Saturday, 17 February 2018

'Black Boys' Returns to Toronto After Tour to Other Canadian Cities

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh  From left: Tawiah Ben M'Carthy, Thomas Olajide and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff in 'Black Boys' at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto.

After having its world premiere in Toronto two years ago, “Black Boys” created by the Saga Collectif is back and has toured Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal since mid-January.

The production will be back in Toronto for a two-week run from February 28 to March 11 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

“Black Boys” is a raw, intimate, and timely exploration of queer male Blackness, which is created from the lives of three people seeking a deeper understanding of themselves, of each other, and of how they encounter the world. 

As they explore their unique identities on stage, they subvert the ways in which gender, sexuality, and race are performed. Theatrical and intimate, “Black Boys” weaves together the ensemble’s own personal stories in search of an integrated self and a radical imagination.

Tawiah Ben M’Carthy of the cast of three – the others being Stephen Jackman-Torkoff and Thomas Olajide – describes their work as an art piece, not a play.

In 2017, “Black Boys” was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance – Ensemble. 

 “I’ll be the first person to tell you that ‘Black Boys’ is not a play because it doesn’t fit into the structure of what a play is supposed to be and it was a bit challenging during our run here in Toronto to have people who do not get it. And when I say get it, most of them don’t get it because it’s not a chronological play. They won’t see something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end,” he said regarding the reviews of its Toronto premiere in 2016.

Having come up with something requiring people to think a bit outside the box, it sometimes felt like they were hitting against a brick wall. 

“Being creators of the show that was a challenge that we went through quite a bit,” he said, noting that they wanted people to come in and be engaged from the beginning to the end.

“It felt like because it wasn’t a traditional piece of theatre it was something that people didn’t know what to do with. But the exciting part is that we get to do it again and again and the more we do it the more people are going ‘oh we get it,’” he said.

People are now saying it’s not a play, it’s an experience and the engagement continues beyond the play, he said.

Ben M’Carthy says the reception to the tour has been great and the conversations, spectacular.

He said young people and people of varying backgrounds could relate to the story that seems to be so specific.

“It’s exciting when you create something like that, that seems a bit specific, but have everyone watch it and go, oh I connect with that or relate with that.”

The playwright and actor said they started workshopping “Black Boys” in 2013 and through to 2016 when they had three workshops in Toronto. In November that year it premiered at Buddies.

“It was about a three-and-a-half year process of creating the show – off and on – because we’re all doing different things in other places.”  

There are a few points in the play open to improvisation, especially with Jackman-Torkoff’s character, where he might change what he says depending on the room they are in and the day of the week. Aside from that, everything has remained the same in the remount.

In terms of any revelations for him in it, Ben M’Carthy says it’s coming to the point of understanding the complexity of black masculinity and how it manifests itself, and also challenging what is known to be the stereotypical perception of what black masculinity is supposed to look like.

“I don’t think it’s something that I fully understand and that I understood, and I don’t think it’s something that I even understand now or fully articulate. But what I can say through the experience of working on such a project and now even traveling with it is I’m coming to the understanding that it actually does manifest itself in different forms.”

He acknowledges that there is no single definition or archetype of black masculinity that will “help us move forward, especially when it comes to the conversation of queer identity.”

The actor noted that queerness and sexuality are not the same thing; they’re different.

“Having that conversation, just understanding that masculinity expresses itself in different forms, I believe, is the way forward. I’m beginning to understand that more and more each time I work on the show.”

Ben M’Carthy said he is surprised how much of a deeper understanding he gets of what is going on onstage each time he does the show.

When it premiered in Toronto, he said the conversation was already happening with what was happening with Black Lives Matter and there was an audience hungry for the message.

He felt that although the production was made in Toronto by Torontonians it wasn’t just for this city; hence the decision to go on tour to activate conversations in other spaces.

After the Toronto performances, all three will be going off to do their own thing to acquire new skills and come back in the future to work on a new project. The process has worked well for them. 

Director, Jonathan Seinen, is doing his masters at Columbia University, Olajide is completing the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) film program, Jackman-Torkoff is about to act inThe Glass Menagerie’ at the Grand Theatre In London, Ontario, and Ben M’Carthy will be an intern director for a season at the Shaw Festival.

