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Updated:  January 11, 2007

We're well into 2007 now but you'd never know by our weather here in Toronto!  This week's OPINION is about our predisposition towards making new resolutions!  And check out my candid recap of the movie, Stomp the Yard!

Well, it's award season again as evidenced by all the different subjects and genres below.  But more than the awards, there are many inspirational stories as well - some in memory and some forecasting our future. 




The New Year Resolution?

Ahhh yes, the new year.  New Year’s resolutions.  New goals, new hopes, new dreams, new boyfriend/girlfriend, new body.  I’m not really a cynic when it comes to these types of resolutions but I do tread carefully in what I tell myself I want to accomplish at this time of year.  Instead, I believe more in challenging yourself regularly and not just once a year.  Rather, perhaps this time of year can remind us to check in with our goals and ourselves. 

Why is it that you can remember that last harsh thing said to you or the latest judgement but you may hesitate to remember when you were given kudos or praise?  Unfortunately, it can be human nature to beat ourselves up when we don’t accomplish what we set out to do.  But at the very least, let’s turn things around in our favour this year.  Pat yourself on the back more.  Instead of reminding yourself what you didn’t do, remember and keep track of the strides that you did accomplish – little or huge.  They all matter.

With so much dread and ugliness and loss in the world, which is always so newsworthy, we're inundated with negative images.  Let’s try to remember who our heroes are.  Those who impacted our lives in a positive way.  (For example, see related stories HERE
, HERE and HERE in this week's newsletter.)

And how about telling people when they’ve impacted you?  I can’t tell you how much it means to me, for example, when someone emails me a kind word of support.  Concentrate on that.  I think that way we can all become better people and ultimately, a better society. 

And that’s just my opinion.


Stomp the Yard Recap

Whew!  I just returned from the screening of
Stomp the Yard (special thanks to FLOW 93.5) - the newest step/dance movie to hit the big screen.  Admittedly, I'm a sucker for dance movies - most of which I want to fast forward to just the dance scenes.  But this was different - perhaps partly due to the fact that I witnessed stepping during my upbringing in the States and the first memories of being a bystander to some serious stepping and the tradition behind it.  It was some serious stuff.  And the tradition continues.  Props go to Dave Scott (You Got Served, Coach Carter) for some very creative choreography.  Although I was worried that the dance scenes were all going to be shot in the camera angle similar to a shaky handheld.  Intriguing effect but hard to watch for a long stretch with getting motion sickness!

The premise for the movie is excerpted from

After the death of his younger brother [played by Chris Brown], a troubled 19-year-old street dancer from Los Angeles [Columbus Short] is able to bypass juvenile hall by enrolling in the historically black, Truth University in Atlanta, Georgia. But his efforts to get an education and woo the girl he likes [played by Meagan Good] are sidelined when he is courted by the top two campus fraternities, both of which want and need his fierce street-style dance moves to win the highly coveted national step show competition.

Columbus Short, the hero in the film, shows some serious acting chops, not to mention his choreography and dance skills. This is a kid to watch. 

It was refreshing as a female viewer where there's just too much eye candy to behold!  Columbus Short has a lot to do with that reference, as well as
Brian White (The Family Stone, Mr. 3000) and a name well-known to Canadians, Darrin Henson, of Soul Food fame.  Darrin is a choreographer/dancer that shot the television series Soul Food here in Toronto for five years as the character, Lem.  Darrin's seasoned acting and dance experience was evident with a believable character. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Darrin to be featured shortly.

Meagan Good holds it down for the men although I found her role to be on the weaker side of the collective performances.  Don't misread me, this film will probably not be nominated for any awards, other than for the dancing, but it can certainly hold its own and worth viewing on the big screen.

Definitely a must-see (specifically the last battle scene!), especially if you're a fan of any of the current and old skool dance styles!

::top stories::

Remembering Sherona Johnson-Hall

Source: Kwame Younge

(Jan. 8, 2007)
Sherona Johnson-Hall, Toronto’s beloved matriarch of community activism and social justice, passed away late Saturday night, December 30. At the age of only 59, her decades of tireless organizing, campaigning, personal sacrifice and boundless generosity leave an unforgettable legacy for thousands of people in Toronto, Jamaica, across Canada and around the world. Her son Lowell Ruddy Hall, of Toronto, 38, survives her as well her brothers in the U.S. and Jamaica.  Lowell warmly invites everyone whom Sherona touched with her love and friendship to join him in saying farewell to his mother and celebrating her life’s work on Thursday and Saturday at the following locations:

Thursday January 11 – 7:00 pm

Jamaican-Canadian Association
995 Arrow Road (south of Finch), Toronto
For more information: (416) 656-2232

Saturday January 13 – 10:00 am – Funeral Service

Highland Funeral Home
3280 Sheppard Avenue East (east of Warden), Scarborough
For more information (416) 773-0933

Saturday Afternoon Procession
Highland Funeral Home to Crematorium
After the service

Saturday January 13 – 4:00 pm–Evening Memorial
Steelworkers Hall
25 Cecil Street, Toronto
More information: (905) 231-1946 or (416) 656-8802

Sherona loved flowers. Please send all flowers to Highland Funeral Home at 3280 Sheppard Avenue East. Thank you!

Aroni Awards Help Youths Realize Their Dreams

Source:  MetroNews, By Jill Andrew

(Jan. 9, 07)
Helen, Mesfun and Lia Haile are three siblings working together for a cause that’s very dear to their hearts. They are the producers of the Aroni Awards and Aroni Education Bursary program, which honours youth and young professionals who have found success despite socio-economic and academic challenges. “Unlike many other awards that primarily focus on high grades, we wanted to focus on individuals whose highest accomplishments might not be in the classroom or a letter grade but instead in their daily work to help save and motivate their communities towards future growth,” says Lia. The siblings have also developed the Aroni Ambassador’s Leadership Program to help connect youth with successful professionals to help establish mentoring and networking relationships.

But for the Haile family the Aroni Awards means more than just helping to create positive futures for young people; for them the award honours their brother Aron Haile who died three years ago in an automobile accident while on vacation in Eritrea East Africa. “Aron is the inspiration for the Aroni [our nickname for him] Awards. Long before Aron’s passing, he had conceived this idea of fund raising to provide scholarships for youth. This is an initiative paying tribute to his dream...his legacy,” says Helen. The first Aroni Awards were handed out recently to a room of 400 guests. Mesfun acknowledges that community support through donated tickets to the awards show also helped to allow disadvantaged youth to see the show. “Having youth in the audience watch others being awarded for their best efforts despite their obstacles can only help motivate them in their own lives,” says Mesfun. York University economics graduate Danielle Francis was among this year’s winners. For several years Francis has dedicated much of her time to volunteering with organizations like the Black Business Professional Association (BBPA) as chair of the Young Professionals Committee helping to mentor and develop youth career objectives.

“As a community we need to be able to leverage all of the tools that are available to us to be successful. I am honoured to receive this inaugural award and particularly humbled in that the awards are in honour of such an outstanding citizen that was Aron Haile,” says Francis. Other award winners included director, dramaturge and musical composer Weyni Mengesha (Da Kink In My Hair) for her contributions to the performing arts and Arsema Berhane for her work with homeless youth at Eva’s Phoenix; her help with Schools Without Borders which provides opportunities for international exchange studies; and her workshops where she teaches young women about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. For more information on the Aroni Awards, recent winners or to volunteer visit

2007 To Be Hottest Ever: Report

Excerpt from - Raphael Satter

Jan. 4, 2007) LONDON – A resurgent El Nino and persistently high levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world's hottest year ever recorded, British climatologists said Thursday. "This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," Britain's Meteorological Office said. The reason for the forecast is mostly due to El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now underway in the Pacific Ocean. The event occurs irregularly – the last one happened in 2002 – and typically leads to increased temperatures worldwide. While this year's El Nino is not as strong as it was in 1997 and 1998, its combination with the steady increase of temperatures due to global warming from human activity may be enough to break the Earth's temperature record, said Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research unit at the University of East Anglia.

