I received the notification for a Tennessee meets Toronto event on blogTO yesterday and as a media and events person, I skimmed through with moderate interest because the article said, ‘It’ll be packed full of live music, authentic southern eats and plenty of activities for you to explore without having to leave Toronto.’
Seems kinda vague to me…..Scooted over to IG,I see Canadian DJ, Skratch Bastid, announcing the same event of which he’ll be dj’ing. He added a little history on Memphis DJ Culture…36 Mafia, DJ Paul, Gangsta Boo (RIP), Juicy J and many, many more. There’s so much that came out of Tennessee. Drake’s daddy is from Memphis. This is the why for theshineprjct blog platform, I fill you in on what’s not clearly explained. Over here, dj culture is heavily highlighted. There’s an underlying underground culture that exists, while the mainstream is being presented to the world. So far, the whiskey tasting events are sold out and breakfast is cancelled. But if you need a bit of a crash course before next week, watch Hip Hop Revolution starring Shad K, there’s a well researched segment on the southern hip hop! >>https://www.netflix.com/ca/title/80141782
Plenty of other activities to celebrate Tennessee! See you at the Drake!
How do you explain electronic music or the underground sound to those who don’t ‘get’ what the big deal is….some music holds an imprint attached to sonic tradition so rather than words,there are deep sounds.Each artist has a signature sound.
That sound if cultivated during the span of their career, provided that the intent possesses a level of truth and clarity would mean that it is recognized by many, touches lives, offers healing and allows us to also tap in creatively. The example I’m talking about, is this depth filled track, ‘Origins’ that reminded me of what I just explained…
The two artists who worked on this track, have signature sounds that cannot be duplicated by anyone, not even AI. That’s what makes us unique. When I write track or album reviews for labels or artists, I don’t write them to stroke egos or put any artists down, I write them from a human/cultural standpoint.
It’s likened to a religious group knocking on your door to ‘convert’ you to their belief system but I do that with underground music. I urge you to listen to this song/track because it sounds like sumthin’ beautiful and this is what it means to me and this is how it’ll help you.
Call it corny, but this is how I want to read reviews and this is my writing style and this is how my publication will continue to be moving forward get ready! So yeah, this track ‘Origins’ remixed by Ezel (Cee ElAssaad & Floyd Vader) is beautiful! It’s deep house in full form right here!
Juno Submissions are due! You’ve got less than a day left to submit your Underground Single or Dance Recording of the year. You could be the next winner or nominee. Global DJ,Producer and founder of 23by23com, Sydney Blu, took to her platforms a few days ago to remind artists and collaborators across the Canadian Underground Community, that the submission window is still open online until October 28,2022 and must be sent in by 11:59 pm EST. (There’s a $95 fee also!)
Let’s look at this for a minute; The Underground category was never part of the Junos for years and was added last year after Hill, along with very dedicated individuals, lobbied for the upgrade. (Yes, I called it an upgrade!LOL) A few hundred supporting letters were gathered from members of the Canadian Dance music industry to make this category possible.
Hill is passionate about the music and the future of the genre in this country. Hill adds, ‘it’s important for ANY artist in Canada to submit to this category and getting nominated is the best free marketing you can get- plus the category is not judged on sales. The judges are Underground dance experts that are not affiliated with any artists and are anonymously chosen by the people of CARAS/The Junos’
What’s exciting about this definitive categorization of the Underground genre, is how expansive it is and it does include multi-genres within the Underground.
Qualifying recordings for the ‘Underground Single of the Year’ may feature “slow builds, hypnotic and repetitive arrangements that may include vocals, often extended in length, all developed for maximum utility on the dance floor by club DJs. Rather than the only focus being the ‘Dance Pop’ flavour,the Underground Dance category at the Junos also includes:
Afro House (hello?)
Underground House (hello?)
Underground Tech house
Underground Deep/Melodic House
Underground /Traditional Progressive House & Trance and more!
