Friday, 29 April 2016

Leroy Sibbles’ The Reggae Boomerang Always Comes Back

Leroy Sibbles on stage at Lula Lounge's Sunday Jam - George Socka photo

HUFFINGTON POST APRIL 2016 - Even a reggae star will take that boomerang ride.  Reggae pioneer bass player and  singer Leroy Sibbles knows what it means to take that boomerang ride. Born and raised in Jamaica he moved to Toronto in 1973, married and became a citizen. That was then, now he is back living in Jamaica, and visits The Big Smoke whenever he can.

Sibbles was the lead singer and bass player for The Heptones in the 60’s and 70’s and continues to this day performing in and around the US and the Caribbean. In combination with his work with The Heptones, Sibbles was a session bassist and arranger at Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio. Kevin O’Brien Chang describes him as “the greatest all-round talent in reggae history” in his 1998 book Reggae Routes.

The Heptones were among the most prolific and influential groups of the rock steady era – they evolved Jamaican ska music into the world phenomenon of reggae. Signature Heptones songs included “Get In The Groove,” “Ting A Ling,” “Fattie Fattie,” “Got To Fight On To The Top”, and “Sweeting Talking.” Sibbles left Jamaica in 1972 but continued to tour with the group for another 4 years. After moving to Canada Sibbles established a successful solo career winning a number of record awards including a Juno.

He is currently in Toronto visiting friends and family and playing a very rare gig at the Boomer Palace – the Dundas Street West Lula Lounge. I caught up with the founding member of the Heptones, just before he took to the stage at the Sunday Jam afternoon concert.
Putting Soul Into His Reggae - photo by Weir
“ I used to live in Toronto,” said the 67-year old singer and bass player. “I spent over 20 years here in Toronto, in Canada, so this is where (my headspace) really is.  I settled in here for more than 20 years and I went back to Jamaica for 20 years so we are talking about a 40-year span (in my life). Right now I am living in Kingston, Jamaica and I am here for a Toronto gig.”

The “gig” that he talks about, was a reunion of old school Canadian reggae performers - Jay Douglas (founding member of the Cougars), Ossie D, Chester Miller  (Jamaican/Canadian reggae/dancehall performer) and Elaine 'Lil'Bit Shepherd (2011 Reggae Recording Juno winner).  The audience was an aging Reggae fans who knew the songs and still had the moves on the dance floor.

Sibbles says he is blown away by the fact that Toronto is the second largest hub for Jamaican music in the world.  He also is quietly pleased that the city has recognized the importance of the music.
The Reggae Alley Mural by Adrian Hayles - Photo Stephen Weir 
“ I was here late last year for (the unveiling of Reggae Alley) a huge mural by Caribbean Canadian artist Adrian Hayles,” he said. “It was not just about me. It was for all the Canadian reggae heroes who were involved in the physical creation of Jamaican music here in Canada.”

Close-up of Leroy Sibbles mural - Weir
“I passed it up (the mural) yesterday on Eglinton, and I know it was a tribute to all these guys! We are grateful for this because it is nice to be recognized for things that you have done that are positive.”

Sibbles is getting set to head out on the road again.  He has no plans to play in Toronto for the rest of the year because he has his sights set on Africa.  But, with his roots here in Toronto, that boomerang effect is always at play, and he knows he will be coming home again soon.

“Toronto is major for me because I have spent so much time building (my career) here,” he explains.  But, “the next place I want to be is Africa.  I never been there, I am thinking I would like to go. We are in discussions with some people so I could be there in November for the month.”

