can see with the family (I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie with HomieLuva and our goddaughter that we all enjoyed), check it out! Major shout-outs to Fox Searchlight for providing me with passes for a few lucky winners – we had a wonderful discussion after the film, and many people are bringing their families back for another viewing this week!

This was a sponsored post, but y’all know I give only the real deal. If you were at the screening, or if you happen to see the film on opening weekend – let me know what you think!

P.S.: The Syndicate. This Saturday. Be there! 

ARTSY FARTSY: Interview With Camille Lauren + Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show Giveaway

Arta Gallery, Distillery District

At Arta Gallery, Distillery District

Sometimes, you’ve just got to say no.

I found myself in a rut with this blog not too long ago – I was getting a lot of requests to either post things on my blog or do blogging favours for other people, but when it came down to it, the other party always fell through. I shunned the idea of partnering with anyone else for a while, then I got an email inviting me to an art gallery event in the Distillery District. I had met one of the featured artists before, and her publicist invited me to the event with the hopes that I would feature her on the blog. I was so ready to send my “thanks, but no thanks” email – but first, I satisfied my curiosity by going to her site.

That “no” turned into a “yes” with the quickness.

Camille ‘Ciel’ Lauren is a Toronto-based, Curacao-born visual artist currently studying at OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) – her company Art of Ciel is inspired by sea and sand, a nod to her Caribbean upbringing.  As the Branding Director for the multi-arts production company Spoke N Heard, she was a driving force behind the creation of the Emanate Gallery Exhibit held at Arta Gallery last month. I fell in love with the art on her site – from her commissioned pieces to her inspired artwork to her live event paintings (yes, she will capture your event live and on canvas), I could see the talent and beauty that radiates from her pieces, and couldn’t wait to see them up-close.


Brown Sugar Steaming by Camille Lauren

NaturalistaGlam by Camille Lauren

NaturalistaGlam by Camille Lauren

I was lucky enough to do a quick interview with Camille where she told me more about her work and inspiration:

On how her love of art was born…

“Art was just my most natural response. It’s been a way to express myself ever since I was 4. When I came to Canada, it was a thing I used even more to…maybe like a shield in my younger years. I was very shy, so if I was moving to a new school, I’d always have my sketchbook – and even if I didn’t make any friends, art was my way to interpret the world. It just continued – in high school I started painting on canvas, and I loved it. ”

On her biggest inspiration…

“My inspiration comes from conversations, stories that I hear from people – they make me want to reach in and depict that. I like to create an eternal moment to share. You can have a feeling about something, and maybe you tell it to someone and they forget. When you paint it, it’s there for everyone to see.”

How she got involved with Spoke N Heard…

“Three years ago, Spoke N Heard’s creator told me about his vision to unite the arts. Over time I found myself doing graphic design and promotion, and then I became the Branding Director. With this show, Celia Wilson (Creative Director & Curator) and I worked really closely to refine the theme, and the team brought it together. We sent out a lot of different artist submission calls on the web, as far as we could go.”

What her 5-10 year plan is with regards to her art…

“I’m starting my own business, Art of Ciel, to reach further with my art. It’s growing into much more than just art, but I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m looking to art merchandising, and clothing embellishments and design – just trying to broaden it out a bit.”


Camille and I

Camille and I

To say I’m happy I didn’t decline Camille’s invitation is an understatement. Her art really spoke to me with her use of colour, texture, and movement, and it was amazing to see them up-close and personal. It was also wonderful to hear her tell her own story about her inspirations and aspirations – and sidenote: her hair is DOPE. Now…all I have to do is start saving my pennies to get a piece or two!

Check out Camille’s website, and follow her on Twitter – and stay in touch with Spoke N Heard to support amazing art and artists!

P.S – Don’t forget that I’ll be speaking at the Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show this weekend! I’m giving away 2 sets of tickets to the show – one full weekend pass and one Sunday pass. Saturday is all about informative workshops (including mine called ‘Navigating Natural Hair in the Online World’), and Sunday is workshops + vendors + hair and fashion showcase and more! Comment here and let me know why you want to go the TNHBS – bonus points if you follow me on Twitter and tweet me to say that you entered! The winners will be drawn and announced on Friday! 

SAY YES: A Cinematic Gift From Ava DuVernay & Fashion Fair


Ava DuVernay has done it again. With near impeccable timing in the social media landscape (at least for me), she has offered us another piece of work that flies in the face of other, uh, recent artistic endeavours (Russell Simmons, I’m looking at you).

After giving us The Door – a sleek and lush short film done in partnership with fashion house Miu Miu earlier this year – she has given the world 7 minutes of beauty with Say Yes.