It’s a huge step forward for arts and culture in Canada to finally have the Underground represented at a national awards level. These genres have existed for decades on dance floors across the country and around the world; it definitely makes a way for Electronic Music in Canada and reflects how Canadian sub genres and acts are doing abroad. i.e Jayda G, Kaytranada. Plenty of artists are at work, all year round, all the time- so any music projects you might be submitting to the Junos, is a way to get your work out there (If that’s what you want.) I realize that many feel that once the work escapes the Underground it’s selling out-I don’t see it that way,I see it as a set of larger building blocks for the future. The scene exists, the genre has it’s own flavour and the legends are out there! I see you!
Visit the Juno Awards website to see details for music categories #26 & #46! Your submission alone is making history!
I know this isn’t Canadian content, but this is totally worth noting. Between 1999–2006 is a prolific and momentous time for Modern Black Music. Why? Well, much has influenced hip hop and pop as well as the sounds from well known vocalistic influences of the 60s,70s and 80s. All of this can be heard throughout more recent music. When I say more recent; I’m talking about this year! I could have never imagined hearing what music recorded throughout the early-mid 2000s, would sound as snippets for some of the most recognizable hits in the last three years.
After attending “Crate Stories Live”, an online interview series presented by underground alternative Toronto presenters Little Dojo and The Academy, along with Loop Sessions Toronto + Dan Charnas, Author of Dilla Time, NYU Professor and former A&R rep, talked about his multiple encounters with instrumentalist, master sampler and sound bender, James Yancey aka J.Dilla.
The 2+hour deconstructive discussion with host Arcee, is where author Charnas, brought back memories and tons of meticulous supporting details of the sound technique signature to J Dilla. Snippets of music he’d worked on over the years when he was alive, played throughout the session and after hearing this author’s remarks on Dilla’s work, we find that his work left it’s mark on music production techniques and revolutionized multi-genre sound productions worldwide.
During the pre-pandemic COVID 19 window, I started listening to a slew of tracks that I believe created a wave of the most recognizable melodies from early-mid 2000s and heard many superior voices and hooks that’ll never die. Many artists who haven’t performed in years,(with Canadian dates included) are now touring again. With the stellar ticket sales for live shows in many big cities across North America, groups like Wu Tang Clan +artists Nas, Sean Paul are evidence that the ‘2000s’ sound is still hot. Is it? (I know every generation might say this about the music they listened to during their time but the 2000s were pretty dope!)
Aside from the notable copyright cases and remake similarities, what better way to ‘give flowers’ and avoid sampling mishaps + court case settlements by bringing the artists back! Some of the biggest rhythm +blues, ‘urban’ + hip hop artists aren’t dead yet and with major cases like Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song, ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ sampled for Nicki Minaj on her 2018 track ‘Sorry’ featuring Nas; or the VERY recent sampling issue with rapper Latto’s sample of Mariah Carey’s massive hit ‘Fantasy’ for catchy release ‘Big Energy’. Latto initially claimed she wasn’t familiar with Mariah Carey. I mean, myself as a teen, in the late, late 90s, knows Mariah Carey as THE diva of divas. So for Latto, nee Alyssa Michelle Stephens, born in 1998,to have claimed that she didn’t know about the original hit is sorta understandable and even if Carey has had hits spanning across 30 years; I’m still in disbelief she wasn’t aware…….anyway…
What has spurred the idea of this piece that I’m writing here, is the effect that battle show Verzuzhad on many Gen Xers and anyone who listened to that genre. As I’ve been listening to some of the older stuff and later on taking in some of the newer artist releases, the reworking and/or incorporation of melodies into these fresh tracks can be heard quite clearly and on purpose. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Canadian artist Drake has released a ‘house’ sounding album titled Honestly, Nevermind, which includes some samples from the era I’ve mentioned above. Samples on the new album include Neo-Soul/rhythm + blues duo Floetry’s ‘Getting Late’ (2002) on familiar sounding track Flight’s Booked.