The creative team includes choreographer, Virgilia Griffith; dramaturge, Mel Hague; and designers Rachel Forbes (set and costume), Stephen Surlin (sound and video), and Jareth Li (lighting).

Griffith is directing a new play, “Ceremony,” at the 39th Rhubarb Festival this month.

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Feb. 15-21, 2018.]

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Ronald K. Brown's EVIDENCE Tells a Powerful Story

By Neil Armstrong
A Review
Photo credit: Lelund Durond Thompson      "Four Corners" by Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE (New York)

Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE, a dance company based in Brooklyn, New York presented three wonderful performances at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront Centre on February 2 and 3. This was dance Immersion’s 2018 showcase presentation.

Creating an atmosphere of connection, EVIDENCE blends traditional African dance with contemporary choreography and spoken word. It uses movement as a way to reinforce the importance of community in contemporary African culture, and to acquaint audiences with the beauty of traditional African forms and rhythms.

Patrons in attendance witnessed the bounding leaps, passionate embraces, and elongated lines, signatures of Brown’s masterful movement which creates deeply emotional works with a unique view of human struggles, tragedies, and triumphs.

“I hope that when people see the work, their spirits are lifted. I am interested in sharing perspectives through modern dance, theater and kinetic storytelling. I want my work to be evidence of these perspectives,” says Brown, the artistic director, in a media release.

The company performed three selected pieces from their repertory: “Four Corners,” “New Conversations,” and “Come Ye.”

“Four Corners” (2014/2016) with music by Carl Hancock Rux, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and North African vocalist Yacoub showcases Brown’s signature blend of modern dance and West African expression.

He envisions four angels standing on the four corners of the earth holding the four winds in this powerful and hope-filled journey of tribulation, devotion and triumph.

The dancers – Demetrius Burns, Arcell Cabuag, Shayla Caldwell, Courtney Paige Ross, Annique Roberts and Keon Thoulous – are well coordinated in their choreography moving in sync with each other, enhanced by the brilliant costume design of Keiko Voltaire and lighting design by Tsubsa Kamei.

“New Conversations” (2018) features an original score from composer Arturo O’Farrill with costume design by Keiko Voltaire and lighting design by Tsubasa Kamei.

The dance explores what is Devine and required for growth and understanding through the wisdom of women and female ancestors echoing tension, agitation and liberation.
It featured all the dancers mentioned above with the addition of Kevyn Ryan Butler and Janeill Cooper.

The performances ended with the powerful “Come Ye” (2003) which includes music by Nina Simone and Fela Anikulapo Kuti and a video collage by Robert Penn.

It’s a multimedia work utilizing African, Caribbean, modern, ballet and social dance styles to summon warriors, angels and activists dedicated to the pursuit of liberation and peace amidst the struggles of human conflict.

"'Come Ye' is a call to all those living in fear, all those willing to fight for their lives, and ultimately, to peace as guide and warrior," notes a description of the work. 

The costumes by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya and lighting by Brenda Gray wonderfully complemented the movements and mood of the dancers.

It was refreshing to see the inclusion of figures such as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and others across the African diaspora in Penn’s collage which made the connections about the liberation of Africans worldwide.

Photo credit: Saya Hishikawa     "Four Corners" (Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE)

Named one of the most profound choreographers of modern dance by The New York Times, Brown founded EVIDENCE (New York) in 1985 to promote the understanding of the human experience in the African Diaspora through dance and storytelling.

EVIDENCE also brings arts education and cultural connections to local communities that have historically lacked these experiences.

On February 4, dance Immersion’s Workshop Series presented two public workshops (one for children and the other for adults) with Brown at the Theatre Studio 313, Dancemakers Studios in the Distillery District.

dance Immersion is a not-for-profit organization that produces, promotes and supports dancers and dances of the African Diaspora.

The organization was established in 1994 to address the need for additional presentation, skill development, and networking opportunities for dance artists of African descent.

Programs introduce various styles of dance and dance artists to the public through a variety of activities that provide a nurturing and supportive environment for professional and emerging dance artists who work and explore diverse styles and expressions. 

