I also write for / Scriu si pentru

I also write for / Scriu si pentru

Revista Tango Romania

Sunday, August 28, 2016

City under City, or the Fabulous Underworld of Downtown Toronto

Cand m-am mutat in Canada si am inceput sa lucrez in finante la o banca din centrul Toronto-ului acum 10 ani, inca nu cunosteam centrul orasului atat de bine. Pe vremea aceea locuiam in Nordul orasului si luam metroul spre serviciu ca sa ajung pe strada Adelaide unde era situata banca. Coboram la statia St. Andrew din centru, dupa aia ieseam din statie si mergeam pe jos un bloc distanta pana la birou.

Cand am inceput jobul, mergeam la ora de pranz la nivelul mezanin al cladirii, un nivel intermediar intre reteaua de metrou si primul etaj al cladirii in care lucram, si atunci am descoprit ca acel nivel mezanin apartine nu doar cladirii de pe strada Adelaide in care lucram, ci este un spatiu care leaga toti zgarie-norii corporatisti din Downtown Toronto. Restaurante, magazine, cafenele, saloane de frumusete si spa, cabinete medicale, agentii, sucursale de banci – un intreg oras sub oras. Ca sa mergi la cladirea vecina, sau la orice alta cladire din centru, ai doua optiuni – fie iesi afara si traversezi strada, fie intri in Underground din Downtown Toronto, sau Path, o entitate separata care poate sa functioneze independent fara probleme, unde poti sa duci o viata normala si unde ai la dispozitie absolut tot ce-ti trebuie, fara sa fie vreodata nevoie sa iesi afara, un lucru util mai ales iarna. :) Decat daca vrei (si simti nevoia) sa iesi afara din cand in cand pentru o gura de aer. Dar altfel, acest sistem subteran din Toronto este construit in asa fel incat din momentul in care intri in metrou din orice parte a orasului (nu doar statiile de metrou din centru), poti sa circuli underground pana in centru, apoi la cladirea unde lucrezi, fara sa iesi la suprafata, un lucru pe care pe timp de iarna il apreciezi foarte mult.

Intr-o dimineata, in primele zile de cand am inceput sa lucrez la acea banca si cand inca nu cunosteam centrul de sub centru asa de bine, m-am intalnit cu o colega de birou cand ieseam din metrou, si am inceput obisnuita conversatie, “Salut, ce mai faci…” I-am spus ca de obicei ies din statia de metrou ca sa ajung la birou, si dansa mi-a dezvaluit ca nu-i nevoie sa iesi la suprafata, poti sa ajungi la birou prin Underground. Asa ca am urmat-o sa vad pe unde merge ca sa ajungem la birou, si de atunci aceea a fost ruta mea zilnica de la metrou la birou. Era noiembrie, asa ca mi-a prins foarte bine sa nu mai ies la suprafata in fiecare dimineata in lunile de iarna ce au urmat (prima mea iarna canadiana). Cu o alta ocazie, in decursul acelei ierni, am vazut o tipa in metrou care purta pantofi, si am fost foarte suprinsa ca nu purta cizme, in toiul iernii. Ma gandeam oare nu ii este frig asa in pantofi? Dar mai tarziu mi-am dat seama ca acest sistem subteran ii permite sa poarte tinute mai lejere, cu pantofi in loc de cizme, pentru ca este foarte posibil ca locuieste la un bloc de locuinte care are legatura directa cu metroul. Coboara din apartamentul ei, intra in sistemul subteran, ia metroul, vine in centru la serviciu, intra in Underground, vine la cladirea unde lucreaza, si a facut toata aceasta calatorie fara sa trebuiasca sa iasa la suprafata, asa ca nu are nevoie de cizme. Sunt oameni in Toronto care n-au nevoie sa iasa afara cu zilele, daca asa le face placere, pentru ca au tot ce le trebuie in orasul de sub oras. Singurul motiv pentru care ai vrea sa iesi afara ar fi sa-ti oxigenezi creierul, ca sa nu te transformi intr-un zombie daca stai cu lunile acolo jos. :)