For those who don’t know what Verzuz is, it’s a ‘spin off’ of the battle between two opposing sides (an idea that sprouted from longtime successful Producers Swizz Beats (Ruff Ryders, DMX, Eve) and Producer Timbaland (Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Nelly Furtado) who originally (early during lock down) went toe-to-toe in a challenge over their ‘hardest’ and familiar beats and tracks, over the course of their careers. They shared ALOT from their catalogue and as the event grew, we’ve been seeing from then onwards, how many tracks they’d produced and how many artists they collaborated with over the years.
These earlier in lockdown ‘digital battles’ presented a slew of throwback artists, sounds and groups from our childhoods, showcasing the sounds that were attributed to their genres at THAT moment in time. (roughly about 1997–2007ish) Some of the most popular sounds in Black Music, spanning the last two and a half decades, is now added to the already growing original artist features, remakes or samples and in the last 2–3 years, we’re now hearing a shift in the era from which the sounds are being gathered.
Let’s look back for a bit: The very well known rap song of resistance, ‘Fight The Power’ by Public Enemy, used 22 samples from various sources but the effect described in detail was intentionally made in a way to create a dense sonic landscape, to reinforce their message and connect their songs to thematically similar music from the past. Hence the “I” I mentioned in the opening paragraph. That’s the “I” from Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” You hear it during every “Fight the Power” chorus, but especially in the last few seconds of the song, starting at 3:33, where it repeats. See the article that breaks the sampling pieces here.
Knowing all this detail definitely forces an audiophile like myself to listen to older tracks a little more. (and I wanna add, I love samples!) With the quote I pulled from the article titled‘The Evolving Art of Sampling’it makes me wonder what the evolving art of ‘sampling’ looks like today. And in support of this piece, it looks to me as if the next stage of sampling (besides beats and loops) is bringing the live artist back into the mix again. Many of the artists are still here and we’ve actually encountered many of them on those VERZUZ presentations. Here are some of the tracks that I listen to where the OG artist blesses a new track, replaces the sample or lends a completely new sound material for the audience. This brings me to mention DJ/remixer and Twitter sensation @loneamorphous who starting showcasing popular Hip Hop and RnB ‘mashups’ of artists from the early mid 2000s and they sound really good!
So look, here’s a thought: Until the industry figures out how to make block chain and music platforms more equitable for artists, I think you should go ‘head and make a playlist and re-listen to some of your old faves and new gens rock out together!
I’m sure there are many, many more tracks like these coming, especially after summer 2022:
Artist performing with the OGs
Nicole Bus – You (Ghostface Killah Remix)
Latto, Mariah Carey – Big Energy (Remix (Official Audio)) ft. DJ Khaled
Lucky Daye Earth Wind and Fire You Want My Love Collaborative single a reimagining of R&B band’s 1976 hit “Can’t Hide Love”
Gwen Bunn ft. Faith Evans – Between The Lines (Official Music Video)
Be Like Water – Stevie Wonder, PJ Morton, Nas
G-Eazy – Provide (Official Video) ft. Chris Brown, Mark Morrison
Fat Joe, Dj Khaled ,Amorphous – Sunshine (The Light)
Why Don’t We – Sans from Amerie’s Why Don’t We Fall in Love
I’ve been working with the Songwriter’s Association of Canada since last Fall. It’s a smaller but VERY influential NPO located in Toronto with connections to other Canadian music creator advocacy organizations. I was motivated to work with them once I found out about their nearly 40 year history and it’s founder Terry McManus. McManus, a longtime songwriter and educator founded the org to fight for the compensation of Canadian artists as songwriters.
Prior to the early 80s, Canadian songwriters didn’t receive royalties from their music. Terry McManus (one of the early influences for SOCAN among many other organizations founded in Canada,) along with other very influential people in Canada’s music industry, created an association that would move forward to develop and protect the creative, business and legal interests of Canadian music creators. ‘With over 1,000 current members, including 200+ professionals, S.A.C. offers a suite of invaluable digital services and provides education and community for songwriters, lyricists, beatmakers, sound designers, topliners, instrumentalists and song collaborators’.