Artists seeking connections look to dance Immersion to bridge the gap and make it possible to develop their artistry on a global scale. 

Review of Watah Theatre Double Bill at Crow's Theatre in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

 The Watah Theatre in Residency with Crow's Theatre is presenting the world premieres of Najla Nubyanluv’s play, “I Cannot Lose My Mind,” and an excerpt workshop reading of d’bi.young anitafrika’s exciting new play, “Once Upon A Black Boy,” a double bill at the Streetcar Crowsnest from February 1 to February 17, 2018.

“Once Upon A Black Boy” by d’bi.young anitafrika is a new bio-myth dub theatre piece, exploring the coming-of-age of Tsuki, a 13 year old black boy living in Toronto with his mother who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Both Tsuki and his mother, Cha, navigate the complex landscapes of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, black masculinity and death.  

Anitafrika is skillful at playing the double roles of Cha and Tsuki in her voice inflections, body language and idiosyncrasies. It is through her characterization of both that we see the love and strains of the relationship between mother and son.

“I Cannot Lose My Mind” by Najla Nubyanluv tells the story of a young womxn's quest to rid herself of depression. When she meets a doctor who finds that many of her patients living with mental illness are having the same recurring dreams, their paths align on an unexpected afrofuturistic quest for a cure and a way to heal.

Nubyanluv’s clever wit is on display in the several characters she plays within a clinical setting where she is dealing with medical professionals and their pronouncements of her depression.

In the playwright’s notes, she notes that: “Depression physically and mentally tried to kill me. Depression triggered by oppression, fed by trauma and memories that don’t want to become my past but want to prevail. I am learning what it means to truly love myself. That is an invaluable lifelong journey and lesson that I may not have learned to appreciate without being born into this world with this experience.”

She says she is still “learning to appreciate myself and to appreciate love and compassion for others with mental illness.”

In many ways this play is therapeutic for Nubyanluv and it seemed to have been so for many of the people who packed into the Crow’s Theatre on the opening night. They expressed appreciation for the playwright and actor being vulnerable onstage and tackling such a sensitive subject.

“d’bi told me to speak to the little girl in me. That little girl has finally set down a burden that she no longer has to carry. I don’t have shame about my illness. I see a bright future exists, in this great mind of mine. Endless possibilities exist in the magic of my dreams,” writes Nubyanluv.

Both works are definitely worth seeing before they close on February 17.

The play and workshop reading are being presented at the Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue in Toronto.

From February 26 to March 3, the Watah Theatre in Residency with Crow’s Theatre presents The Audre Lorde Theatre Festival at Streetcar Crowsnest.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Some Black History Month Film Events Happening in February and March 2018

Mark Campbell, founder of Northside Hip Hop, will moderate a discussion with artists at Reelworld Film Festival New Perspectives at the Kuumba Festival, Harbourfront Centre on February 19 (Family Day Holiday).  Photo contributed

HOTDOCS GAME CHANGERS SERIES (in partnership with A Different Booklist)

Sunday, Feb. 11, 4:15 p.m. – “I Am Not Your Negro” directed by Raoul Peck

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. – “Winnie” directed by Pascale Lamche

Saturday, Feb. 17, 12:25 p.m. – “Journey to Justice/Sisters in the Struggle” directed by Roger McTair, Dionne Brand, Ginny Stikeman

Sunday, Feb. 18, 8:15 p.m. – “Marley” directed by Kevin MacDonald

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 6:00 p.m. -- "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise" directed by Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn
Sunday, Feb. 25, 3:45 p.m. – “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” directed by Tamara Davis

All films will be shown at the Hotdocs Ted Rogers Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W. Toronto

Over 60 films from 20 countries

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m. – Opening film, “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” by Nancy Buirski. Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W. Toronto

Saturday, Feb. 17, 9:00 p.m. – Movie-Talk. “Service to Man” by Aaron Greer, Seth Panitch. Q&A with Lamman Rucker & Morgan Auld. Jackman Hall (AGO), 317 Dundas St. W., Toronto