See a video of my interview with Leroy Sibbles by videographer George Socka here

Story By Stephen Weir
Photographs by George Socka and Stephen Weir
Video by George Socka

Monday, 11 April 2016

Art With Twin Appeal: Singh Twins at Peel Art Gallery Museum

Singh Twins in PAMA  - Brampton Art Gallery Photo by Herman Custodio
Story By KJ Mullina
For Stephen Weir Blog

There is a certain privacy that the Singh Twins have. They communicate in a way that few can, together from the start and best friends to the end. Creating beautifully intricate modern yet traditional paintings as a partnership, a single entity, creating an aura of mystery to their work.
"Our identities are linked to each other but we also have very independent ideas on what we want to do, they just happen to be the same ideas."
The Singh Twins were in Brampton last week promoting their latest show the Peel Art Gallery, Museum+Archives (PAMA) as a part of Sikh Heritage Month. It was a welcome visit for the artists who said that the same of the patrons that they saw at the museum were just children the last time they were in Ontario. The youngsters of the Sikh community came with a confidence that was not seen during that earlier visit.
"PAMA is a wonderful venue and we hope a lot more people can come to see it. You don't have to go to the big city to see great art, a great asset to the community."
The Singh Twins see themselves as "us as an united front against the rest of the world". When Amrit and Rabindra Singh were growing up outside of Liverpool their teachers tried to separate them, wanting to cultivate their individually. It didn't sit well with the sisters. "Other people in class were allowed to sit beside their best friend, it just so happened that we were best friends and twins," they said during a Skype interview. Their teachers certainly had no idea back then that the two would become award-winning artists. It bothers them not that they are viewed as a single entity but that they have seen that there is an attitude in academia that there is something wrong with having the same goals.

The Twins went on to obtain degrees in Comparative Religion, Ecclesiastical History and 20th Century Western Art History followed by a period of Postgraduate study at Manchester University. While at Manchester they won a Government of India, INTACH Scholarship, to carry out field research into their chosen subject of Sikh Art and Heritage. In 1997 the Twins decided that they were going to be full-time artists. Two years later they were taking part in their first solo tour of their work in the UK.

Nineteen 84 - Signature painting at the PAMA exhibition
The Singh Twins have always had strong connection with their Sikh heritage. A trip that they made with their family in 1980 deepened that connection and it is seen in their work.
For 9-months the family traveled across Europe and the Middle East in a motor home that their father and his brothers had built to suit the Indian roads.
"We spent that time traveling around to wherever suited our fancy."
The trip was a homecoming to go to their father's birthplace. He had left India as a small child 30 years prior.That trip had a "big impact on our thinking and art" the Singh Twins said.
As youngsters they had copied the art from their Victorian style children's books. Had they not gone on this trip their art path may have been quite different for it was during this time that they were introduced to the detailed art of Indian miniature painting.
They have updated the traditional style in small ways. “We use fairly modern material, mount board.” The paper base is museum quality canvas which takes the place of palm leafs (that was the traditional canvas. )
Their subjects are very much of our time period merging tradition and current culture. They have a mindset in both the traditional ways and their British upbringing, "a foot in both camps." British identity, they have observed, has changed over the past five decades with the wave of new cultures making impacts on centuries of English tradition. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to pinpoint a certain singular British way.
From the Singh Twins Marilyn Femininity Series
They work together on each piece in different ways. At times they sit side-by-side painting on a series of work. They also work independently, thoroughly researching the history behind each project. That research results in pieces that contain story layered upon story of the history behind the art. Viewers of their finished work can see different stories within each painting with each separate viewing.
They enjoy Liverpool saying that it is a quite small, compact city with a very active artist community. The Singh Twins feel “being in Liverpool has given us a platform to promote ourselves and enhance our profiles as artists" that they may not have gotten elsewhere. As part of work for the city's 800th birthday the sisters researched  and then painted the city's Maritime history.
They are very much contemporary British artists and refuse to be marginalized as 'ethnic'. The Singh Twins have found that "there is still a glass ceiling in some circles of our work. We draw very heavily on non-European tradition  -- that is still a factor for some people and they want to pigeon-hole you into ethnic categories."
There is less prejudge today then when they started out, still they know that there are certain times like the upcoming 70th anniversary of India's independence from the UK where they are getting offered commission in no small part because of their heritage. This is a plus for the sisters. In India their work has been well received and their fame continues to grow.
In their few down times the Singh Twins enjoy traveling and would love to return to Brampton and Toronto when they have time.
Currently they are working on their next show, a solo exhibition in London next year. They have been commissioned for 20 works with India's textile industry as their theme. The twins have completed five pieces for the show and are confident that they will be ready when it is time. It's a global story that is waiting to be revealed with each stroke of their brushes.

