It’s funny to me that Toronto is still a city that’s finding its identity within its own region and also globally. The 4th largest city in North America struggling to find an identity; it’s oxymoronic, right? How are you such a big city but still have a small city’s mentality? It’s known, but what exactly for? We’re still trying to figure that out, and whether it’s the sheer joy of own local basketball team tasting some success after what seemed like an endless drought, or a few of our own artists breaking out into the big leagues (America), slowly but surely, that identity is starting to shape up. One of the key factors to contribute into one’s identity is a representative, whether it be a person (or in this case) an organization, and their role is to help in the branding of the city with consistency of growth, and having outside forces recognize what exactly they do and how they’re able to develop a reputation that will be long lasting. With all of the condos going up, the rebuilding of the areas that were broken down, and transit plans in place to move the people faster and efficiently for the next few decades, it gets overlooked that the Arts is also a facet of Toronto that is growing itself, and in the smallest areas, you find the biggest voices that many haven’t heard yet.
Within the heart of the city, and one of the more controversial areas for years going back to before I was born, Regent Park was the site of the 2nd annual 416 RISE event, and in a metaphorical way, it was about rebirth and growth. The area itself is going over a major facelift to make it more appealing to the masses, and rid itself of the stench that it used to be, although you won’t be able to fully get rid of the remnants that remain within the region. RISE is all about growth and empowerment; if you’ve yet to get yourself out to a Monday night at Burrows Hall Library in Scarborough, you’re truly missing out on some special things bubbling up. This event is just a culmination of the people who have made their ways through those doors, performed in front of small crowds, and have now taken it to a bigger stage, with a bigger platform and message surrounding it. But, it’s not just about the performances; it’s about the sense of community that comes with it, which includes the vendors selling their individual works, whether it was food, books, art, or clothing. It’s for Toronto, by Toronto, and how much more Toronto can you get on April 16th (4/16 in the 416). For the entire team at RISE Po(wer)etry (I had to make that up), the growth of their movement has been fulfilling to watch, because as the creator, Randell, kept reiterating that night, “it was an idea”, and for the idea to come into reality and flourish the way it has, it’s inspiring.
The night started off with a panel of entrepreneurs involving representatives of Manifesto, Unity, the City of Toronto, 1LOVETO & The Remix Project. What the Arts Enrichment Panel did was talk about what the mentality of an independent artist, how to survive through the grind, and eventually achieve the goals you have for yourself. It’s one that never seems to get old, in terms of the ‘Screwface’ mentality, and what I appreciated was that it was looked at as both a negative and positive connotation, because beyond the ‘unsupportive’ stereotype that we have, we also have a standard for ourselves to excel, and not constantly promote mediocrity. If you’re not good, you’ll hear about it, and that’s only to help you do better. That was just one of the discussions involved, and it was entertaining, informative, and engaging.
What was a surprising appearance was the emergence of Toronto Mayoral Candidate, Olivia Chow, who has been a long time politician not only in the city, but also for the Country itself. She has her share of experience, and hopes to be the next mayor of our great city. To see her in a casual light, and not in business attire to share her story of her upbringing in St. Jamestown, and also stress the importance of arts in terms of rebuilding the city while emphasizing the need of extra-curricular activities & libraries for the kids (a major topic close to Chow’s campaign), there were definitely looks of approval throughout the audience at Daniels Spectrum. It’s 6 months away, but the election is looking to be a very close one at the polls.
Spoken word poetry is a remarkable art form in which I’ve come to find great appreciation for over the years. The first acts up definitely set the tone for what was going to be an impactful evening, especially with 5 Fingers 1 Fist, La Rose and also Stretch who a very musically inspired piece that creatively name dropped musical acts from Soul/R&B/Hip Hop and intertwined them fluidly – that was definitely a highlight to begin. But just as the crowd was getting warmed up with the acoustic guitar strumming and great singing of Aaron Ridge, the energy level shot up 10 notches when Monday Blake came out and performed her song ‘I Confess’ (still waiting for that official release). Her dynamic voice along with the great acoustics of the auditorium provided an amazing performance that warranted a standing ovation towards the end of her performance that lasted almost 2 minutes (it felt like 5).