TBFF Black Market (Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton St., Toronto): Saturday, Feb. 17, 11:00 a.m. – Meet the Filmmakers. Panel Discussion
Saturday, Feb. 17, 1:00 p.m. – A Talk with Robi Reed. Actors Workshop
Sunday, Feb. 18, 11:00 a.m. – Master Class. Discussion and Q&A
Sunday, Feb. 18, 9:00 p.m. – Closing film, “Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu” by Mandla Dube. Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton St., Toronto

Monday, Feb. 19 (Family Day Holiday), 1:00 p.m. – “Bilal: A New Breed of Hero” by Ayman Jamal, Khurram H. Alav. Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton St., Toronto


Friday, Feb. 16, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- The Royal and CaribbeanTales International Film Festival present “BRUK OUT! A Dancehall Documentary” at The Royal Cinema, 608 College St., Toronto

Saturday, March 3, 7:00 p.m. – CaribbeanTales International Film Festival presents a screening of Sharon Lewis’ afrofuturist film, “Brown Girl Begins.” Hosted by Bee Quammie, talkback to follow with the director and special guests. Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas, 10 Dundas Stree East, Toronto. [“Brown Girl Begins” runs from March 2 to 8 at this cinema. There are two special screenings at Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario on Feb. 24.]

REELWORLD FILM FESTIVAL NEW PERSPECTIVES presents “Black History – A Journey Through Hip Hop” on Monday, Feb. 19, 2:00-4:00 p.m. at Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto

This year’s Reelworld New Perspectives reframes hip hop as a powerful continuation of oral tradition by screening music videos and related short films of three unique and dynamic female artists who will explore a broad range of social issues ranging from themes of black identity and empowerment through the frame of historical and social context to challenging harmful stereotypes and providing a historical lens and a bridge to a longstanding oral tradition.
Following the screening showcase Mark Campbell founder of Northside Hip Hop will moderate a conversation with the artists; filmmakers Alison Duke, Cazhmere and performer Renee ‘Shi’ Wisdom.

Presented by Reelworld Film Festival in partnership with Northside Hip Hop

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Jamaica National Expands its Expo in Canada in 2018

Thousands attended the Jamaica National Group Expo in 2017 at the Pearson Convention Center in Brampton, Ontario.        Photo contributed

Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica in the Greater Toronto Area will have another opportunity to easily access services offered by the Jamaica National Group, real estate developers and Jamaican government agencies.

The people of Montreal, Quebec are also being included this year as the 2018 JN Expo, which will be held on April 28 at the Pearson Convention Center in Brampton, Ontario has been expanded to include Canada’s second largest city. The JN Group Expo moves to Montreal on April 30 where it will be hosted at Hotel Ruby Foo’s.

Last year the Jamaica National Group held the inaugural exposition under the chief patronage of the JN Group CEO, Earl Jarrett, in Brampton and was so overwhelmed by its success and the clear demand by attendees for these services that the company wants everyone to know that the JN Expo is back.

Building on a “Breakthrough to Excellence, the theme for this year’s event is
“Connect. Learn. Grow.”

Well over 6,000 Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica attended the first JN Group Expo which was a one-stop hub for them to access services of the JN Group, real estate developers, financial institutions and government agencies.

Hosted by the JN Canada Foundation and the JN Canada Representative Office, the expo in 2017 included participants such as JN Bank, JN General Insurance, JN Life Insurance Company, JN Fund Managers, JN Money Services, and government agencies such as the Housing Agency of Jamaica Limited, Passport, Immigration & Citizenship Agency (PICA), Registrar General’s Department (RGD), National Land Agency, JAMPRO and Jamaica Tourist Board.

Other exhibitors were: West Indies Home Contractors (WIHCON), Mooreland Development Company Limited, Gore Developments Limited, Kemtek Development & Construction Limited, Selective Homes, Caldwell Banker Jamaica Realty, Green Village Development, Valerie Levy and Associates Limited, and more.

During the JN Group Expo, there were many Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica who were delighted that they did not have to make a phone call, mail a document, or travel to the island to transact business or find out about investments in the country.

They applied for Jamaican passports, land titles, birth certificates, or inquired about new housing developments.