Please read more benefits of S.A.C. as an organization and the value of obtaining a membership with them here. S.A.C. is undergoing a multitude of changes behind the scenes so stay connected to them across all socials. If you’ve followed any projects and work I’ve been doing over the last decade-I’m passionate about Canadian music and underground culture; especially musicians and artists that are often not seen or highlighted due to heavy competition and very limited chances for media exposure and discussion. I really enjoy this stuff and talking about the music!
For Black History Month this year, along with the Operations Coordinator (Natalie B) at S.A.C., we designed a four week panel where I dug through many of the artists I’ve loved and known for years! I’ve watched their careers grow and wanted to talk to them to find how they were ‘doing it’ in Canada. I also wanted to showcase what making Black Music and creative material was like pre-BLM 2020 while looking forward into the future. With another lockdown imposed after Christmas, it caused a blockage and dramatically changed the budget and programming style we were hoping for.
Even though it was harder to navigate the discussions, the transparency we had in these conversations were invaluable. I urge you- if you’ve got an hour at a time over the course of the next few weeks, listen in to what Black Music creators and writers have to say about the industry in Canada. The struggle isn’t over for any type of artist and creative globally, but what Black Music creators and writers had to say about jumping over hurdles to remain in the music, arts, culture sphere is admirable.
I had a great time putting this program together to showcase Black Canadian Creators and an even better time asking artists questions about topics rarely discussed on a public platform. Here’s the the link to the Songwriter’s Association of Canada (YouTube):
A little side note here: I’d like to thank all artists for joining me to discuss the industry in Canada. It’s through discussion, that greater insights are made and change is possible!
This is the last and most profound lesson I absorbed during my time in Japan. It’s something that I hadn’t expressed verbally but more so- an observation and a feeling. Whenever I do talk about Japan with folks who’ve never been to Asia, one of the many remarks made is that ‘it must’ve been a cultural shock to live there’ and although it sounds correct it isn’t. The culture shock hit me when I returned to Toronto. It took some time to process the difference and it also took time to flow again with what I’d known my whole life. For example: how to navigate where I was headed (on public transit and professionally) once I got back. I had to learn how to reject what people around me suggested I do.
Let me tell a story as I did with the first 3 travel stories for context. Every morning, when I first arrived to Osaka-I’d take the train to work. When you (a foreigner) arrives to Japan, you stand out (you’re not them.) It takes awhile to get used to, so the people around you seem like a blur because it’s a new environment. I’d head into the office (a whole multimedia centre) to teach English modules by webcam (pretty much what Zoom is like today!) *13 years ago we taught by webcam…..anyway during breaks, between classes, lunch hour, no show classes and finally at the end of the day- I’d sit around the centre talking to other instructors, operations staff and sometimes even the cleaning staff. Lemme focus on the cleaning staff. You know the saying we see often: “speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” I discovered comes from Albert Einstein. I think about that quote a lot but I think about it in reverse. It’s hard for me to explain this in a way that doesn’t sound short sighted.
As teaching staff in that office we did our best to keep it tidy and clean up after ourselves-it never seemed disrespectful against the cleaning staff. After seeing 2 cleaning staff members almost everyday and talking to them here and there within the office space; there’s an observation I made as I navigated the city for my next 2 years there. Folks in all areas of the society worked hard, happily and with purpose. Please click the link that follows later in this paragraph. I use the term ‘happily’ very carefully. I observed the way different societies placed types of work in categories and then I observed those that actually worked those jobs; they worked with a kind of esteem I’d never seen before. I also looked at (the way workers interacted with each other), the people in the cities they worked for as well as public exchanges and cultural interaction between them) It was different.