Si atunci, in 2006, cand am inceput sa lucrez in finante in centru, am inceput sa descopar Underground, orasul de sub oras. La ora de pranz mergeam acolo sa mananc, sa-mi iau cafea, mergeam la shopping, la saloane de frumusete, si aveam posibilitatea sa rezolv diverse chestiuni personale de care trebuie sa te ocupi in afara programului de lucru. Este unul din motivele pentru care imi place sa lucrez in centru. In toti acesti ani am lucrat in centrul Toronto-ului, dar am locuit in mijlocul sau nordul orasului, iar dupa 5 ani petrecuti la Toronto m-am mutat in suburbia unde am cumparat casa – pentru mine sa locuiesc in suburbie si sa lucrez in centru este balanta perfecta intre dinamismul si energia din Downtown pe de o parte, si linistea si lipsa de trafic si aglomeratie din Whitby pe de alta parte. Daca lucrez in centru, nu mai simt nevoia si sa locuiesc in centru, imi place sa ma intorc in suburbia mea linistita la sfarsitul zilei, dupa o zi agitata din biroul din Downtown Toronto.

Si iata cum arata orasul subteran din centrul Toronto-ului.
Photo credit: Victoria West

Friday, August 26, 2016

The “76” Nigerian Film to Be Featured at TIFF 2016 This September in Toronto, Canada

Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, is the biggest film festival in Canada, as well as the most important cinematography event in Canada. It takes place in Toronto on King Street West every year in September for 10 days, and this year the 41st edition of the prestigious TIFF will take place on September 8-18. 

Hollywood A-list celebrities adorn the red carpet at TIFF in Toronto every year, and this year is no exception. This September, celebrities like Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Gerald Butler, Matt Damon, Dakota Fanning, James Franco, Jennifer Garner, Richard Gere, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Woody Harrelson, Anne Hathaway, Ethan Hawke, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Hudson, Holly Hunter, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Shia LaBeouf, John Malkovich, Matthew McConaughey, Cynthia Nixon, Lupita Nyong’o, Dev Patel, Christopher Plummer, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Charlize Theron, Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Naomi Watts, Sigourney Weaver, Rachel Weisz, Reese Witherspoon, and many others are expected to attend TIFF 2016 – a truly starred gathering. Many of them are frequent or even annual TIFF attendees, and it’s a pleasure to have them back in Toronto for another film festival this year.

Last time I attended TIFF two years ago, and I had the lovely opportunity to watch an Argentinian drama film featured at the festival. The atmosphere at the festival is always so magical, and I am looking forward to this year’s edition.

“76” is the first all-Nigerian, made in Nigeria movie by award winning director Izu Ojukwu chosen to have its own world premiere at the prestigious 41st Toronto International Film Festival. “76” is inspired by true events. Six years after the civil war, a young officer from the middle belt gets entangled in a romantic relationship with a beautiful O-level student from the Southeastern part of Nigeria. Their budding romance is almost ruptured by endless military postings. Now heavily pregnant, her walls crumble when the news of her husband’s involvement in a botched coup attempt hits the headlines. “76” celebrates the quality of the true African woman by exploring the usually invisible pain of a soldier’s wife; it highlights the enduring Nigerian cultural values of courage, resilience, patience, loyalty, faith and family. It is visually pure, emotionally engaging and amorously therapeutic.

“76” received an endorsement by the Nigerian Head of State who succeeded the assassinated Murtala Muhammed at the time, His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, who later went on to become a two term President making him both a military and civilian leader of the largest black nation in the world. He described “76” as “The best view of one of the worst times in our nation’s history. The film is a must watch and an insight that was long overdue. Watching the attention to detail and hearing my own voice in February 1976, brought out both sweet and sour memories as Murtala Muhammed was not only my boss, he was my friend.”

Set during the era of military assassinations and political unrest in Nigeria, “76” also had the full approval and endorsement of the Nigerian Army and the Murtala Muhammed family, and was shot inside the confines of a military base, a first in Nigeria’s cinematic history. It comes 40 years after the actual events, and follows four years of work by the multi award winning director Izu Ojukwu and the production teams of Adonis Production and Princewill’s Trust.

“76” stars award winning actors Rita Dominic, Ramsey Nouah, Daniel K. Daniel, actor and reality-show host Chidi Mokeme, actor and President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria Ibinabo Fiberesinma, as well as well as other rising stars. The “76” movie will have its world premiere screening at TIFF on Sunday, September 11th, at the prestigious Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto with key cast in attendance.

The 41st Toronto International Film Festival shines its spotlight on City of Lagos, Nigeria, for the eighth edition of the City to City programme. “We wanted to show audiences who were not there, what it was like and the impact of the army on the people’s psyche. A lot of water has gone under the bridge over 40 years. This is a filmmaker’s small contribution to some of that healing. I am honored we were selected first by Toronto.” said Executive Producer Tonye Princewill.