This year’s organizers, Lynx Canada Foundation and JN Canada Representative Office, are promising the same synergy which drew thousands to the Pearson Convention Center last year – but bigger and better.

“The JN Expo Team is committed to continue to deliver tremendous value to the Jamaican Canadian Community and friends of Jamaica as we build on the pillars “Connect. Learn. Grow.” and provide the best products and service essential for growth,” says Captain Samoura Mills, Operations and Planning Lead, Lynx Canada Foundation.

Taking into consideration a ‘taste’ of the tropical island in Canada, there will be an uplifting cultural and entertainment package and a kitchen selling some of Jamaica’s renowned mouth-watering food.

Individuals are encouraged to attend with their entire families as there will be a Kids Zone with activities to keep the children entertained.

There will also be lots of prizes and surprises.

The JN Group Expo will be from 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. on April 28 in Brampton, and from 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. on April 30 in Montreal.

For more information on the expo, visit

Afrofuturist Film 'Black Girl Begins' Debuts in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

Mouna Traore as Ti-Jeanne and Emmanuel Kabongo as Tony in the sci-fi feature film, 'Brown Girl Begins,' which premieres in Toronto on February 24 and opens at the Cineplex Yonge-Dundas March 2-8.   Photo contributed

A sci-fi film steeped in Caribbean folklore and inspired by an award-winning novel will debut in Toronto this month.

After twenty years, writer, director and producer, Sharon Lewis, is glad that her afrofuturist feature length film, “Brown Girl Begins,” inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s book, “Brown Girl in the Ring,” will be screened in the city where it was made.

On February 24, Lewis, Hopkinson and stars of the film, including legendary calypsonian David Rudder, blues dynamo Shakura S’Aida and opera sensation Measha Brueggergosman will attend a screening and gala reception at Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario where there will also be performances.

In 1998, Lewis was studying at UCLA in Los Angeles when she saw Hopkinson’s novel in a bookstore. After reading it she was hooked with the idea of a film.

“I think at the time -- and I know people find this hard to believe -- there were no images of black sci-fi. This was way before a ‘Black Panther,’ ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ so when I read her book I just felt hungry to see those characters come to life.”

She didn’t know how it was going to happen because she had never directed a film at that time and she was acting.

It was only a couple years after she had played the character of Rude and it was the first time as an actor to be in a predominantly black cast with a black director, black producers and they had gone to Cannes.

“Those were heady times so I think at that point I was like, I must be able to do this.”

Filmmaker, director and writer, Sharon Lewis, whose film, 'Brown Girl Begins,' premieres in Toronto in February.  Photo contributed

Lewis said in the mid 90s there was a renaissance of black films where Spike Lee, John Singleton, Clement Virgo were having their heyday because “all of a sudden people wanted to see stories about black people in the hood but they didn’t want to see stories about black people in sci-fi.”

She said this was too out there, and on top of that, it wasn’t an African American story -- it was a Caribbean story so that was still very far out for them.

‘Brown Girl Begins’ is a post-apocalyptic tale about a young black woman who is trapped in a world forced upon her. Ti-Jeanne, a reluctant priestess, must resurrect Caribbean spirits and survive the possession ritual that killed her mother or her people will die. 

It's 2049 and Toronto the Good has been taken over by the wealthy, who have built a wall around the city and expelled the poor to an island off the coast, known as The Burn. The segregated Burn dwellers have been forced to scrape out a living by bartering, recycling, and farming. 

Mami is the unspoken leader of the Burn, sharing her Caribbean herb lore and leading her followers in an ancient spiritual practice. Ti-Jeanne turns 19 and the time has come for her to succeed her grandmother and become a priestess. When Mami tries to prepare her to take part in the same possession ceremony that killed her mother, Ti-Jeanne refuses. 

There were times when Lewis had put the project down because she just couldn’t take another no or she needed to make some money to live.

She said putting it down was actually a gift because she would run into people inquiring about it and that would motivate her to pick it up again.

She was also stirred to continue when she saw the stories out there that were not Caribbean or still not representing a young black woman. 

“I just knew, I knew that this was a good story,” she said, noting that support from the community kept her going.