One night, I observed two city workers on my way back from a DJ gig, both were bowing to each other after their shifts. It was something I’d never seen before. I looked at the way a city like Toronto places heavy importance on the status of an individual whether it be the ‘look’ and ‘show’ of class, wealth, clout and/or intelligence or the outward keeping of appearances to exude (being worthy of respect solely based on luxury, materialism or race) and then the hush, hush nature of being support staff and/or performing ‘blue collar’ work. Here’s a very unique thing to keep in mind also: the education process is quite intense in Japan- so no matter what your future looks like, by the time you choose a career path (most young people would have studied ALOT.) Everyone is well learned and fierce with the books.
So let’s step away from my intricate observations for a moment. This is the transitional part of myself I want to share here: One morning I was on the train-a few months before I ended my contract and came home. The train was packed. Typically, you will see on TV around the world what Japanese urban centres look like during rush hour. I used to hold the bar tightly preventing myself from tipping over on to other passengers. As I stared out the window on the train I felt someone looking at me. I was so used to it by that time: being taller than most, having dreadlocks and then later a little afro (I chopped them off) and the the obvious just being black…..anyway
I looked to my right and then my left and saw a couple standing together both smiling and waving at me. For a second I thought they looked so familiar. They waved and greeted me. I then realized who they both were, dressed to the nines and headed to work. I didn’t recognize them because I’d only seen them in their work uniforms for almost three years. I didn’t know they were husband and wife-she had a beautiful Prada jacket, handbag and hat-he was decked out in a beautiful and VERY expensive suit. I don’t know why it hit me differently at that moment. But the resonance for me hit in waves and it said ‘it’s necessary to have self esteem with whatever you do-no need to be fake about that shit, provided it’s safe, legit and works for you, NEVER FEEL ASHAMED for where you are NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.’
I know it sounds like a judgement against them (the cleaning staff couple) for me seeing them dressed up and then later dressed for work-it wasn’t just seeing them at that very moment that made me think like this, but a series of events and observations of them at work that led me to embrace this message strongly. It prepared for the next decade in Toronto with no shortcuts. It was a culmination of things: I was headed back to Toronto with all types of plans for the way I wanted life to go and leaving the Canada I once knew and returning after sometime. This was a very much a ‘from the ground up‘ process. I’ve worked at many places to get by, to get through school again (Humber PR) and to literally, make it! And even when I was made to feel like what I was doing was beneath me at many intervals in the last decade; depending on where I was whether it be around certain groups, environments or classist circles that for some reason attempted to stamp that permanent mark of ‘less than’ on my back or forehead, I constantly reminded myself about what I had come to know after setting foot back in Toronto. I understood a resonance I described to you up top. Teachable moments are often more of a sense than anything else so please excuse how this message rolls out.
Looking back at the last 12-14 years, I realize there’s so much I had to learn by going through all types of experiences to get what I wanted and it wasn’t easy. I don’t think I would’ve had the grit I have today to sustain my goals if I hadn’t been through as much as I did. So after all this extra descriptive language and explanation, I formally re-discovered ikigai a few days ago. I also realized that what I’m trying to carefully explain here is ikigai in action. It’s definitely a strong cultural mindset. Even though I embraced hard work most of my life with diligence. I worked jobs in spaces and places I never thought I should or could do-THAT was my cultural shock. Here’s a paragraph that explains the concept and how it should ideally work:
‘Pride and camaraderie are more difficult to define and obtain. These two values are different in that they depend on each individual person’s character and needs. They arereliant on the relationship between the employee and his or her job (pride) and the relationship between the employee and his or her coworkers (camaraderie). What each person needs to be proud of their job is personal and unique and it’s crucial to ensure that everyone is in a role that satisfies their goals. The quality of relationships between coworkers depends on the personalities and different preferences each person has as well as the ability of the team to match them. Pride and camaraderie can be related back to the concept by ikigai when you think about appreciating others for their personal reason for being whilst valuing yourself for yours. This will create a harmonious work environment composed of successful individuals.’ See more about this concept.