About TIFF

TIFF is a charitable cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world, through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and entertainment facilities; and the innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors including founding sponsor Bell, a telecommunications company; the Province of Ontario; the Government of Canada; the City of Toronto; the Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels); The Daniels Corporation; and last but not least, Royal Bank of Canada, one of the major banks in Canada. For more information, please visit TIFF.net.

I would like to share with you a few pictures that I took at TIFF two years ago, when I attended the festival and saw one of the movies featured at the festival. I never got the opportunity to share those photos when I took them, so I think it’s a great opportunity to do it now. This is how King Street West in Toronto looks like during TIFF days every year in September, closed to traffic between Simcoe Street and Spadina Avenue, for the festival activities. It's just magical.
Photo credit:
“76” movie poster – Courtesy of Sasha Stoltz Publicity;
TIFF 2014 scenery – Victoria West.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Unboxing – Topbox Beauty Box

I have never ordered, or purchased, or subscribed to a beauty box, and lately I have been tempted by the idea of the beauty box; so after a quick research I decided to try on one, and I ordered the Canadian Topbox for a month, which cost me about $13.

I placed my order sometime in July, and I was supposed to get the box at my address on or shortly after August 15th. Once I placed my order for the month of August, Topbox sent me an email update advising me that I could personalize my beauty box by making wish lists and choosing to include specific items in my monthly beauty box, subject to availability. However, I didn’t want to personalize it in any way, I was totally ok with getting whatever items Topbox decided to include in it, because this is exactly what a beauty box is all about anyway, isn’t it – the surprise of the new cosmetic products that you may find inside, without knowing in advance what it would be.

On August 15th I got another email from Topbox letting me know that my box has been shipped, that it should arrive at my address shortly, and a spoil alert about what is going to be inside my beauty box when I receive it. I opened the email, but I tried not to read it, because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise!

The box arrived at my address yesterday, and I was very excited about what I would find inside. So, let’s unbox!

This is the package that I found in my mailbox yesterday.
Then I opened the package, and this is what I found inside – a cylinder.
Then I opened the cylinder, and I got out this package wrapped in purple paper tissue, and a coupon for Mereadesso products.
Now let me tell you a little bit about Mereadesso. I don’t know if you are familiar with this beauty brand, but I came across it for the first time a few years ago, at one of the fashion events that I attended in Toronto in 2012. The goodie bag that I received at that fashion event also had a few Mereadesso products – a face cream and a couple of lipsticks, pretty good and decent products. I guess I completely forgot about Mereadesso since then, I haven’t used any other Mereadesso products ever since. So anyway, I now have this coupon that came in my beauty box – I will have 20% off my next Mereadesso online order, if I decide to purchase anything on Mereadesso.com.

Back to my beauty box – I unwrapped the purple paper tissue, and this is what I found inside.
Say goodbye to visible pores! Prime to perfection, plus dramatically blur and reduce the appearance of pores instantly and for up to 8 hours.
Available at SmashBox.com

Manna Kadar Cosmetics 
Create a sun-kissed glow with our Radiance Bronzer and Highlighter Duo. This 3-in-1 product in a universal shade can be used as a bronzer, highlighter, or eyeshadow.
Available at MannaKadarCosmetics.com

This all-in-one, Level 3-hold crème reduces your drying time, detangles and defrizzes the friskiest of hair strands; offers heat protection up to 450 degrees and layers easily with other hair styling products.
150 ml
 Find a salon near you at Joico.com

Elizabeth Arden 
These exfoliating facial pads effectively retexturize and cleanse the skin and promotes skin renewal. Reveal a more radiant, smoother, brighter and even toned complexion.
60 ml
Available at ElizabethArden.com

So I’ll try them and see how good they are. :) My package had one more item, which I didn’t see in the envelope right away, but after I unwrapped the whole thing – this coupon.
It’s a coupon for a free brow waxing and design, offered by Caryl Baker Visage, a Canadian beauty salon chain with 32 locations across Ontario and Alberta provinces. Usually I prefer brow waxing, as opposed to other brow methods like tinting or threading. I usually go to a local salon close to my home, and my beauty lady has been doing my eyebrow waxing for years – she’s really good at it, and I am happy with her services. An eyebrow waxing at her salon costs me $8, and I always give her $10 to include tips. But I am curious about eyebrow waxing at this salon Caryl Baker Visage as well (worth $15.50), so I’ll use this coupon at one of their salons in Toronto next week or so.