"Because of the warming due to greenhouse gases, even a moderate warming event is enough to push the global temperatures over the top," he said. "El Nino is an independent variable," he said. "But the underlying trends in the warming of the Earth is almost certainly due to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." El Nino can sometimes lead to milder weather, such as in the northeastern United States or the Atlantic Ocean, which is likely to see fewer hurricanes this year. However, it can also increase the severity of weather-related disasters, such as typhoons in the Philippines or drought in southern Africa and Australia – a country already suffering through its longest dry spell on record.

K'naan Speaks Out About Violence, But Video Rant Makes For Puzzling Contrast

Excerpt from - John Goddard

Jan. 4, 2007) The one to watch in 2007 is K'naan, a Toronto singer so delightful he seems destined for stardom, yet so petty at times he risks irrelevance. All last year he had been touring widely and generating praise. "The future of hip hop," Robin Denselow called him in London newspaper, The Guardian. "K'naan has arrived," Rough Guide to World Music editor Jon Lusk said of the artist's 2007 BBC Radio 3 "newcomer award" nomination. With his gangly physique and abundant, stacked hair, he makes a striking onstage presence. And with his witty rhymes about his Somalian boyhood in Mogadishu – in the news again as one of Africa's most blighted cities – he elicits sympathy, admiration and standing ovations. "It's better to light a candle than to curse the dark," he sings in his winsome way, a sentiment he brought to an anti-gun youth event at Harbourfront Centre this past October.

Already, this is shaping up as his breakout year. But then came publicity about KickED PushED, a music video rant against three Swedish nightclub security guards. "I wish I had a knife, I'd stab him," K'naan sings in obscenity-laced lines sabotaging his earlier message. "It would have been a change of plan if I had a Kalashnikov instead of a mic in my hand... I would have put two (bullets) in each." K'naan Warsame, 28, was born in a Mogadishu neighbourhood known as "the river of blood." In liner notes and Web postings, he says he first fired a gun at the age of 8. When he was 11, gunmen chased him and three friends. He escaped. The friends were shot and killed.  "God protected me so much," he told an interviewer in 2005. "The biggest protection I received was not that I didn't get shot but that I didn't shoot anybody.  "I didn't kill anyone. That's huge. If you kill somebody, you carry their burden." K'naan's father Abdi had earlier settled in New York and sent back hip-hop records. Without knowing the language, K'naan taught himself to rap in English.

In 1991, he also moved to New York with his mother, brother and sister and within months they relocated to Toronto's Rexdale neighbourhood. In Grade 10, K'naan quit school. He started travelling and became what he calls The Dusty Foot Philosopher, the title of his first album, released here in 2005 and internationally in 2006. It is by turns good humoured, compelling and thoughtful. "How can they go to war with terror," he sings, "when it's war that's terrorizin'?" But the recent video rant comes not entirely out of the blue. K'naan has engaged in public finger-pointing before. In 1999, invited to perform at the United Nations' 50th anniversary concert in Geneva, he criticized the U.N.'s handling of the Somali crisis of the 1990s. Some people praised him for his "courage" and Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour invited him to contribute to a 2001 compilation album, Building Bridges.

On The Dusty Foot Philosopher, K'naan also ridiculed U.S. rappers for their macho bluster, suggesting violence in the American 'hood pales beside that of the streets of Mogadishu. "If I rhyme about home and got descriptive, I'd make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit," he jeers in "What's Hard Core?" It is a clever observation but also a self-serving putdown. KickED PushED tells of a night last May in Gothenburg, Sweden. K'naan and his band were opening for Damian Marley, youngest son of Bob Marley. When he went to collect his things afterward, K'naan says in Web postings, the backstage bouncer wouldn't let him pass.  The guard "pushed and shoved" him, he says.  His manager
Sol Guy came along and rushed past the guard.  "I ran into the room myself," K'naan said in an interview in December on CBC Radio's Global Village, "and got kind of held against the wall by two really big bouncers by my neck. And Sol was on the ground getting jumped by these guys." Police were called. Sol was arrested and spent the night in jail.

The video, found at, includes what K'naan's postings call "actual footage" of the altercation.  The footage is held up as proof of racism. But viewed impartially, the "skinheads" described in the song appear to be calm professionals performing their duties in fashionable, if severe, shaved haircuts. "We thought of going the route of embassies and getting some legal things done," K'naan said in the radio interview.  "And in the end all the legality in the world could not solve the things that happened to us." With that attitude, he might well rise to stardom and sell a million records. But he won't have much worthwhile to say.

Canada Golden At Juniors

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - With files from Canadian Press

(Jan 6, 07) LEKSAND, Sweden – Canadian fans beat their drums and waved flags to celebrate Canada's third straight victory at the
world junior hockey championship and its first in Europe in a decade with a 4-2 win over Russia on Friday.   University of Michigan forward Andrew Cogliano, Bryan Little of the Barrie Colts and North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews all scored in a five-minute span starting at 15:35 of the first period, with power-play goals by Little and Toews. Brad Marchand of the Val-d’Or Foreurs gave Canada a 4-0 lead six minutes into the second period, but Pavel Valentenko and Gennadi Churilov scored power-play goals for Russia to cut Canada’s lead in half heading into the third. It was Canada’s fifth straight trip to the gold-medal game, where they haven’t lost since the United States beat them in 2004. Since then the junior nats have run off 17 straight victories in the under-20 tournament, most recently Wednesday’s shootout victory over the Americans. But the Russians, who last won the tournament in 2003 and lost to Canada in the past two gold-medal games by a combined score of 11-1, came into the game unbeaten in five games. Woodbridge’s Cogliano picked a timely moment to score his first goal of the tournament. His marker put Canada ahead 1-0 at 15:32 of the first period, set up by a gorgeous rush by Canadian defenceman Marc Staal, who stormed the left wing, got past an opponent and fed the puck to the goalmouth, where a shot by Mississauga’s Ryan O’Marra led to the rebound on which Cogliano pounced and scored.

Less than two minutes later Canada scored again when Little fired home a backhanded shot from the slot on a power play that beat Russian goalie Semen Varlamov and made it 2-0. Thirty seconds after that, Toews put Canada up 3-0 - again on the power play - and set off a wild celebration by the Canadian fans with a wrist shot from the slot.  Igor Makarov missed on Russia’s best chance, finding himself clear of Canada’s defence for a few choppy strides and a quick snap shot. But Carey Price, the Canadian goalie, turned aside the puck as Makarov went crashing into the end boards. He remained prone behind the goal line for a few moments, but sprung to his feet and returned to action after a brief spell on the bench. Up 3-0 early in the second period, it looked like the game was going Canada’s way, that the Russians weren’t coming back. A Russian blast from that point squeaked through Price’s legs and wobbled through the crease. The puck slid toward the goal line with considerable steam, and though Price dove to retrieve it, he couldn’t reach it. Enter Kris Russell, the defenceman, who arrived just in time to clear it into the corner. The Russian comeback, if it was coming, had yet to get started.  Marchand made it 4-0 by redirecting a beautiful feed from Toews into the Russian net. On that play Toews streamed down the left side and made as precise a pass as you’ll see in full stride. And the celebration by the Canadian fans continued. But Valentenko, the Russian defenceman, scored to make it 4-1 on a shot from the point that skipped over Price’s right pad and in. The Canadian goalie was screened on the play. And Canada began a parade to the penalty box that put them under pressure. Churilov scored a power-play goal through the five hole that made it 4-2. And while plenty of press-room wags had predicted the Russians would wither under the strain of a 4-0 deficit, they have kept it close enough to be interesting.

