Revitalization of Little Jamaica
Jah bless Josh Colle for honoring reggae contributions in Little Jamaica by naming Reggae Lane. Without a shadow of a doubt, it has brought excitement to many of us reggae heads in Toronto and around Canada. Many like me had the honor and the privilege of being a part of that glorious history as I used to rehearse on the lane years ago with my band IBADAN when Ruffins had a little spot on the lane.
For me and others, it is always an uplifting thing to have one’s contributions honored, especially when it is totally unexpected. Why so surprised you ask? Well, none to my knowledge have ever broken through the domestic market in Toronto or Canada. Reggae as a genre in Canada has never been a mainstream entity where folks in Winnipeg or Saskatoon or Halifax know of any artists or songs from a Canuck.
This honor comes as ‘progress’ ie; the subway moves into the area, making the neighborhood more valuable. In time Little Jamaica will / could be a memory and the landmark left behind to remember this area as well as the era will be Reggae Lane.
The sad part for me is that most of the businesses in the area are renters. Unlike Greek Town on the Danforth or Chinatown on Spadina whose businesses have been flourishing for years, most of Little Jamaica is not owned by Jamaicans, so as progress happens the future is uncertain for fiscal success of said businesses.
Who is to blame?
As usual I internalize the issue. I look directly at me. Again, I am to blame! As a vibrant people with powerful reggae roots, I have not found an opportunity to sustain or to maintain a business or industry making Little Jamaica more of an asset to Canadian culture. My plan is to change my way of thinking in this process. To bring the “realness” of this reggae culture as it is what is being honored on the strip. To invite all Canadians back to the root! Back to where the energy was built and blossomed.
Some have pointed to the choice of the current lane way, viewing it as an insult. As usual, we debate and fight amongst ourselves when positive decisions are made, while others capitalize on the next phase ie; the future of Reggae Lane as well as Little Jamaica. I am putting these words out to the world, challenging myself to find a path in capitalizing on this reggae success and turn it to a growth opportunity for Jamaican / Canadians and for a greater contribution in Toronto and Canada.
When I first arrived in Canada I used to walk the Eglinton strip and hang out with my idrens, listen to music and kick ball with West Indies United Football Club. It was a blessing to me which aided with acclamation to my new home Canada after leaving Jamaica. It was a blessing to share that reggae vibe with friends from Jamaica and those in my new home. Though we seemed to celebrate things differently the common bond is / was the music so I digress. I go to the simplest path…follow the music.
The only one in the world!
Yet in this colonial hierarchy that is Canada it is really another case of ‘tokenism’ it seems. After living here for 39 years and now a 2nd class citizen by law created by the racist leader of the nation Stephen Harper, I am well aware of the ‘place’ that I am expected to accept.
No attention has ever been paid the reggae artists performing in Canada nor to the music. What is apparent is the use of the genre to create “Canadian successes” like the band Magic yet none of it filters down to the artists or to many participants of the industry as it pertains to Canadian content or upliftment. For instance, Leroy Sibbles, as a stalwart of the Studio One era, has contributed to reggae music more than a band like Magic yet does not receive mainstream airplay in Canada. I’m not upset for Magic’s success; I’m more miffed that all of these music heads and executives in Canada see no path in elevating the reggae music created in this country even when they create the ‘look’ they want from that band and the sound of the music, yet no link to this vibrant industry that has been established for years along Eglinton Avenue and now all over Canada.
Festivals like Jambana, Irie Festival, Redemption and others go with the tried and true formula of bringing big name artists from Jamaica and filter in the odd homegrown reggae artist yet does nothing to elevate their notoriety or careers. Don’t get me wrong, I am not vilifying these amazing and necessary festivals. I have been to them and have been fully entertained and am VERY grateful for them and wish the organizers the greatest successes that they deserve based on the hard work put into them year after year and know that not everything was smooth sailing along the way. It took YEARS to attain their place in Canadian business success.
My issue is Little Jamaica and Reggae Lane.
This is where reggae first flourished in Canada whose contributions were so significant that many years later, it is being honored. Even now as a so called 2nd class citizen, I allow no man or manmade laws to determine my worth. I am surer of that worth now as the culture is being honored as such. I intend to take this opportunity to bring Canadians back to Eglinton west aka Little Jamaica, not only for entertainment but seeking business opportunities in the revitalization of a significant culture. One of said ventures is selling the Reggae Lane name in the form of tee shirts and ball caps. Any and all proceeds go back into the promotion of reggae vibes along Eglinton as well as reggae ventures in Toronto and Canada.
“Buy Reggae Lane, support reggae Canada”
I am also working out of Sankofa Restaurant & Bar on Eglinton west, 1653 Eglinton Avenue, west of Oakwood… Friday nights are my night to bring old and new. The venue belongs to African Star, Stuart Brown, a reggae legend to those who know his history.
There will be artists brought up from Jamaica to perform like Kabaka Pyramid and Tinga Stewart that have already graced the stage yet also wish to include live performances by veteran and upcoming bands and artists in Toronto and hopefully other provinces.
It is I goal to bring that energy back to Eglinton west. To elevate the genre as well as Eglinton Avenue!