All in all, I think I got a pretty good deal with my beauty box – the eyebrow waxing coupon and the products inside are well worth $13 that I paid for a Topbox monthly box, and maybe I’ll do it again in the future.

Photo credit: Victoria West

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Interview with Canadian Singer and Songwriter Sean Jones

Singer and songwriter Sean Jones
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Sean Jones, an R&B singer and songwriter based in Toronto. His single “Stoplight” is a delightful song, and I urge you all to listen to it and get it on your favorite playlist. Among his musical achievements are a Juno Award, a series of concerts that he is giving every Monday night at Casa Loma this summer, and one of his songs being featured in the “Sons 2 The Grave” film. We talked about his career, his ups and downs in music, his dreams, his disappointments, his current and future musical projects.


Victoria West: Please tell us more about yourself, what is your story? 

Sean Jones: I was born in Etobicoke and moved to Montreal for a couple of years. At the age of 5 my dad got a job overseas in Saudi Arabia and moved the entire family over there. For 5 1/2 years I lived over there and experienced a lot of cool stuff. It’s only now I realize how fortunate I was to have had that kind of experience at such a young age. I also got to take some really cool vacations. I’ve seen much of the world and it’s definitely opened my eyes in so many ways.

I grew up listening to all kinds of music. The band Whitesnake was the first album I ever bought. Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Michael Jackson, Motley Crue, Guns And Roses, Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, Levert, Heavy D and The Boyz, Prince... nothing was off limits. No boundaries.

My parents are both Jamaican and I have a sister. The amount of support I have received from them over the years is nothing short of phenomenal. Through the ups and downs, of which there have been many, they have always been there cheering me on. Family is everything to me.

I have a degree from York University in Kinesiology. Hopefully I'll never have to use it!

Victoria West: How did you start your music career and what made you choose this path? 

Sean Jones: Here’s the short version of a long story: Basically I was a shy kid that wanted attention from the ladies but didn’t know how to get it. I was humming in French class one day and my teacher asked me to come to the front of the class and sing. With great hesitation I did it and every girl was in awe! After that I was hooked!

Victoria West: Can you tell us about obstacles that you had to overcome in order to get where you are today? 

Sean Jones: For me I think the biggest battle that I’ve faced, and still continue to is “doubt”. Not just from people but from myself. Believing in yourself and the art you’re creating and trying to share with the world can be trying at times to say the least. Could be the emptiness in your wallet that has you pondering if you should just give up and find a “real job”. Might be that executive gate keeper who holds the key to your art being heard or seen by the masses BUT refuses to let your dreams pass through because they THINK they know what the world needs to hear. Could be the voice in your head telling you that your time has passed. Time to pack it in and move on. I have personally experienced all of these and more. But I’m a dreamer. For some crazy reason I believe that if I work hard enough, long enough, my time will come. That I will share what I was meant to share with the world at large. It’s a constant struggle but my belief in my destiny is greater than the doubt that surfaces from time to time. I will win... and that’s that.

Victoria West: Please tell us more about your song “Stoplight” (which by the way is an amazing song), what is the inspiration behind it? 

Sean Jones: So here is an interesting story about this tune. I performed last year in Dallas at a fundraising gala for an organization called Best Buddies which pairs people with kids who have intellectual disabilities. It was there I met a wonderful young lady named Lisa Smith who cannot sing because she has Down Syndrome. However, her desire to perform and love for music is so strong that Lisa actually signs the words to any song while someone else sings it. I remember meeting her at sound check. She was so excited ad maybe a little shy. But when she came back for the performance... wow! She had on a tight fitting tiger print dress and she was ready to rock the stage. And she nailed it. And as the crowd was applauding and she was taking it all in I just thought to myself: “She deserves the spotlight tonight. She deserves to shine! Tonight she is the star!” Michael Shand, Miku Graham and myself finished that song months later, and while I can’t say that the song is completely about Lisa, I can with 100% honesty say that I drew inspiration from that experience in Dallas to create it. Will be sending her the finished version shortly. Maybe I can get her to sign on it! 

Victoria West: You are giving the “Soul in the City” concert series at the historic Casa Loma in Toronto every Monday night through the entire summer, please tell us more about this project, how did it start, how did you make it a reality, who helped you along the way? 