Canada got a 5-on-3 power play for 1:43 early in the third period, and before they could set up shop in the Russian end the shorthanded team had a breakaway. But Price stopped Anton Krysanov’s low shot to preserve the 4-2 spread. And moments later, as if Price’s brilliance needed to be underlined, a member of the press-room staff handed out the results of the all-star team, of which Price had been voted MVP by members of the media.  Price made yet another showstopper 8:40 into the period, sticking out his right leg to thwart a power-play try from close range by Andrei Kiryukhin. And Canada didn’t make it easy on themselves. Little took a two-minute minor for checking to the head that came with a 10-minute misconduct. That unnecessary bit of nonsense didn’t hurt the junior nats per se; Russia didn’t score on the ensuing power play.  After Marc Staal took a tripping penalty with 1:48 to play, the Russians pulled their goalie and set up a 6-on-4 finish. But they couldn’t score. And as the horn sounded the Canadian players charged the ice and mobbed Price, knocking down the net as they did and falling into the upended mesh in a collective embrace. Champions three years running now, the Canadian fans, many of their faces painted red and white, some of them shirtless, chanted, “Three-Peat! Three-Peat!” before the players lined up to accept their gold medals.


Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards Announces Nominations

Source:  Smooth Jazz Awards

(Jan. 8, 2007) 3rd Annual
Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards - Friday April 27, 2007 in Hammerson Hall at The Living Arts Centre, Mississauga Ont. January 4, 2007 - The Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards announces nominations for its 3rd annual awards show. Since its inception in 2004, the Smooth Jazz Awards body has served as the authority for the genre in Canada.  Voting for the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards is open to all and will begin online on January 8, 2007. The Awards website is The 2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards includes nominees in 11 categories, plus the George Benson Lifetime Achievement Award, which this year will be presented to Smooth Jazz supergroup, Spyro Gyra. Led by Saxophonist, Jay Beckenstein, the band has sold over 10 million copies worldwide and its signature song, "Morning Dance", remains one of the biggest hits in the Smooth Jazz format. Like the past two Lifetime Achievement recipients, George Benson and Bob James, Spyro Gyra will attend the ceremony on April 27th.

Co-chairs Mary Kirk, from Wave 94.7FM Smooth Jazz in Toronto/Hamilton, and John Beaudin, President of, are especially excited about this year's show. Beaudin says, "Looking at the amazing body of work from these nominees is incredible; not only are they all world class, but the amount of influence they carry is guaranteed to keep the format exciting and fresh in Canada." Kirk adds, "We are delighted to be able to honour these highly talented artists next April during a Gala evening that will be bigger and better than ever. They deserve no less!"  Six artists rose to the top this year with three nominations each - Rik Emmett, Rob De Boer, Dave Dunlop, Molly Johnson, Amy Sky and Carol Welsman. Emmett, who won 'Guitarist of the Year' in 2005, is nominated again in the Guitar category as well as Group and Album. His partner in the project, Dave Dunlop, was nominated in the same categories. Last year's 'Keyboardist/Pianist of the Year', Carol Welsman, competes again in the keyboard and Female Vocalist groupings. Her latest CD, "What'Cha Got Cookin", is also nominated for 'Album of the Year'. Molly Johnson, who has just released "Messin' Around," her first new album in 3 years, was named in the 'Female Vocalist, Album and Best Original Composition categories. The latter is presented by SOCAN, Canada's performance rights' organization. Smooth Jazz fans will be familiar with Rob De Boer's Jazz/groove band, Four80East, which is up for 'Group of the Year. De Boer is individually nominated as top Keyboardist and shares an Original Composition nomination with partner, Tony Grace. Sky, who will perform in the show along with husband Marc Jordan, is in the running for 'Female Vocalist,' 'Album' and 'Original Composition.'  For more information on April's Smooth Jazz celebration, contact co-chairs Mary Kirk ( at or John Beaudin of at

2007 Nominees - Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards

International Instrumental
Gerald Albright
Rick Braun
Nick Colionne
Brian Culbertson
Wayman Tisdale

Teacher Turns Subway Sounds Into Music

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Hayley Mick

(Jan. 5, 07) As they shoot through the underbelly of Toronto, many subway passengers crank up their iPods. Others tune out, zone out, or on especially long trips, submit to the train's rhythm and sleep.  Not
Andrew Moore.  During his daily underground commute, the 27-year-old elementary-school teacher listens carefully -- wondrously, even -- to clattering turnstiles, squeaky brakes, the whoosh of air through tunnels and door chimes.  For six months, the part-time musician has gone on an auditory hunt beneath the city, capturing the sounds of the TTC and its humanity on his digital recorder, mixing them on his computer, and converting them into songs.  "I've lived in Toronto all my life, and I've taken the subway for as long as I can remember. And I've always really loved the sounds of it."

Last month, he launched his second independent electronica album, Underground, at a subway-themed CD release party at his St. George Street apartment, where friends nibbled on Union-rings, Queen's quiche and Bloor-Yonge veggie-line (made of green and yellow vegetables, of course). "It's sort of a hometown pride thing," he says.  The 11-track disc loosely represents a full day on public transit, beginning with the first track, Rush Hour, and ending with Blue Night, which incorporates the drunken jumble of a ride on the night bus.  Before delving into electronica, Mr. Moore sang and played guitar in a local rock band called Oberlin. They had some success, playing at the Horseshoe Tavern, but when a member took off for Germany and the band folded last year, Mr. Moore switched genres. With his second electronica album, he decided to incorporate his love for the subway that began as a child growing up on the Danforth with English-born parents who preferred the tube to wheels.  He recorded mostly during his commute from Ossington to Pape, catching drivers on the intercom, buskers, and the groans and whispers of the trains.  He had his girlfriend, Meghan Roberts, 27, wear heels and clack along tile floors. One summer night, he hopped on the night bus and recorded the revelry. "It was kind of neat to be the only sober person around," he says.

Back in his apartment, he mixed those sounds with samples, acoustic guitar and keyboard. In the songs, some subway noises are more noticeable than others. People who are unfamiliar with the TTC might not hear them at all.  "It's kind of neat," says Mr. Moore, who goes by the initials, A.M., on his albums. "There's so many sounds on there that are so evocative, like, you know those [subway] sounds even though you've never really listened to them before."  Not everyone is so enamoured with the TTC. At Union Station on a recent afternoon, most commuters said they hadn't noticed the rhythms of the underground.  "I don't hear music," said one businessman, raising his eyebrows.  "I never hear anything," said Ruben Zina, 16, before his friend, Johnathan Benincasa, chimed in: "Sometimes I hear the 'click, click, click' and it's like the drums from a rock song I've heard before."  Musicians have long borrowed from their environment. Railway rhythms appear in American roots music. Composer Philip Glass has been inspired by trains, as was American composer Steve Reich in his work Different Trains, which superimposes a live quartet performance over a recording of sampled sirens and train whistles. During the past month, Mr. Moore has sold about 50 discs, mostly in Britain, and he knows he won't quit his job as a Grade 4 teacher at a Toronto private school any time soon.

But he does think his work will strike a chord with Torontonians.  "I feel like in the past five years people have been starting to care about not just the subway system, but Toronto in general," Mr. Moore says. "I never hate my commute."

Cool Concert Forecast

Excerpt from - Vit Wagner

Jan. 4, 2007) "Come back baby, rock and roll never forgets." Bob Seger, the author of that familiar chorus, probably wasn't in any danger of being forgotten. But the 60-year-old Detroit rock veteran hasn't been top of mind lately either. That's about to change, with Seger and his Silver Bullet Band taking to the road for the first time in a decade, including a Jan. 23 date at the Air Canada Centre. Fans should expect a heavy dose of hits, along with songs from current offering, Face the Promise. Seger is just one of several high-profile international acts with early 2007 dates at the home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors. First up, Evanescence, which played an October club gig at Kool Haus, returns for an arena show at the ACC on Monday. Also due in to the ACC: Justin Timberlake (Jan. 30); Josh Groban (March 5); Christina Aguilera (March 25 and April 23); and Il Divo (April 9), returning after opening up for Barbra Streisand at the same venue last year.  The home side also will be strongly represented at the local rink.