Naturally, it was easier for me to work retail, wash n fold laundry service, cashier, bartending or server jobs after experiencing ikigai. No shame in the game-you learn a multitude of things and are exposed to dynamics you’d never see, know or understand otherwise. It’s humbling yes, it might even feel like punishment. But having a sense of pride, esteem and full comprehension of all angles of work makes you know shit very well. So, this wasn’t something I picked up in one trip-but over the course of my stay in Japan. It’s something that’ll always be a part of me. I know how to put in the elbow grease with no complaints-I know in my mind where I’d like to be. Lastly, I judge no one.
If you’ve caught the first 2 stories the running theme is the direct experiences with racism. They were the most profound because I had never encountered those types of scenarios in that kind of way until the moments thy happened. I assure I’ve got so many others this music one is good!
It was the first and last time I was to experience this legendary place. A friend of mine was dating a New Yorker at the time and her first trip to see him in person after he was in Toronto for Caribana earlier that year in the summer. He was trying to impress us but my Hip Hop loving self was more impressed than she was about what we saw that night. We took the Amtrak during the winter of 2000-possibly November or December. If you’ve ever taken the train cross country Canada or anywhere metropolitan North America- you’re aware that the journey is long, the route is scenic and you really need a good wash when you arrive to your final destination.
He kept driving further into Manhattan and eventually we ended up in front of this:
As I heard the bass, I realized we were hitting up a club! A club? I was dressed undoubtedly for winter long distance travel with the beanie/toque and cable knit sweater. Ladies, you know how you want to look when you head out on the town. He assured me that there was no dress code but on the real though when you hear the beats of the latest Hip Hop you naturally wanna look lit. Some bouncer opens a little shutter just like in the music videos. He identifies himself and we are led up some stairs. Who’s cutting, scratching and talking to the FULL HOUSE of people on the dancefloor? Can you guess? Funkmaster Flex. I was floored, honestly. IT sounded like a live mixtape. The vibe was so hype! I just recently found out that it closed in 2001 and that Hip Hop parties were never given any priority except for Sundays but wow…lit on a random Sunday? In 2000,I had never seen that many people in one room devoted to Hip Hop. Toronto’s got Rebel and back then Guvernment BUT I heard shit that I’d never heard on any radio or club EVER again even 20 years later!
Have you heard of the legendary Tunnel Nightclub before? Until that Sunday night we arrived I had not. Instead of heading to our guest house destination her guy arrived at Grand Central Terminal at about 9:30pm! He was usually very impulsive and in this case, it was very successful…kinda…..I was so mad that I had a bulky sweater on and I couldn’t take the beanie off my little TWA (teeny weeny afro) because it was crushed on the sides 😂 but I was so shocked to be standing behind one of the dopest Hip Hop DJs in New York! HE was werkin’.
Here I was; dressed like RnB singer Case (look him up) after a 10 hour train ride feeling so dressed appropriately for winter. I was away from home in a sweater and beanie/toque but I DID shake his hand and danced the night away! It was by far one of the best impromptu outings I’d ever experienced during my travels. Every city has it’s sauce and this to me, was the epitome of the Hip Hop era at that time. Unforgettable.
so what’s the lesson?: some of your best moments are the ones you aren’t dressed or prepared for.
I had known so many Filipino friends from my childhood and never even imagined I would’ve found myself visiting there!
As I love the tropics anywhere around the world one year before the Easter holiday I swapped around my shifts for additional vacation time and took Mabuhay Airlines over to Manila! When you fly to other Asian countries while in Asia it’s very economical and at that point I needed time off. As I was there with my friend for almost a month I decided to really take the time to rest and rejuvenate but more importantly take in the history and cuisine. What I ended up learning and how I ended up learning this was ‘the culture shock’ Let me add this in for razzle dazzle: Black People should still be wearing sunscreen. But Black People also need tremendous amounts of sun for health reasons and as I almost 3 winters in Japan…the amount of sun required was taken in mostly on these trips I would go on! I was gifted a cute caftan from my good friend and aesthetician so I wore that over my bathing suit when I went on those many trips and I promised myself first thing in the morning I’d head to the beach everyday to get a head start on sunbathing and saltwater (you know it heals) You get to know the staff really when your stay is extended. Also keep in mind that you treat your reception and service staff and crew nice and hope they’ll be nice to you too right? I minded my biz as usual and every morning greet them and know them by first name basis. As I walk past the front desk for the 5th morning that week the guest services lady asked me the strangest question, she said ‘I noticed you go the beach every morning…’
Me: Yes, why not?