The Singh Twins: A Retrospective - April 1 – June 12, 2016 Sikh Heritage Month: April 1 – 30, 2016

Singh Twins in PAMA - Brampton Art Gallery Photo by Herman Custodio

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Where have all the Canadians Gone?

CNW photograph - Josh Basseches
Trending At Toronto's Cultural Attractions: Hire Out Of Canada.

Just got a CNW release about the new head of the Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto. In the press release ROM welcomes its new Director & CEO, Josh Basseches. He was previously the Deputy Director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Basseches is well qualified to take-over a museum the stature and budget of the ROM. However, by passing over, once again, worthy Canadian candidates for the job (last CEO, an Australian, left her post early), ROM has continued a disturbing trend here in Toronto -- most of the high profile roles at this city's key cultural institutions have been handed over, at a huge expense, to foreign nationals.

Earlier this year the Art Gallery of Ontario announced that after a 7-month worldwide search it had hired Stephan Jost as CEO of the Gallery. A Michigan born art expert, Jost does not appear to have a background in Canadian Art. He is being moved lock, stock and barrel from his home in Hawaii (he was head of the little known Honolulu Museum of Art).

Jost and Basseches join a growing number of foreign born CEOs including but not limited to: National Ballet's executive director Barry Hughson (Boston); Luminato's CEO Anthony Sargent (UK), Harbourfront's Australian CEO Marah Braye; the Opera's General Director Alexander Neef (Germany) and Bata Shoe Museum's Director Emanuele Lepri (Italian).

I am no longer involved in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. I still do follow their exhibitions and programming. I do note that they are in the process of hiring a new CEO to replace the recently departed head of the gallery. We wait to see who gets the job -- we are betting / hoping it will be a Canadian.

Sunday, 27 March 2016


The Business of Promoting E-Books
SALLOW CITY - Micah Reed's Flint Michigan Blood Bath

From time-to-time I promote E-Books.  On a couple of occasion I have been very successful. Other times, well let’s just say less so.  Last  author driven project I worked on, the aging/ailing  Beatle biographer was so unimpressed with the campaign I launched that he refused to pay full freight on my invoice – it was so bad I couldn’t afford a dozen brown ones to wear on my face.

When it comes to book promotion It is easier to squish a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to successfully push an E-Book work of fiction.  Electronic book sales are currently in decline in Canada, but the number of E-Books that first timers are selling cheap or simply giving away for FREE soars. Readers have quickly gotten used to the idea that they don’t have to pay much (or anything) to fill their Kobo, Kindle or IPad. 

Every day I am offered, through programmes like, Bookbub and E-book-stage twenty titles to download free, usually via Amazon.  The book retailer itself has a frequent flyer reader programme – Kindle Unlimited - that gives you new (but usually remarkable bad) titles for a few cents a download.

In an ongoing effort to avoid future PR failures, I keenly watch to see how writers are promoting their E-Books.  New authors are inventive. Some pre-sell their E-Book through Facebook and genre blogs. Writers who have healthy mailing lists will use direct email pitches to pre-sell their soon-to-be published E-Books.  Others gin up interest with excerpts on their blogs, facebook accounts and on twitter.

With printed books the launch is a tried true method to sell product to fans, friends and family.  I have seen authors sign and sell  300+ copies at a single launch.  It is show, tell, drink and sell.  Good launches lead tomore sales.

E-books launches are ethereal. There isn’t a pile of books, in front of a Sharpie wielding author.  The writer often simply hands out download launch cards to people as they walk through the door. I have seem more inventive authors do photo ops with customers who, after buying an E-Book, get a jpg with themselves and the author along with the E-Pub file.
Jim Heskett

Last month Jim Heskett, an American E-Book thriller scribe did something cool. Just weeks away from launching his new E-Book and softcover Sallow City, he sent emails to people around North America offering a free pre-drop electronic copy on the proviso that the freebee recipients write and review the book on March 23rd.