Nelly Furtado, a current Grammy nominee and one of 2006's leading pop presences, will continue working Loose when the Victoria-bred singer returns for an April 4 date at the ACC. Perennial Canrock faves the Tragically Hip, who had 2006 shows at Fort York, the Horseshoe and the Phoenix Concert Theatre, return to the familiar confines of the ACC Feb. 8. It's just one of several southern Ontario arena shows for the Kingston quintet, whose tour bus is also slated for stops in Barrie (Jan. 25 and 26), Oshawa (Jan. 31) and Hamilton (Feb. 6). The ACC will also play host to Billy Talent, dropping in on Feb. 2, and the Barenaked Ladies, who stop by on Feb. 16. The Hummingbird Centre will host a return of Rain: The Beatles Experience. This time the popular Fab Four tribute band will hold court at Front and Yonge from Jan. 18 to 28. Meat Loaf, who played Massey Hall in 2006, returns for another kick at Bat Out of Hell III, when he performs at the Hummingbird March 14. The same venue also has the Gipsy Kings on Feb. 20. Massey Hall starts 2007 out with a sold-out, Jan. 24 appearance by Supernova, the latest in the CBS-TV Rockstar franchise. Local boy Lukas Rossi joins Mötley Crew drummer Tommy Lee, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke. Of considerably greater musical relevance, local heroes the Rheostatics will perform their last show on March 30 at Massey Hall.

Other artists visiting the storied Shuter St. venue include: Chantal Kreviazuk (Feb. 24); Randy Bachman (April 13); the Blind Boys of Alabama (April 14); Buddy Guy (April 21); Jesse Cook (April 28); and Ron Sexsmith (May 4). Emily Haines and Soft Skeleton perform Saturday at the Danforth Music Hall. The venue also has 2006 Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila on April 14. Nathan Phillips Square is the place to rock out for free. The public space at Toronto City Hall has a slew of pocketbook-friendly winter shows, including headlining sets by the Philosopher Kings (Jan. 26); Sloan (Jan. 27); Mobile (Feb. 2); and the New Pornographers (Feb. 3). The shows are part of the Toronto WinterCity Festival.  Once the annual holiday lull recedes, there is an abundance of club shows to look out for in the earlier part of 2007, beginning with a Jan. 27 solo set by M. Ward at the Mod Club. The Scissor Sisters make good on a postponed date from 2006, March 7 at Kool Haus. Also, Scotland's Camera Obscura drops into Lee's Palace on Jan. 31 and Sparklehorse performs at the Mod Club Feb. 23.

David `Fathead' Newman Says At Age 73, He's `Not Quite Peaking'

Excerpt from - Geoff Chapman

Jan. 4, 2007) "I'm almost peaking," chuckles David "Fathead" Newman, who's 73 and one of the more illustrious saxophonists of our time. "Not quite peaking," he then offers on the phone from Manhattan, where he was playing at Dizzy's in Lincoln Center after headlining a Caribbean jazz cruise. He starred in a New Year's Eve jazz showcase in Chicago. After a career of more than 50 years, he's actually scaled more than a few musical peaks – and he'll illuminate some of them tomorrow and Saturday at Opal Jazz Lounge in the hard- swinging company of pianist Mark Eisenman, bass Steve Wallace and drummer Terry Clarke. Newman's pleased that he's getting recognition and plenty of work these days. "It's long overdue. I've been playing and recording for more than five decades and it's been coming together for me. I play tenor sax, alto sax and flute and I know I have a distinctive, quality sound on flute and a big sound on tenor sax in the tradition of Texas tenors Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate. And, as (fellow-tenorist) Jimmy Heath said to me the other day, `there's not a lot of us about.' He's right." He credits his success – "things are getting better and better. It's been a good journey" – to the hard work of his wife, agent and manager Karen and the popularity of his fifth album on the Highnote label I Remember Brother Ray, released last year. It referenced the 12 years he spent in R&B king Ray Charles's band, starting in 1954.

The debut album as leader by Corsicana, Tex.-born Newman, who studied theology at Jarvis Christian College while gigging with local bands around Dallas, came out in 1959 on Atlantic. It was titled Fathead: Ray Charles Presents Fathead and included a bluesy tune that's come to be regarded as his signature piece, "Hard Times." On it, he takes a long alto solo. You may have encountered Newman's work on the Robert Altman movie Kansas City, which he says was a poor movie but had great music. Amen to that. He was also portrayed more recently in the movie Ray and he's not happy about that. "It was totally inaccurate and suggests it was me who introduced Ray to drugs. That's not true. I was annoyed. They did all that without asking permission. Eventually after Karen contacted them, they apologized." Newman's career in the majors began when he toured the southwest U.S. in Buster Smith's band, playing baritone sax. In his post-Charles years he spent much time with flautist Herbie Mann and since the 1970s, has been a bandleader himself, recording for numerous labels.  His newest album is Cityscape on which he leads a septet. "It's reminiscent of the small bands led by James Moody and Ray Charles, which sound a bit like big bands." Coming soon is Life, a tribute album to pianist John Hicks who died last year and played on Newman's big hit. On it are vibist Steve Nelson, guitarist Peter Bernstein, drummer Yoron Israel and bass John Menegon. The music – ballads and standards – sometimes produces a sound like pianist George Shearing's groups, says the artist, who's played and starred with all the legends of jazz. "I'm looking forward to Opal and to making some new jazz fans." Assuredly he will.

Justin Thinking Outside The Box

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

BEVERLEY HILLS–For someone whose three-year romance with actress Cameron Diaz has just broken up, pop-star-turned-actor
Justin Timberlake doesn't look too upset.  In fact when we met at a Beverly Hills hotel this week he was cheery, upbeat and deeply involved in promoting his new film, Alpha Dog (it opens here next Friday) and making last-minute arrangements for a six-month concert tour he is due to begin next week. His split with Diaz came just before Christmas when, instead of going with him to spend the holiday with his family in Tennessee, she went skiing with her girlfriends. Seemingly unbothered, Timberlake, 25, wasted no time in linking up with his ex-girlfriend, Veronica Finn. The former 'N Sync singer also finds himself enjoying stardom in the YouTube universe, thanks to his raunchily funny NBC digital short with Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg, Dick in a Box. With censored and uncensored versions posted of the boy-band send-up, it was December's most-viewed video on the site and was seen more than 10 million times. But Timberlake seems slightly embarrassed by his success on the small screen. "I think it's gone a little too far," he said.

Several versions of the video are making the Internet rounds, including one in which clips of a seemingly drunken Britney Spears, another old flame, are intercut with Timberlake.  "I had nothing to do with that. I haven't seen it and I haven't spoken with Britney about it," he said. "I actually heard this morning that a female has done her own version of the video called My Box in a Box and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about that." He's far more interested in talking about his new film Alpha Dog, in which he plays one of a gang of bored Los Angeles teenagers who kidnap and eventually kill the brother of a teen who double-crossed them in a drug deal.  Based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, one of the youngest men ever to be on the FBI's most-wanted list at age 20, the film also stars Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone. Timberlake had no illusions about how the rest of the cast of experienced actors might react to a multi-millionaire pop singer joining them on the set.  "When I came onto this film all the other actors were probably not looking forward to having to deal with me, but I wasn't worried about it and I just showed up to work the same as everybody else," he said. "I just wanted to be a player in the film. If you go in with the right intentions then the outcome ends up okay."  Timberlake is a surprising combination of shyness and quick-witted intelligence. He easily dodges questions he does not want to answer but manages to do it with a laugh and a joke.