When Barack Obama became president of the United States, everything felt possible for a minute, said Lewis, mentioning also the feats of athlete Usain Bolt and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

“Those people overcame big challenges to get to where they were.”

‘Brown Girl Begins’ was filmed down at the docks by Cherry Beach.

Lewis said this banishment in the film is happening now in reference to efforts to not let in Haitian and other refugees and “we are divided by this body of water that is arbitrarily called Canada or called Haiti or called Jamaica and people are not allowed to cross into that water and have access to electricity, jobs, food.”

The director said she knew from the beginning that she could not have a Caribbean Canadian drama without David Rudder in it. 

Nalo Hopkinson, author of the novel, 'Brown Girl in the Ring,' published in 1998 by Warner Books. It was the winner of the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest.    Photo contributed

He symbolizes to her the political voice of the Caribbean and he uses art to do his politics. She wrote a cameo role for him because she felt it was important that viewers see him and remember him.

Lewis wanted to have a variety of spirits and Canadian spirits so Papa Legba is played by Nigel Shawn Williams who is Jamaican. 

She wanted a Black Canadian presence in the film as well and chose Measha Brueggergosman to play a spirit.

Shakura S’Aida loves sci-fi and when she came in, Lewis said, there was absolutely no question that she was the character, Mami.

Lewis wanted a diversity of a Black Canadian experience and she made a commitment from the beginning to cast a dark skin black woman for the lead. Mouna Traore plays the role of Ti-Jeanne.

She said often what happens is colourism and light skin women get the lead roles and they are the ones that are perceived as sexy.

“Mouna is absolutely stunning, you would believe in a second that she is a superhero and she is half African and half Caribbean.”

A few years ago Lewis initiated a crowdfunding campaign for the film and got a chance to see who was interested in the project. 

There were people from Trinidad, Jamaica, Antigua and Nevis donating and the other strong supporters were black female sci-fi nerds, said Lewis.

The director will embark on a Black Future Month tour with the film to Montreal, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto.

“We decided to brand the tour ‘Black Future Month’ because we really wanted people to see how important it is to see us in the future. I find in the arts and culture they love to present during Black History Month as our shared oppression, which is important, we need to know our history as Bob [Marley] says we need to know where we come from to see where we are going. But we also need to see images of us in the present and in the future so that people know we are empowered on our own.”

The world premiere of the film was at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York in September 2017 in front of a mainly black and Caribbean audience and people loved it, especially when Mami steups and her relationship with her granddaughter, Ti-Jeanne.

“It is a celebration of our culture and that is what Black Future Month is trying to do, like let's celebrate our culture, we’re not just the sum of slavery.”

‘Brown Girl Begins’ will run at the Cineplex at Yonge-Dundas in Toronto from March 2 to 8, International Women’s Day.

Lewis says Ti-Jeanne is truly a feminist heroine who has challenges and needs help, and turns on the spirits and to Papa Legba for help.

“She has a balance of male and female spirits that she turns to for help so she’s not a Wonder Woman. She doesn't have super power strength that she can just do this all on her own. I think that’s very indicative of what it is to truly walk the world as a feminist. We need the support, we can’t do it by ourselves and so it is a feminist film because she has the power, she is leading the people and she has the vision but she is real. She falls in love, she’s not sure she wants the responsibility; she’s a flawed heroine. And I think often there are images of strong black women who nothing can tear them down and I really wanted to present a complex black woman.”

Lewis will be selling the film in Canada and the US and then it will be available by DVD, in I-tunes, and there is a planned tour for the Caribbean as well, possibly in April/May.

[A shorter version of this story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Feb. 8-14, 2018.]

Father and Son Musical Duel is a Fundraiser for Research Chair

By Neil Armstrong

Eddie Bullen and his son, Quincy, will perform two benefit concerts of "Father & Son Dueling Pianos" in Toronto on February 10, 2018.       Photo contributed

A father and son duo – both popular pianists – are dedicating two shows from their Black History Month tour to raise funds for the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and the Diaspora at York University.