Sean Jones: To play at the castle every Monday is truly amazing. It really is one of, if not the, best venue in the city. I’ve got an 8-piece band that kills and every week I invite 3 special guests to perform a couple tunes for the audience. The whole show takes place outside in the beautiful Casa Loma gardens. There is a glass pavilion that seats about 300. However, because we are now experiencing numbers of 900+ per Monday, the castle has added seating in the gardens themselves. And to make sure that those seated in the garden get to see the same show as the people in the pavilion, a jumbo screen was erected to make sure all can enjoy the show.

I have to thank Nick Di Donato, President and CEO of Liberty Group, as well as my manager Jeffrey Latimer for putting the idea together and then handing it over to me to work out the show itself. Nick was simply looking for another event to compliment his “Symphony in the Gardens” event he throws every Tuesday night in the summer. He had seen me perform on numerous occasions and believed that together we could make a night like this successful. He chatted with Jeffrey and viola! “Soul in the City” was born. It is hands down the best showcase for soul/R&B in this country.

Victoria West: You are a Juno Award winner, please tell us all you can share about this experience. 

Sean Jones: It was a magical night. We not only got to perform on the show but we won Best R&B Soul Recording for our album “The Master Plan”. We had worked for 10 years to get to that level and when our name was announced as the winner I teared up a bit. We were on top of the world. I remember my phone ringing non stop for the rest of the night. People just calling to say congrats and that they’d seen us on TV. Definitely something I’ll always remember.

Victoria West: Please tell us more about your work on the feature film “Sons 2 The Grave”, how did this project become a reality for you? 

Sean Jones: I met Sasha and Lynn Stoltz over 8 years ago when Sasha was doing Public Relations for the label I happened to be signed to. I heard about the film and one night was inspired to write a song for the movie. I recorded a very rough demo and gave it to them.

Movies can take a long time to finally get filmed but, when the movie was in its final stages they reached out to me about the song I wrote for them years ago. They also wanted to know if I had anything else that might be appropriate. I sent them “When I'm Gone” and they liked it even better than the tune I had originally given them for the movie. The rest is history I suppose.

Victoria West: And the song from the movie, “When I’m Gone”, what is the story of this song, what’s the inspiration behind it? 

Sean Jones: “When I’m Gone” was not originally written for the movie. It was just an idea I came up with while playing guitar one night. I ended up sending it to Sasha when she asked if I had any other material suitable for the film.

Sounds kind of morbid but I’ve often wondered to myself “What will people say about me when I'm dead and gone?” If the only thing they remember about me is that I had some good songs and a nice voice, then I think I’ve failed on some level. When I was younger I really didn’t care. It was all about clubs, drinks, girls, and the spotlight of the stage. Nowadays I’m doing my best to mentor youth and give aspiring artists a chance to shine on a stage that I’ve helped build. I was completely blindsided the other night when a young man named Matte Black came up to me and explained that I was responsible for him not killing himself many years ago when I gave him an opportunity to open for me. You just never know the impact your gonna have on someone’s life.

Victoria West: What else are you working on right now, or will be working in the near future? 

Sean Jones: Always working on creating new music. That just never stops. Gonna be releasing some new music shortly so that takes a bit of planning. Also working on putting together a tour and exploring new territories.

Victoria West: Where do you find your inspiration as an artist? 

Sean Jones: These days I’m finding inspiration in some of the young artists I’m bringing to Casa Loma. Their talent is so raw yet so good! It’s exciting to see them do their thing and it’s equally exciting to see the crowd react to it. I love all of that.

I’m also inspired by the crappy state the world is in. So much hate. I can let it depress me or I can find a way to fight against it and inspire people to love. I choose the latter.

Victoria West: What are your thoughts on the Canadian music industry nowadays? What does it take to make it as a successful singer and songwriter? 

Sean Jones: 99% of the time, if you want to make it as a successful singer or songwriter you will NEED to leave this country. That’s just the facts. There are sooooooo many reasons I could get into about it that but I would need to write an essay to express myself properly. There is a problem here. So much talent and yet that same talent has to go elsewhere to be recognized before WE as Canadians will recognize their abilities. Why??? When are WE going to be the FIRST to figure out and nurture the diamonds in this great country of ours and THEN share them with the world!!!???

Victoria West: Please share with us a memory of yours that you are particularly fond of. 

Sean Jones: After singing “What a Wonderful World” to end a performance in Georgia, an 80- year old woman came up to me and told me that that song was the first song her and her recently deceased husband had ever danced to. With tears in her eyes she said “Thank you”. To this day it is one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced.


The song “Stoplight” by Sean Jones is available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud. To learn more about the artist and his music, please visit SeanJones.tv.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Sasha Stoltz Publicity