He wore a striped shirt with a navy cardigan and baggy blue jeans and had a plaster cast on the little finger of his right hand. He broke it recently while shooting a music video.  "Apparently I'm not as graceful as I thought I was," he said ruefully.  Timberlake, who began his professional career as a member of The Mickey Mouse Club in 1993, is currently riding high, having earned four Grammy nominations, including album of the year, for Future Sex/Love Sounds. During a recent appearance on Saturday Night Live he displayed a huge talent for comedy and he is set to surprise critics with his sympathetic portrayal of a young gangster in Alpha Dog. Although his first acting role as a young journalist in 2005's Edison attracted hardly any attention because the movie went straight to video, Timberlake is now branching out into acting in a big way with three other films awaiting release: Black Snake Moan, Southland Tales and Shrek 3, in which he provides the voice of Prince Artie. But however good an actor he becomes he has no intentions of abandoning his singing career. "To me acting is a hobby," he said. "I've been lucky enough to have a musical career that has gone pretty good and acting is something I have always wanted to do. I've been offered a lot of different things I have turned down without thinking twice about, but Alpha Dog was an opportunity for me to sink my teeth into something. It just spoke volumes to me."

Alpha Dog has been in the works since 2004 and filming was hampered by budget problems and legal disputes as authorities sought to stop its release on the grounds that it would prevent one of the characters portrayed in the film, who was recently arrested after a year on the run, from getting a fair trial.  Timberlake portrays Frankie Ballenbacher, a gang member who tries to prevent the murder of the young hostage. His real-life counterpart is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.  "After reading the script I thought this was a story that people should hear," he said. "It's not just about gangs, drugs or bad kids, it's about family and parenting, or lack of it."  Born and raised in a small town in Tennessee, Timberlake was a shy kid whose life changed when he realized he could gain people's attention by performing. "Before that my mom likes to joke that until I was about eight or nine I only knew what my sneakers looked like because I constantly walked around with my head down," he said. "But then performing suddenly made sense and it brought me out of my shell and it came natural and it was fun – and a monster was created." After a year with The Mickey Mouse Club he joined 'N Sync and when he was 15 went with them to Europe where they were an instant hit in Germany, Austria and Switzerland before making it big in North America with their self-titled album. Timberlake launched his solo career in 2002. He was involved in a much-publicized romance with Spears, whom he had known since their Mickey Mouse Club Days. Media attention focused on Spears's claim to be waiting for marriage before losing her virginity (she later admitted losing it to Timberlake). They broke up after two years amid allegations of Spears's infidelity with the couple's friend, choreographer Wayne Robson. Timberlake went on to date actress-dancer Jenna Dewan and actress Alyssa Milano before starting a relationship with Diaz, whom he met at an awards show.  Timberlake's friends say that the nine-year age difference between the pair proved too much of a problem, although the singer just shrugged and said: "I can't talk about it right now."  He did, however, hint that commitment to a long-term relationship may have been a problem for him. "As much as I've learned, I am still a man so I have some kind of learning disability," he grinned.  "And women wouldn't have us any other way."

R&B Veteran Kashif Is Down For Foster Children

Source: Allison Queen, AQ Public Relations,

(January 5, 2007) LOS ANGELES, CA -
Kashif won the hearts of millions of music lovers through his pioneering sound which dominated R&B charts in the 80s but what many do not know is that he has a passion for helping foster children.   His recordings have sold over 70 million worldwide and he has produced smash hits for the likes of Whitney Houston, Kenny G, George Benson, Barry White and Lil Kim, yet his greatest accomplishment - the one closest to his heart is yet to come.   As the Founder and National Spokesperson for iCare, a non-profit organization committed to changing the image of foster care and improving the quality of life for children in the foster care system, Kashif is using his celebrity status and Hollywood connections to raise money and bring awareness through creative endeavours including hosting two benefit concerts, producing and directing three national commercials, creating a clothing line exclusively for children in foster care and sponsoring a summer camp, Celebrity Sports & Entertainment Camp (C.S.E.C.)  iCare's motto is "Every Child In A Loving Home."

Having never known his biological parents and persevering through abandonment, abuse and eight foster homes, Kashif knows firsthand the importance of providing children with a loving and stable living environment.  He is committed to making substantial differences in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system.   Statistics show that more than 800,000 children pass through the foster care system each year.  Most of these children are the victims of repeated abuse and prolonged neglect and have not experienced a nurturing, stable environment during the early years of life.  According to the most current AFCARS Report (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report), 38% of the children in foster care in September 30, 2001, were African American and 37% of the children were Caucasian. 17% of the children were Hispanic while 2% were bi-racial, and 1% were Asian.  According to Casey Family Programs, African-American children are over four times more likely than Caucasian children to be placed in out-of-home care.   Every effort should be made to make foster care a positive experience and a healing process for the child.   Kashif applauds celebrities such as Madonna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for traveling to foreign countries to adopt, however he states "That can send the wrong message to the local community.  All we need to do is look in our own backyard.  We don't need to travel to Africa and other foreign countries to adopt.  By the year 2020, if we do nothing to reverse current trends, 9 million children in this country will be in the foster care system.  I'd like to see positive changes in foster care including more resources available for foster parents and the process of becoming a foster parent made easier."

For years, Kashif has been a mentor for foster kids and has worked with agencies such as Casey Family Programs and the Department of Children & Foster Services (DCFA).  Earlier this year he traveled to Sacramento as a part of a team that helped secure an additional $83 million dollars to the State budget.  He is also working with local and national politicians to help change legislature and was featured in Jet magazine's May 22, 2006 issue and addressed the issue of foster care and how we can help. 


 iCare Concert   Two musical concerts will be held:  May, 2007 in New York and August, 2007 in Los Angeles.  A portion of the proceeds will go to foster care agencies.

 Celebrity Sports & Entertainment Camp (C.S.E.C.) - Begins summer, 2007, this five-day camp exclusively for foster care youth will travel to nine cities across America.  National celebrities will instruct youth in the disciplines of music, dance, acting and basketball.   Also includes life skill workshops.  For a complete overview, visit

 iCare Clothing Line - Includes casual and sports gear aimed at increasing the self-esteem of those in foster care. 

 iCare Commercials - Three national television commercials aimed at re-branding foster care.  The media has focused on the negativity of foster care - there are many successful people who've come through the foster care system.  The commercials will feature numerous celebrities who support the ICARE initiatives along with individuals who have "aged out" of foster care.  These PSA's will be shown on television, the Internet, at sporting events and in churches nationwide. 

Lauryn Hill: Do The "White" Thing

By Karu F. Daniels, AOL Black Voices

(Jan. 5, 07) I just love me some
Lauryn Hill. I have fond memories of hanging out with her and Wyclef and Praz a decade ago. That was before their gargantuan sophomore album 'The Score' was released -- and before Miss Hill exploded, figuratively, with her solo debut 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.' But don't be startled by that title.  It's meant to be very tongue-in-cheek. I just got wind that Miss Hill will be collaborating with Joss Stone -- the bleached blonde blue eyed soul singer who's become a media darling since her music washed up on our shores a few years back. While I do like Stone, she is NOBODY's next Aretha Franklin (as some mainstream media have proclaimed). The idea of her and the multiple award winning hip-hop wunderkind seems like a genius one.

According to MTV, the British R&B songstress pursued the opportunity to work with the "Ex-Factor" diva persistently. "Rather than stalk [her] management or record-label heads, she decided to call Hill’s mom every day for over a month." And it apparently worked. A track titled "Music" --described as Stone's "love letter to song"-- will feature Hill. Rootsy rapper Common and neo-soul music maestro Raphael Saadiq will also reportedly appear on the new album, titled 'Introducing Joss Stone,' due out this spring. Stone, who is (or was) a spokesperson for GAP clothing, recently made her feature film debut in the fantasy flick 'Eragon.'

