BY SARA MILLER
The 2016 edition of the annual festival, RastaFest kicked off to a boisterous start at Downsview Park. Taking place on Saturday August 20th, a section of the urban national park was transformed into a Caribbean hub, featuring merchandise vendors, food vendors and a performance stage. Celebrating the different aspects of Rastafarian culture, the day isn’t solely for entertainment purposes. It’s a day that gives small business owners the opportunity to network with each other. One of the most important components of the festival is using it as a vehicle to bring change and show the positive contributions that the Rastafarian movement has made to Canada’s multicultural society. The festival provides guests with the chance to learn more about the Rastafarian culture and history. A booth with educational materials, such as books, videos and films, created by Rastafarian artists was set up to help answer any curious bystanders.
Rastafest is produced by the Upfront Theatre Foundation (UTF) and Masani Productions, which was founded in 1980 as a company to produce and distribute books, videos, recording music and films. Originally created at York University as a student based drama club, the UTF has been serving the Jane and Finch community since 2000. A jack-of-all trades, the UTF not only produces theatrical productions and festival activities, but they also provide youth with skills in workshops that help them create marketable skills in film production and broadcast journalism.
While children played at the activity corner and others played a friendly game of soccer, the vendors were busy keeping with customers. One vendor, Briggy’s Kitchen, was busy offering patrons handmade exotic drinks, such as tamarind and soursop, as well as delicious Ital dishes.
Wearing a bright yellow shirt, Briggy explains why it is important to celebrate Rastafarian culture. “It’s important to show people the teachings of Rastafarian culture,” he said.
This year, the line up of artists to perform on the main stage included King Shad Rock, Sister Carol, Rickey Recardo, Tonice Toonice, Michelle Francis, Elle Tremor, Ernie Dobson, JUNO award winning artist, Korexion, Amazing Papa G and the “Godfather of Dancehall” Johnny Osborne. Starting off the night with some positive vibes was the Tobagonian spoken word and Dub artist Queeverne “Cue” Kirk. Accompanied with an African drummer and a bowl of incense, powerful words flowed out of Cue effortlessly. Host of the evening and host of the reggae show Positive Vibrations on CHRY 105.5 FM 10, King David first introduced the young but talented Michelle Francis who surprised the 10,000 plus audience members with her powerhouse vocals. Second to take the stage was Tonice Toonice, a Jamaican-Canadian songwriter and one of the winners of the 2016 Rastafest Talent Showcase. Dressed in a form fitting black dress, it was hard to believe that Rastafest 2016 is one of the first major performances for the artist, as she flawlessly sang each of her songs.
Following Tonice Toonice was a performer whose personality is as big and exciting as his performance. Taking to the stage was the larger than life performer, Jah Kettle. Hailing from Kingston, Jamaica, Jah Kettle has been preforming for crowds since he was a child and has been dedicated to the craft ever since and it shows! Wearing a hat that was actually made out of an old metal kettle pot, the artist sang with his soul to the adoring crowd who jumped out of their seats to dance.
Joyce Campbell comes to Rasatafest with her husband every year without fail. She said she is excited to see what this year’s festival has in store.
“Every year is different from the last, so it keeps everything fresh and exciting,” she said.
“We must come out and support each other as we are all equal and are one [people]. That there is enough to celebrate.”
For the rest of the night, the usually quiet park was filled with bright flashing stage lights and music from Korexion, Jonny Osborne and the rest of the scheduled acts and performers. Only a little over a decade old, the festival has grown from its humble roots, previously operating from the parking lot of the Jane and Finch Mall to the large space of its current stomping ground, Downsview Park. With plans of making the festival a two-day event and moving to a larger venue next year, Rastafest is carving a name for itself as the biggest Rastafarian celebration Toronto and perhaps the country has seen.