Say Yes was done in partnership with African-American makeup company Fashion Fair, and is a seamless vehicle for showcasing their new lip colour of the same name. “The film explores the power of the affirmative, and the beauty that blossoms from embracing life,” states Fashion Fair. “Sundance award-winning filmmaker, Ava DuVernay worked on this vision of what happens when you welcome the unexpected.”

Welcoming the unexpected is exactly what I did when I pressed play, and in true Ava DuVernay fashion, she gave me my entire life. Something about her work speaks to me as a young Black woman in 2013: feelings I’ve felt, things I’ve experienced, things I’ve wanted to experience. She portrays images of Black women that speak to the woman I am, and gives me versions that I devour, ingest, and try on for size in my waking life. Her works often pique little parts of me that say “have more fun!” or “treat yourself!” or “walk a little taller!” or “love a little harder!” – and in a world that often hurls rocks at Black women to test the theory that we’re strong enough to handle it all, I welcome her artistic alternatives.

Without giving away too much of Say Yes, just know this: it looks like everyone in it said “yes” to everything good in life. The film takes place at a dope house party where dope Black folk are having a dope time. Drinks are flowing, music is bumping, and throughout all the revelry, a gorgeous girl is looking for something…or someone. What she finds is directly related to the ideas of embracing life and welcoming the unexpected.

OK. Enough with the long talkin’ – check out Ava DuVernay’s short Say Yes and let me know what you thought of it.

P.S. – I’m LOVING that Say Yes lip colour on the female lead!


ARTSY FARTSY: Caribbean Film Screening With Gems of the Caribbean


Frances Anne Solomon w/ representatives from Islands of the Caribbean

Last summer, I heard about a Caribbean film festival that was going to be taking place in Toronto. My love of the arts and my unyielding Caribbean pride pushed me to send an email to the media contact, asking if there was any way I – a small, local blogger – could get involved. I wasn’t expecting much of a response, but lo and behold, I received one. From that moment, I started volunteering with the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, and I’m back for another run this year!

A little background: Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distribution is a company founded by filmmaker Frances Anne Solomon, which seeks to celebrate Caribbean film, support Caribbean filmmakers, and build up the Caribbean as a viable and valuable artistic market. A Toronto-based film festival has been part of Caribbean Tales’ offering to the world, and this year marks the 8th annual Caribbean Tales Film Festival.

This weekend marks the kick-off of a new partnership between Caribbean Tales, Islands of the Caribbean (a tourism board conglomerate representing Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, St . Lucia, and St. Vincent), and the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition). August 17th, 18th, and 30th will be the Gems of the Caribbean Screening Series at the CNE, and it is going to be DOPE. Details were revealed at last month’s Caribbean Tales Media Launch.

“We are delighted to be partnering with the tourism boards as there is a natural fit – they are promoting the Caribbean while we are marketing the brand by telling authentic stories of who we are,” stated Frances Anne Solomon, founder and CEO of CaribbeanTales.

“The Caribbean is more than just sun, sea and sand – it’s about our people, our spirit, our soul, it’s about our story. That’s why visitors are entranced by our islands – that’s why they are in love with our islands and ultimately return to our islands,” says Erica Henry-Jackman, Director of Tourism for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. “This experience will come alive on film during the Gems of the Caribbean preview nights at the CNE.”

Saturday, August 17th = Jamaica night, featuring various short films and a screening of Marley (which I saw last year and ADORED)

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Sunday, August 18th = Grenada/Antigua & Barbuda night, a.k.a. “Carnival Revelry”, featuring shorts and a screening of Mas Man

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Friday, August 30th = St. Lucia/St. Vincent night, featuring shorts and a screening of Home Again (another film I had the pleasure of seeing)

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All events start at 6:30pm. 

Gems of the Caribbean will also feature details and information about various Caribbean islands, and includes a rum sampling of the best rums in the region! Entrance to the Gems of the Caribbean screening is included with your ticket to the CNE – order online here!

For an Advance Ticket Discount, visit Click on ‘guest info’, ‘tickets’ and then ‘group or promo code’ to use the unique online access code CT897794. Purchases can be made using a credit or debit card. Don’t forget to print your tickets at home for entry!

The Caribbean Tales Film Festival officially starts with a gala event and screening at the Harbourfront Centre on September 4th, and runs until the 14th. There will be free community screenings, parties, panel discussions, and amazing Caribbean film – and I’ll keep you all posted on the details!

You can find more information on the Caribbean Tales website, Facebook, and Twitter – the Gems of the Caribbean Screening Series will be held at the International Pavilion, Hall B, Presentation Theatre in the Direct Energy Centre, and more information can be found at booth #3237! See you there! 

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