Corby's Orbit

Corby's Orbit
Listening in All the High Places illustration by John Kricfalusi

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The “Titans of Toronto Reggae” Show

Click on pictures to enlarge

In the late sixties, thanks to the addition of a provision to the Immigration Act by our Mr. Trudeau (senior), Jamaican-born nurses and domestics who had already emigrated to Toronto were able to invite their families to join them in Canada. Consequently, T.O. became the third largest Jamaican city in the world, with a flourishing family-based community, at first in the Bathurst Street area, before drifting up to its current matrix at Eglinton and Oakwood. The talented newcomers from that land of sunshine and singing formed new coalitions and traditions, and established a distinctive Toronto style of reggae music.

The city, through an organization called Culchaworks, issued a mayoral proclamation naming March 2 as Titans of Reggae Day, culminating with a glorious concert at Toronto’s Opera House showcasing many of those key innovators. On an extra-frigid Saturday night, there was a radiant heat pulsing in the hall, where, after a brief introduction by Councillor Mike Colle (right), a 16 piece band, directed by the young, gifted and prolific Andrew Craig (left) erupted into rhythm, on time and on the beam, opening with a love duet by Roy & Yvonne.(Below left)

 In brief pre-taped interviews projected on the backstage wall, each performer shared recollections of Toronto’s early reggae scene before hitting the stage. After coming to visit, staying in Canada became an irresistible option for all of them. The artists confided a broad number of reasons: a job or a musical opportunity, family, self-interest, “I didn’t need to join the army”, attraction “it was like a vortex, it just held me” and romance “I just couldn’t leave that girl”.

Amongst the familiar and trusted sidemen, some, such as Eddie Bullen and Carl Harvey, are almost as famous as the stars. They provided a consistently solid rebar-and-concrete foundation to the parade of Titans who arrived, one by one, to be greeted by our humble but gregarious host Michael Williams (right, introducing Carol Brown, who invited the audience to "Come Love Me"), sparking applause, cheers and waving phones. With one song each to perform, every singer exhibited engaging audience rapport, a tight connection to the band, and, often, remarkable dance prowess (not to mention extraordinary shoes).

 Emotions ran high as many of the Titans arrived to such a cacophony of praise that they had to drag up, rewind and start over. As highlight upon highlight accelerated the excitement, bassman Charles Sinclair ONiel “Drummy” Fuller (left) and The Titan Horns (right) doubled down on every rhythm, bringing focus to the character of each performer and adjusting perfectly to the twists and turns of the program as it unfolded.  

The Sattalites` Fergus Hambleton (above) stepped away from his alto horn duties to present a new original, Never Givin`Up On Love, with smooth accompaniment from the backing trio of Lorraine ScottKaren Jewels and Laurel Tubman. As The T -Threes (left, above). They also helped Tanya Mullings capture hearts clear to the back of the hall with the classic ceiling-raiser Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. 

She took time to pay reverent tribute to the legendary Bernie Pitters, who was led to his keyboard at center stage to add extra juice to her song and several others over the course of the evening.

Liberty Silver, in a cloud of chiffon and nuclear jewellery radiated warmth, talent and humility, bringing Andrew Craig in for a turn on the bass as she rode a disco reggae groove. Willi Williams (right) dug in deep on Armagideon Time, his roots classic which, he announced, was created in Malton Ontario with the late great drummer Raffa Dean.
The Mystics trio burst onto the stage with such force that the audience turned into a sea of waving arms. 

Nana McLean broughtthe night to a fine froth by ditching her platform shoes and churning up everyone with her uplifting joviality and exuberant singing.  Modern-style crowd pleasers, the smooth Steele and Glen Washington, above,(who interrupted his phenomenal singing career as a vital drummer on the T.O. scene in the nineties) gave the ladies something to swing about as the evening ascended toward a climax. 

Stranger Cole (right) provided a cultural showcase of moves and merriment, letting off one of the few “Rastafari!’s” of the evening. And then the King of Toronto reggae,

Leroy Sibbles, founder of The Heptones, and the number one studio bassist at Jamaica’s temple of reggae, Studio One, strode onto the stage and saddled up on Modelling Queen and Rock And Come On, two jewels of his repertoire that he wrote during his twenty year residency in the city.

At the end of the night all personnel were summoned back on deck to join in on an original Toronto tune, Messengers, by Jay Douglas and Christopher Butcher. “We are the messengers of peace and love. We are the children of the Most High”. The crowd would not let it go, chanting the chorus after every stop.

Photo by Jason Wilson
Reggae music has always been meant to uphold unity, and it was stirring to see so many artists participating with respect to this goal, bringing the synthesis of two countries’ cultures into one focus, no longer strangers in a strange land. As Nana McLean said, “When you check it out, the music was our home.”

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