Her: Why would you want to be in the sun?
Me: Vacation. I had no idea where this conversation was headed yo…
Her:‘are you from here?’
Her: Is your Mom Filipino?
Me: No (but in my head I’m like do I look Filipino to you?)
Her: You shouldn’t be in the sun-you’ll too dark
Me: Too dark? What? (I’m Black.Hello,I’m Black!)
Her: I thought you were Filipino but because you keep going outside that’s why I’m asking you…..
Me: I don’t understand what you are saying,I’m Black (I’m African) and I’m from Canada living in Japan and both places in Winter get no sun so I can and will roast as much as possible.
Her: In this country we associate being darker with poverty and lower class
Me: But I don’t care what you associate it with, I’m Black (I need sun,I live for it!) I’m on vacation…..I bit my tongue on this (because I was gonna tip her well by the end of my trip!) My mind changed after this interaction though….. what I did say to her though was….and ‘my ‘darker skin’ got me travelling to many places and booking at THIS hotel you work at…..’ I was so confused about the conversation, the mindset (she held) and how people are/were conditioned and why didn’t I know about this at home? (Toronto) Made me realize how much colonization of any kind was sad and dangerous. Later on that day and week I was floored because her ratchet statements and questions led me on a little adventure thereafter… As I went into town and hit the beach I used to have children shyly walking behind me. Some asking for candy’ and others asking for USD. But one day a little kid with a tightly curled Afro and much coppery tanned skin ran up to me and said: you look like my Mom. Another reference to me being ‘Filipino’. I just tried not to act surprised when the child said this and was like really? Okayyyyy! A tour guide assigned to me upon my arrival at the airport asked if myself and my friend wanted to go further across the island and we both agreed that we’d love to! They took us fishing and we stopped mid-ocean for pictures and some history lessons…..Then they took us to the mountainous regions and now in one trip I learnt about the colonization of the country and it’s post effects and the Indigenous that to my knowledge has never been the true face for that country. They led us to the mountainous region weekly marketplace where Indigenous women with woven baskets, hats, rattan home decor, t-shirts and souvenirs gathered for tourists and city folk to purchase stuff. And I came face to face with these gorgeous women. And no lie…..we looked at each other with a kind of recognizance. At the time I had just cut off my dreadlocks so my fro was pretty tight and some of the women had the same hair and beautiful skin that the little boy had. It was a kind of mirror in a way and looking from a child’s eye, I realized that I really did look like them! It was fascinating for me because I learnt all the history I needed to truly understand in one week-starting at my morning appointment with the sun!
So what’s the lesson here? sometimes the roots are the most important parts even if they are buried, behind the scenes, silenced, hidden, removed or unknown
I was happy for the man that then and there is when he realized and understood his racism. He knew that colourism was tied to his self hate and he knew for sure that he projected that to others he felt were weaker than him. He introduced himself and sat down beside me to explain that he was an inventor and that he visits NYC twice a year to patent and present his inventions. He quickly followed with ‘I have a confession to make’ Lemme assure you before I continue that I didn’t know this man. He was waiting for his shuttle bus to La Guardia and asked to sit down beside me in the lounge. I hesitated as I was waiting for the time to pass before grabbing my bus at Penn Station and I noticed that he was eager to talk to me-as if he had something profound to say. He apologized before uttering his truths and talked about his upbringing.