LL Cool J: Bringing Sexy Back -- For Everybody

By Karu F. Daniels, AOL Black Voices

(Jan. 3, 07) Next week, hip-hop superstar
LL Cool J turns 39 and goes one step closer to the big 4-0. But judging from his sex symbol looks, one would never tell. He actually looks 19. Although there were rumbling about plastic surgery, the soon to be former Def Jam Records rapper has always stood forthright that his physique was man-made, not manufactured. To drive this point home further, the Hollis, Queens reared lyricist cum actor has released  a fitness book, titled 'LL Cool J's Platinum Workout,' as his latest literary offering.  Perfect timing considering the fact that many people take their fitness routines into high gear once the carbohydrate-induced haze known as the holiday season is over.  And with a career --and body-- that seems like it's built to last, he's most likely the only ones that true urbanites can trust to get brolic.

"LL Cool J didn’t always have a diesel body—he chiselled it the old-fashioned way, with hard work and discipline," states the accompanying press materials that come with the coffee table sized hardcover book (published by Rodale Books and retailing at $27.95). "Together with his longtime trainer, Dave "Scooter" Honig, LL developed a revolutionary workout system that not only burns away body fat for good, but also built the amazing muscle and flawless physique you see in every one of his music videos." The three-time Grammy-winning, 11-time platinum selling rap icon teamed with the noted expert in boxing conditioning to deliver the up, close and personal work out guide, providing readers with an easy-to-follow progression and filled with photos of the star demonstrating the exercises.  'Platinum' is a full circle program, complete with meal plans and recipes that will fuel reader's workouts while promoting fat loss. LL Cool J previously penned his 1997 best-selling memoir 'I Make My Own Rules.'

Reggae Artist, Skull, With Ringtone Innovation

Source: Punch Media,

(January 4, 2007) Los Angeles, California -   As the ringtone war heats up with the recent instatement of Billboard's newest ringtone chart system, breakout reggae artist,
Skull,  is poised to make his mark within the new media realm.  In January, YG Entertainment will release a provocative animated ringtone for Skull's first single "Boom di, Boom di" from his forthcoming album.    Under the direction of Morgan Carey brother of the multi-platinum Mariah Carey, the animated ringtone is set to make big waves and take reggae to another level in the multimedia world.  "There's always a lull before the industry stampede to take advantage of emerging technologies, I wanted to be leading that charge," explains Carey.  "Boom Di, Boom Di is a sex you up joint, so I knew we needed the right vehicle to drive that message home. There is a glut of  graphic enabled cell phones in the marketplace this year and very little visually compelling ringtone content available for them.   I felt this was a great opportunity to exploit that shortage while establishing a strong fanbase for Skull.  We anticipate turning a profit before the album even hits stores."  The ringtone was created by 3D animation studio VisionScape Interactive and will be distributed through VSI's mobile media distribution network making it one of the first-ever animated ringtones to be available within the urban music genre.  It will be available direct to mobile via SMS short code and can be purchased on the web by linking through Skull's MySpace page. "We are very excited to create, produce, and deliver the first-ever animated ringtone to be available within the urban music genre, stated Tammy McDonald, CEO of VisionScape Interactive.  Skull is a dynamic new artist who is giving his first single visual life using 3D animation."

The audio single, "Boom Di, Boom Di" was written by Skull and Mighty Mystic, produced by Skull and is currently available exclusively via at   Already creating quite a buzz on the music scene, Skull has just been selected as upcoming artist of the month on the week of December 11, 2006.  "Boom Di, Boom Di" is also building notably at college and satellite radio. Respected jocks such as  DJ Mello (KUBE 93, Seattle and 2006 Power Summit "West Coast DJ of the Year") has said, "Boom Di, Boom Di is a fresh and exciting record.  It's a change of pace from what's been going on.  You can't front on this up tempo debut joint from Skull."

Preserving A West African History Through Song

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

(Jan 6, 07) BAMAKO, Mali – On a moonlit African night in a leafy open-air bar, kora virtuoso
Toumani Diabaté is peeling off an ethereal flood of kaleidoscopic riffs from a 21-string cow-skin-covered harp like one his forefathers have played – for more than 70 generations. Past a motley array of modern-day musicians and a phalanx of traditional drummers, a twirling 2 a.m. crowd of Bamako's hippest has come to pay homage to a man many regard as the greatest kora player on Earth. The music is East meets West, past meets present, a 21st century take on ancient Malian harmonies that smacks of flamenco, Far Eastern strings and the winding legato improvisations of freeform jazz. For Diabaté, the show is much more than just music. It's the preservation of culture and tradition, a way to keep alive the spirit of the defunct Mande empire that once stretched across a vast swathe of West Africa. Long before the region's history was recorded in books, it was told through a caste of griots, musical storytellers. Seven centuries later, the songs are still sung over powerful rhythms and haunting pentatonic scales produced on traditional instruments like the banjo-esque ngoni, the wooden xylophone-like balafon, and kora players from Guinea to Niger.

"If West Africa was a living being, the griot would be the blood," Diabaté says over lunch at his Bamako home, scooping couscous and fish from a silver tray on his Persian-carpeted floor. "As griots, we are the memory, we are the link between society and the past." Born in Bamako in the mid-1960s – he doesn't know exactly when – Diabaté began playing the kora at age 5. Formally educated for only around 10 years, he was debilitated in his youth by a disease that shrivelled his right leg and forces him to walk with a crutch. Yet, he went on to stardom, revered by listeners thousands of kilometres away, idolized at home. The first kora player to win a Grammy remains humble and infinitely good-natured, never too busy to shake the hand of a fan, even while he's performing. In 1987, he recorded his debut CD, a renowned acoustic solo work called Kaira, meaning "peace." He went on to exhibit a bold knack for experimentation, collaborating with Spanish flamenco guitarists and Japanese musicians. A 1999 alliance with U.S. bluesman Taj Mahal, Kulanjan, perfectly melded West African rhythms with American steel-string guitar. The same year he released New Ancient Strings, an exquisite set of cascading acoustic kora duets performed with Ballake Sissoko. The work was an interpretation of Ancient Strings, the seminal 1970s recording made by their fathers and credited with introducing kora music to the world.

Diabaté says such instrumentals allow foreigners to understand Mande culture. "Music has its own language," Diabaté says. In the modern world, "you have lots of books about the histories. We have the Internet, we have mobile phones.... Now what we are doing is bringing the Mande culture outside of this continent to meet different cultures. We're still griots, but we are griots in a different way." In Bamako, which looks more like an overgrown town than a capital city, Diabaté lives a humble life in an unremarkable three-storey villa with his wife, four children and dozens more family members. Women cook in the open downstairs. Boys sit on a dirt road out front, winding down lazy days plucking koras on wooden benches. Proud of his heritage, Diabaté has funnelled royalties into a guest house-rehearsal studio where local musicians and sometimes foreign visitors who trek to see him stay rent-free. He also teaches 40 young kora players at the Mali Conservatory of Music. "I never want to live outside my country," he says. "I love my country and I love what I do." Diabaté says he taught himself to play because his father, late kora legend Sidiki Diabaté, was too busy to teach him. The younger Diabaté is similarly afflicted. When not on tour in Europe or the U.S., he's constantly taking calls on two cell phones at home, where he greets an endless stream of relatives and friends. After finishing a show at his club, the Hogon, one Friday at 4 a.m., he was up again a few hours later, performing a quiet duet with his guitarist for the opening of a government building. That night, he played again at a staid government dinner, a precursor to a late-night French Embassy gig.