She was simply sensational to the point where the next act, D’bi Young had to pour water on the stage because it really had been blessed at that particular moment. But it would be D’bi whom would take the level of intensity to a level that literally had the auditorium rocking from start to finish. A dynamic range of emotions from her ‘Warning’ piece, to her metaphorical and graphic piece about molestation from Uncle Sam, to her revolutionary tale of the empowerment of young Black men and women, it was a great feeling to be in that room as a cloud of pride fell over and clouded in audience in a sheer rejoice as if it was the Holy Ghost that everyone had caught during her time. It was an incredibly powerful performance and that definitely needed a break to let the dust settle. It was phenomenal.
One of the co-headliners for the event was none other than the legend of Toronto Hip Hop himself, Maestro Fresh Wes (a native of Scarborough, thank you very much), and he’s been representing the city and the nation on a high level for essentially 3 decades. That’s not something just anyone could say. He’s a founding father, so it’s definitely a great thing that he was able to come out to RISE and perform some of his greatest songs like Drop the Needle & Let Your Backbone Slide, and also a more recent song that was used during the Olympics, Reach for the Sky. It’s good to see that he cares about the strength of the youth to carry on the tradition that he helped lay out, in terms of success with music.
A great way for him to pass the torch was to introduce Dre Price Jeremy aka Prezwah to perform, and you can tell that the excitement was there from the jump. The song he performed had the whole crowd in a frenzy at it became a concert type atmosphere. The hook ‘Let me serenade you while the keys play’ was infectious to the point where I actually needed to have the song immediately after his performance. I’ve seen him at other Monday nights, so I know his talent is there, it was just great to see him get the amount of respect and love on a bigger platform.
Fazia took the energy that Prezwah left off and channeled it into a soulful solo piece that was groovy and hypnotic all in one. Her voice was big and her stage presence made her look like a natural act that’s been in the game for quite some time. She’s definitely one to look out for in the near future, as I’m also anticipating music from her. The great thing about RISE events is that you become new fans of people all over – I just wish folks had music out in public for me to access. In due time, in due time. Christian Bridges, and his band also provided a change of pace with their great clash of Guitars and drums, for a dynamic performance. It was the 2nd time I’d seen Bridges perform, and each time, he’s been on point. His EP is dope too.
The final act of the night was Erik Flowchild, and coming on stage, decked out in a fashionable cloak (it looked like a cloak/cape), he started spitting hellfire right off the bat. From his recently released album, Child’s Play, he performed verses from ‘Hurdles’ and ‘Chosen’. The fire and intensity of his live performance is one reason why I respect the guy’s artistry. He really brings it as if it’s going to be his last performance, and he leaves everything on the stage for the audience to witness and recollect when it’s all said and done. He dramatically exited off the stage just as he came on, and it’s nothing new to expect from Flowchild, whether it was the first time you saw him, or the 10th time – he’s consistent with his approach to his live performances.
All in all, what is there to say about Toronto’s talent that hasn’t been said over and over and over again? I feel like I’m always repeating myself when I say that there’s so much great talent – the problem is that it’s not openly promoted or marketed for masses to see. That needs to change, period. The quality of work is there, and the potential is evident, but more people need to embrace what the people at 416 RISE witnessed, in order for the ascension of the artists to really take over. It’s very close, so I’m urging all acts to get it right so that they can all win. 1 city, unified, is what Toronto wants to be recognized for, and the collective talent that’s around in all phases of art and business, is important in nurturing the growth of the city. If it’s important enough for a Mayoral candidate to come out and appreciate, then why not for everyone else? I thank RISE for putting this on, and for it being the second one they’ve done, I can only imagine what’s in store for next year and the years beyond. But, until the next event
That’s My Word & It STiXX