As a young man he explained, he had the deepest hatred for Black People and that he once hated Black folks so much that he would have never sat beside one of us in any public place- buses, offices, classes, meetings and lobbies, like where we were at that very moment. For him to start a convo this way-took a lot out of me and to then sit quietly and listen to him speak HIS truth….and now looking back at who I am today is pretty wild…I have very little patience today.
He admitted that he was treated differently growing up because of his ‘Native’ roots-he was labelled ‘Indio’ at school and though he had ‘Spanish’ roots he did have darker skin. It was a very uncomfortable topic for him at those younger ages to the point where he rejected himself enough to embody that much distaste for someone like me.
Upon moving to the United States though-going to Law school and studying Civil Law and even after becoming a practicing lawyer and later a professor-he still retained the same racist mentality he adapted and maintained specifically against Black People. He was a middle aged man at this stage (November 2001 post 9/11 to be specific. This is the most important part of this lesson) when I was talking to him. At the time he further described that he was was old enough to still remember the Native tongue he studied and spoke fluently (by his Native Grandparents) in addition to Spanish. He was even given a Native name at birth.
He spoke one of the Mixtec dialects very well. He studied with elders before his coming of age and at age 25 he migrated to the United States and began assimilating and began forgetting who he was. He talked about going to law school. Becoming a lawyer, assimilating into the ‘dominant’ culture while working civil cases for his people (Hispanics and especially Mexicans,)all the while taking digs in many professional settings at African American people especially women-he gave me a very detailed description of his thought process and said he was very ashamed but felt it was important to tell someone like me about his innermost thoughts related to race relations and oppression. It dawned on me then also that NBPOC hold the most adversity towards Black People. And I had never fully understood that concept until I left Toronto because I had grown up in VERY multiethnic neighbourhoods most of my life where the common denominator was being first gen children of immigrants.
What would trigger all these moments of honesty in a hotel lobby in the middle of the financial district in NYC? I was about 23/24 years old at the time. It was November 2001 only 2 months after 9/11.As we waited for our shuttle buses in the lobby to catch flights and buses he was reflecting on his life that had flashed before his eyes as the flight he should’ve been on to San Francisco was flying through one of the skyscrapers that burned down that sombre day. He had initially been angry that the airline had cancelled his flight and that he had to wait around-but as he watched the news at the airport lounge; his life was spared and had he been gone he would’ve left behind three daughters and a wife.
So what am I getting at with this travel story 20+ years later? Simple. Don’t wait for a world altering occasion to change your biases. Don’t allow division by race, colour, country,class-pretty much all the shit that distracts us from why we’re here on this planet keep up the hatred and maligned ways on which we think or treat others. That clichéd but truthful statement that life is short during this age of COViD et al and is too much of a historically altering time that is begging us to shift whether we see or not. So the man thanked me for hearing him out. He thanked me for listening intently and apologized for having these types of thoughts towards someone like myself whom he didn’t know! So, that’s the story! He, FINALLY at 50+ years loves himself-took a good look in the mirror after that near death experience and was thankful for his life. He shook off the self hate and learnt to like, get to know and truly respect others. He realized how easy it was to see others as deserving of respect! I went home that evening thinking about where I had biases (not that kind of deep racial hatred though) and talking to this man made me appreciate being from Toronto!
for any of you that have followed this blog over the years, you might have known by now that I’ve travelled quite a bit. I have usually only talked about where I’ve been and the fun activities I’ve planned out. It dawned on me the other day though; that I’ve never talked about the deep learning I experienced on my travels. When I look back at older travel pics and what I felt about the places I went to over the years after leaving Toronto only once in my life and then later living in Japan-those experiences changed me. The other night I was flipping through old photo albums and very specific interactions with profound occurrences that shaped my mindset moving forward…I could only think of four really powerful stories.
I’ll share them here over the next four weeks and they are indeed packed with details that I probably would have never shared in general conversation with anyone. These experiences do speak to where the world is headed right now and why it’s important for humanity and society to get it together personally and culturally-so stay ready to read them! 🙂
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