Diabaté says he listens to music to relax and cites some unlikely favourites. "You can't believe what I'm going to tell you, one of my favourite bands is the Scorpions," he says, referring to the German heavy-metal act. Other influences: AC/DC, Tracy Chapman, banjo-style folk, Celtic and Indian tunes. Mali's president frequently calls on the kora star to perform for visiting heads of state, much like Mande kings of old called on praise-singing griots to perform for royal courts. In July, Diabaté's 50-man Symmetric Orchestra released Boulevard de l'Independance, named after the thoroughfare that bisects Bamako's dusty moped-packed streets. The sounds range from Cuban-Senegalese salsa to horn-driven funk, but the kora is always at the heart. Diabaté has played variations on the songs for years at Hogon, whose diminutive stage looks more like the porch stoop of a private home than one of Bamako's best live music venues. Twisting to the grooves are a crossroads of African worlds: Malians in dress-suits and jeans, Tuaregs dressed in flowing blue robes and headdresses, and beer-swigging foreigners. Last year, Diabaté won a Grammy with Heart of the Moon, a series of unrehearsed duets with the late Malian blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré. The songs were recorded in just two hours. Touré was not a griot, you have to be born one. But for Diabaté, there is no question his traditions will live on. Touré's son, Vieux, stops by the rehearsal studio to say hello. Vieux went on tour in France with Diabaté's son, Sidiki, last year. Leaning back behind his kora, cigarette smoke rising toward fading yellow walls plastered with posters of Malian musicians, Diabaté smiles, his eyes beaming. "They made beautiful music," Diabaté says. "Vieux is my son now."

Bowie Evergreen Fresh At 60

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

Ancient and decrepit though it often seems, rock 'n' roll is still staggering through its first generational iteration. There are no rules on how rock stars should age because the music's original practitioners are still, in large part, writing the first set of precedents. Keith Richards might look more weatherbeaten than Methuselah, but he's really just a wee sprout in broad historical terms. Still, if we were to pick an ideal role model for aging tastefully in rock 'n' roll, David Bowie's career arc would seem the right way to go. Bowie, born 60 years ago tomorrow in Brixton, England, appears to be aging in a different temporal dimension than his "dinosaur" peers. Not just because the cat looks impossibly good for someone who spent the '70s on a transatlantic chemical rampage, or because he can lay claim to fathering a child with his supermodel wife Iman just 6 1/2 years ago, but because his art feels eternally youthful.  And hearteningly, not "youthful" in the icky Steven Tyler "put some clothes on, for Christ's sake, you're an old man" sense. Youthful in that his music has remained vital and exciting in spirit without him clinging pathetically to an illusion of being eternally 25, an accomplishment that Bowie's chum and (come April) fellow 60-year-old Iggy Pop might want to ponder.

Bowie's "chameleonic" nature may seem a bit overemphasized by this point, yes, but you can't deny it. Even if he's not overhauling his sound and image as dramatically as during the first three decades of his career – the years that gave us Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke et al, his rival personas who live on to this day alongside their creator – Bowie remains impossible to pin down. He still keeps us guessing, still perplexes us sometimes. He still doesn't give a rat's ass about audience expectations. He's still trying.  This isn't totally unique amongst artists of Bowie's vintage, by any means. At 61, Neil Young's still good to go; 64-year-old Lou Reed is eternally crabby; 65-year-old Bob Dylan is as inscrutable as ever. Even those oldster punching bags, Paul McCartney (now 64, of course) and the Rolling Stones (whose combined ages top 250), have been getting it up the past couple of years.  I don't get as excited by a new album from any of those legends, though, as I do about a new David Bowie record.  Not that I have exceptionally high expectations – although Bowie's last two, 2003's Reality and in particular 2002's brooding Heathen, were pretty good. I just want to know what he's up to. And if he pisses me off, fine. If an artist is challenging himself, he should be challenging his audience, too. Once again, I'm just glad Bowie's trying.  That, more than anything, is what keeps the man young, I think.  He's obviously an ardent music fan – witness his championing of such youngsters as the Arcade Fire, Deerhoof and the Dandy Warhols, and his collaboration on TV on the Radio's recent Return to Cookie Mountain album, and his perplexing (to North America, anyway) two-footed plunge into drum 'n' bass. His will to stay current, above and beyond his restless creative spirit, is probably what has kept him from lapsing into "greatest hits" in later life. Both onstage and in interviews (including a couple of the more awestruck conversations of my life), Bowie has always struck me as someone incapable of letting himself coast.

Musicians who've worked with Bowie remark about his work ethic. No swanning about in self-congratulatory "rock royalty" circles for David, no.  He's still out there playing his new material on the road, still churning out new work with dogged consistency (a new album is said to be on the way this coming spring), still popping up on shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and HBO's Extras out of sheer delight in taking part in television programs he happens to enjoy.  And barring, perhaps, 1985's horrific duet with Mick Jagger on "Dancing in the Street," even when Bowie succumbs to running with the codgers rather than the kids, it's usually fairly respectable. His most recent work is a version of the early Pink Floyd song "Arnold Layne" recorded with David Gilmour, in tribute to the late Syd Barrett, a formative influence on the young David Jones. When Bowie suffered chest pains on a German stage in 2004 and underwent surgery for a blocked artery, the news seemed almost impossible. Not only had he always seemed suspended out of time, forever young, Bowie had also projected himself over the years as a kind of superhuman figure.  "Bowie's was an alien physiognomy, not literally so (though some impressionable types would later claim his ancestry was not of the Brixton variety), but alien to the culture of mainstream celebrity to which pop fans were accustomed," wrote David Buckley in the liner notes to a 2002 reissue of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.  He's not the first to comment on Bowie's otherworldly aura; the man has done such a good job of crafting one larger-than-life artistic persona after another over the past four decades that we easily lose track of the fallible human being behind them. Shouldn't David Bowie be immortal? The buzz in industry circles is that Bowie's forthcoming album could be a bracing confrontation with mortality, à la Dylan's Time Out of Mind.  Part of me hopes that it is, because I'm curious what Bowie has to say about staring death in the face. Another part of me, though, hopes that Bowie won't admit to us that we all have to say goodbye someday.  Either way, I'm grateful to him for reminding me of the infinite possibilities we have before us during the short time we're granted on this rock.

Scary Times For The Record Biz

Excerpt from

(Jan. 9, 2007) Billboard magazine reports of an R&B sales slide in 2006 that is causing the music business some concern. According to Nielsen SoundScan, R&B and rap suffered the biggest declines in 2006 of all styles of music.  R&B's sales of 117 million units dropped 18.4% from 2005, while the rap subgenre's 59.5 million scans were down 20.7%. Total U.S. album sales fell 4.9% to 588.2 million units. Retailers and executives point to CD burning as the culprit.  The article pointed out that some merchants believe hip-hop and rap albums' accelerating decline to their increasingly short life span. "Rap used to be the flavour of the month, and then it became the flavour of the week and then the day, and now it's the flavour of the moment," says Hinsul Lazo, owner of Miami-based H.L. Distributors.

Retailers point to large second-week declines in new albums. For example, Jay-Z's 2006 "Kingdom Come" album debuted with 680,000 units in its first week and then dropped nearly 80%, to almost 140,000 units. "Downloading and Internet file sharing is a problem and the labels are really late in fixing it," Czar Entertainment CEO and manager of the Game Jimmy Rosemond says. "With an artist like Game, his album leaked before it came out, and I had 4 million people downloading it." On top of that, an unidentified head honcho of an independent label that issues rap suggests that labels' changing approaches to promoting hip-hop are cutting into sales as well. "Rap is becoming a very difficult genre to make a profit in because marketing costs have become increasingly expensive," that executive says. "With the shortened life span of rap albums, we now see albums only do three or four times first-week sales during the life of a project, where it used to be five times. That subtle shift can mean all the difference."