I sent him a note saying I would like to read Sallow City and promised to write a review love or hate the book.  Heskett thanked me and sent the e-book along with two other new books he has just written. (Turns out there was a delivery mistake).
Brilliant PR campaign concept.  I am not sure it  will work  all that well because getting a free E-Book from a relatively unknown author is something one can do already without having to spend hours reading the book and an hour (and counting ) to write a small review. 
So to save time and space Jim here goes my mini review in point form:

Great Cover – rusty  old car almost up to its door handles in a backwoods empty Michigan lake.  Wish that the photograph had something to do with the book.  It doesn’t.  Book is set in a gritty, dirty urban setting in one of America’s most beleaguered cities – Flint, Michigan. No cars in this book are left sitting in a lake.  Instead they are shot up, crashed, burned and blown away.

Great Title -- Sallow City. You know Flint isn’t called that in real life. Its motto is Strong,  Proud. Its nickname is Vehicle City.  But frankly with what is going down now, what  with the tainted water scandal, soaring unemployment and political corruption,  Heskett’s title is probably a prophetic monicker for Flint.

Great Idea For A Series --The book is the follow-up to  Nail Gun Messiah (seriously).  Both books are very violent stories about Micah Reed and his bail bond boss Frank Mueller.   Micah used to work for a very violent Mexican drug cartel.  He ratted his murderous friends out and now lives in Denver, with a new name and a new honest take on life.

Micah is on vacation in the mountains when his boss gets reports that a badly mutilated body with Micah’s face has turned up in the Flint morgue.  Soon Micah and Frank, a pair of US government contract killers, and the Mexican drug cartel are on their way to Flint.  Standing by in the basement of a recession ravaged city mall is a band of AK47 carry criminals – the Flint Mafia.  Meanwhile a small vigilante posse made up of novice  millennial Jewish gunslingers plan to to kill all the racist drug dealers in Flint and steal as much of their drug and gambling money as they can. It is a 21st century Battle Royale where the authorities are content to let the bad guys (ie almost everyone in the book) shoot it before they roll in to pick up the bodies and put out the fires.

What did I think?  I don’t want to be cruel or dismissive, but this book, like most of the free E-Books I have read (and I have consumed a lot) needs some  serious editing support.  The book is repetitive. It drifts into needless scenarios that are frankly unbelievable – a strong editor might have kept Heskett from having Micah sit beside his would-be government hired assassin in an Denver flight that starts breaking up in turbulence.  That same editor might have convinced him not to have Micah tell a middle aged woman who has just had her throat slashed to not worry and that she should simply apply pressure on her wound until help arrives (as he slips out the back door)!

The book is set in Flint, but, one wonders if Heskett has ever been there.  I have spent much of my life in nearby Windsor and know there are a thousand ugly stories to be told about the decline of Michigan’s once great cities – Heskett never gets around to describing the Michiganess of Sallow City beyond introducing readers to a decrepit mall (it is a real place) that somehow has stayed open even as Flint slips into depression. Sallow City is really a metaphor for the  people who inhabit Flint. Thieves, drug lords, murders, government contract murders, Mexican drug cartel mass murders,  Jewish vigilante murders, and just run-of-the-mill murders.

Guess I am just a pacifist Canadian. I couldn’t handle the non-stop cavalcade of  murders. Tasers. Knives. Handguns. Machine Guns. Burnings. Mutilations. Beatings.   I lost count of the dead.  Best guess? 120, or  about one murder every two pages.

In Sallow City there are no law abiding citizens just  raw meat waiting to be carved up.  The police, sound their sirens but don't actually appear in the book. They seem content to wait on the sidelines as an army of Mexican drug cartel thugs shoot up the mall (and the secret casino in the basement)  while the Young Jewish gang literally sneak in the back door to try to massacre the bigots, right all racial wrongs and steal the casino loot in the book's cathartic climax.

Not ruining the ending when I say that virtually everyone except the hero Micah die horrible senseless deaths.  Oh, his buddy and employer Frank does live to take part in the next Micah Reed thriller, but that is only because he has an appendicitis attack and misses all the fun while recuperating in a Flint hospital.

Younger blood hungry readers will probably devour this book. It sells on Amazon for $2.99 ($6.99 for soft cover). Check out Heskett’s web page. If you look hard you might be able to score a copy for free (don’t mention my name).