Eddie Bullen and his son, Quincy Bullen, started the tour of their “Father & Son Dueling Pianos” concert in Halifax on February 1, and were in Montreal on February 3 before concluding it with two shows on February 10 at the Ada Slaight Hall, Daniels Spectrum in Toronto.

Eddie sad when was around 14 or 15 years old he got an album, “An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea” and fell in love with it.

“I thought they did such a wonderful job just playing together and it seems like they were having so much fun. And just in loving the record and loving the concept  - I mean the concept has been around before -- as a young budding musician it really stuck with me.”

He thought of doing that some day with a piano player, and lo and behold one day realized that it would be with Quincy whom he taught music.

“We did something together on one piano and that idea came back again and I’m like I think I can do this with my son.”

In 2011, he booked Toronto Centre for the Arts and they did their first “Father & Son Dueling Pianos” there.

“It’s a great experience. I figured he was waiting for me to get good enough to play him but I don’t think he realized that it was actually the other way around. It was that he had to get good enough to play with me because I bring the pain when we’re on stage,” quipped Quincy describing it as a sparring match where he tries to hold his own.

He says there is togetherness but there are also levels of competitiveness.

“We talk about our lives. A father who was very persistent with regard to practicing and making sure that my son didn’t get caught up in the wrong crowd and being regretful that you’re not around. I was a helicoptered father, I was right on top of him,” says Eddie.

When they do the musical arrangement they pitch songs around to each other.

Quincy says the tough part is choosing the songs because many songs don’t work for a dueling purpose on two pianos.
“We want to have as much fun with the song as you guys watching it so ultimately it's choosing the right song. Usually once you chose the right song, the song kind of explains itself,” he says.

“Dueling Pianos” takes patrons on the journey through pain and joy in reaching for and attaining excellence by using masterful renditions of Canada’s own Oscar Peterson’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’, John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ and more… all arranged for two pianos.  The musicians weave musical classics from jazz, classical, calypso, reggae, pop and the blues into their story, showing how the father prepared his son to understand and embrace his historical roots, the roots of music and the world’s great musicians.

The senior Bullen said knowing that Jean Augustine was a stakeholder in pushing for Black History Month and a lot of other black initiatives in the position she held for many years, they wanted to pay homage and show their appreciation.

In 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month after a motion was introduced by Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, who was the Member of Parliament for the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore from 1993-2006.

The Jean Augustine Chair, within the Faculty of Education at York University, is committed to studies, research and action-focused programs capturing and advancing the Black experience in Canada.

Professor Carl James was appointed the holder of the Chair for a five-year term that began on July 1, 2016.

“We just thought we would give back a bit and just make people aware of her contribution,” says Eddie.

Augustine says she thinks it is important that everyone in the community sees importance of the Chair.

“I was always very concerned that we, as members of the diaspora, whether it is African or Caribbean or Black, that we have nothing at the university that our young people walking through the universities in this country can point to as interested in the issues or would give them the research, the data, that would enable them to know more about their community.”

She gave all of her archival material to York University, which was the start for this Chair. A Chair is $3 million and the university was able to put $1 million on the table as a result of all the things she offered.

“I asked that the $1 million be put towards the Chair so the efforts over the last number of years is really to fully fund the Chair because the university does not fund the Chair. It’s people in the community who fund the Chairs and so I thought I would enlist the community in the raising of the $2 million.”

So far they have raised over $900, 000 which means they have about $1.1 million to go so she is asking for donations.

She thinks there are so many people in the community that the goal can be reached if everyone supports the efforts.

The duo have taken their “Dueling Pianos” concerts to Grenada where Eddie is from, in the USA, and they plan to take it to Barbados where they have had other engagements.

“The music is a backdrop to our lives and there’s a bit of dialogue in between songs. And we explain why we chose this song and how this song impacts our lives and the trajectory of Quincy’s career, and me being a mentor and father,” says Eddie.

On February 10, there will be two benefit concerts and benefactors will receive a tax receipt from the York University Foundation.

“It’s definitely for families – young and old – to see because it’s a great experience to see the father-son duel and the father-son togetherness working at the same time. It’s wonderful and a wonderful story to be a part of,” says Quincy.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Feb. 8-14, 2018.]