With Lee As Leader, The Seated Will Rise Again

Excerpt from
The Toronto Star - Ben Rayner

(Jan. 9, 07) Everyone deserves to "rock out," as the saying goes, and as far as I know, there's no stone tablet tucked away in Tony Iommi's basement dictating exactly what that process entails.   Enter, then,
Evanescence. Beloved by angsty junior-high girls, uncertain young would-be Goths yet to discover Lisa Gerrard and – if we're to believe the "are they or aren't they?" scuttlebutt – Christian-rock fans with a bit of a metallic mean streak, the Arkansas quintet proved itself a peculiar pioneer of "sit-down headbanging" at the Air Canada Centre last night. Its penchant for ponderous low-end riffs and mildly Reznor-esque industrial clatter notwithstanding, Evanescence has less in common with Slayer than it does with Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos.  That's not a slight against comely frontwoman and onetime teenage death-metal aficionado Amy Lee, who has the stentorian pipes to hold her own against the aggressive nu-metal thudding of her bandmates. But it was clear when they wheeled out her baby grand piano for the alone-at-the-microphone ballad "Good Enough" and the Air Canada Centre bowl filled with elevated lighters that Lee's millions-strong constituency is as much a product of the sullen-female-diarist market as it draws from modern-rock fans looking for something a little girlier than Linkin Park. Were only some of that classically tinged drama present in the heavier numbers, Evanescence might be onto something.  As it stands, though, Lee and her frilly tutu are the only things that set the band apart from the dozens of other leaden pop-metal acts selling anodyne disenchantment to the suburbs.

True, the band went down two founding members – guitarist Ben Moody and bassist Will Boyd – between 2003's smash-hit debut, Fallen, and last fall's The Open Door, but the new line-up has already had one warm-up tour to progress beyond the studious studio recreations on display last night.  Or maybe not; the music emanating offstage was bound in lockstep to DAT-supplied electronic beats and was drowned in effects so much of the time that the band probably didn't dare stray a note from the official version. It was, in fact, the distinct lack of unpredictability, of even pretended rock 'n' roll danger that left Evanescence wanting.  And the affectionate crowd responded with due reserve, mostly expressing its appreciation for big guns like "Going Under" and "Bring Me to Life" with seated cheers rather than the jam-the-aisles mayhem one craves at a metal show.  Still, when Lee does a solo piano record and starts playing theatre shows, her fans could conceivably tear the hell out of Massey Hall.


Wyclef Named Ambassador For Haiti

Excerpt from

(January 5, 2007) *Haiti has named its native son,
Wyclef Jean, a roving ambassador tasked with promoting development in the country and representing Haiti at various events throughout the world. President Rene Preval hopes that the rapper’s appointment to the honorary position will help boost the image of the impoverished country, which continues to rebuild from a violent rebellion in 2004. "We have so much to recover from with our bad reputation. With Wyclef, we can gain a lot," said Foreign Affairs Minister Reynald Clerisme, according to the AP. Jean, 34, was born and raised in Haiti until age 9, when his family moved to New York. He gained notoriety as a member of The Fugees rap group, and later as a solo artist and producer.  Clef’s Yele Haiti foundation promotes arts, education and sports as a way to bring jobs and development to Haiti.

Rihanna Wins Award Close To Home

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Jan. 8, 2007) BRIDGETOWN, Barbados –
Rihanna has won the top entertainer award for the second consecutive year at the Barbados Music Awards. The 18-year-old R&B singer, who was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty on this Caribbean island, won several other categories including best album for "A Girl Like Me" and best song for the Top 10 single ``Unfaithful.'' "I am always delighted to win awards, but it's especially great to win awards at home," she said. "I'm actually working on my third album, so you will be seeing and hearing a lot from me in the upcoming months.'' She closed the event by performing "Unfaithful" for a capacity crowd Friday night that included her mother, Monica Fenty, and Prime Minister Owen Arthur. Rihanna, who moved to the United States from Barbados in 2005, edged out Mary J. Blige and Beyonce for the best female artist of the year award last month at the Billboard Music Awards. In November, she received the best R&B award at the MTV Europe Music Awards. She won the same category at September's Music of Black Origin awards in London. Her albums, "Music of the Sun" and "A Girl Like Me," were released on the Def Jam label. Island Def Jam Group is a unit of Universal Music Group, a subsidiary of Vivendi, a French media and telecommunications company.

New Gospel Music In The New Year

Excerpt from

(January 3, 2007) The new year will bring a plethora of music from the
gospel industry. A staple for gospel music enthusiasts, the compilation album that feature 30 of the year’s top artist and songs, Wow Gospel 2007 will be released on Jan.30, as well a fresh recording from PAJAM, “Sing Unto the Lord.”   Presenting an offering from his independent label Nureau Ink, Tonex will release The London Letters on Jan.7.   Following the 2006 reunion of The Anointed Pace Sisters, LaShun Pace is flying solo on “Complete” to drop on Jan 23. Also, after a 10 year recording hiatus Bishop Yvette Flunder and the Fellowship Mass Choir delivered a late release in 2006, a praise and worship album entitled “We Won’t Be Silent Anymore” (Ophir Gospel).   Flunder was the lead vocalist on the original recoding of “Thank You Lord” which was re-made by Mary Mary. Importfest Showcase 2006 a Success!


(Jan. 5, 07)  November 18th 2006 marked the debut of the first Showcase. The event took place at Importfest 2006 which was held in Toronto at the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome). Approximately 20,000 people were in attendance for an event that was jam-packed with music, models and import rides, respectively. The showcase featured Nikki Mo, Rhea, Anonymous Twist, Mayhem Morearty, Theology 3, Daetona, NEM-S-ISS, JB, Ken Masters, & JD Era with special guest Jonny Rox. DJ Wristpect, who held down the One's & Two's and legendary host Scott Boogie kept the showing moving smoothly. A video summary of event is available at the link below. Stay tuned to for information about their future events!

Check out the video HERE.

James Rolf Wins Jules Léger Music Prize

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Robert Everett-Green

(Jan. 5, 07) Toronto -- James Rolfe has won the 2006 Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, with a little help from Bob Marley, J. S. Bach and John Philip Sousa. Rolfe, who lives in Toronto, based his prize-winning piece raW on Marley's song War, as well as on Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Rolfe wrote his piece in 2003, in response to the military build-up prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Léger Prize, worth $7,500, is awarded annually to a new piece that has been premiered in the past three years. RaW, which was first performed by the Ergo Ensemble, will be performed again at the Montreal/New Music International Festival on March 7, and broadcast soon after on CBC Radio Two.

Michel Arpin is appointed Acting Chairperson of the CRTC

Source:  CRTC

(Jan. 9, 07) Following a meeting that took place yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has designated
Michel Arpin as Acting Chairperson of the CRTC.   The Commission has been without a chairperson since Charles Dalfen’s mandate came to an end on December 31, 2006. Pursuant to subsection 6(3) of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, in the event of a vacancy in the office of Chairperson, the Commission may authorize one of the Vice-Chairs to exercise the powers and duties of that position. Michel Arpin has served as Vice-Chairperson, Broadcasting for the CRTC since August of 2005. Before joining the CRTC, he worked in the Canadian broadcasting industry, most notably as Senior Regulatory and Governmental Affairs Advisor for the Astral Broadcasting Group, and as Vice-President, Planning and Corporate Secretary for Radiomutuel Inc. He also held the positions of Vice-Chair and Chair of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Mr. Arpin will serve as Acting Chairperson until such time as the Government of Canada names a successor for Charles Dalfen.

R.E.M., Van Halen, Patti Smith join Hall of Fame

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Jan 9, 07) Cleveland — Van Halen made a "jump" into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yesterday along with
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, R.E.M., the Ronettes and Patti Smith. A panel of 600 industry experts selected the five artists to be inducted at the annual ceremony, to be held March 12 in New York. Van Halen was the 1980s hard-rock quartet led by guitarist Eddie Van Halen, outrageous lead vocalist David Lee Roth, and later rocker Sammy Hagar, that put out hits such as Jump and Dreams. R.E.M. was the quintessential indie rock band until breaking through to mass success in the early 1990s with songs like Losing My Religion. Grandmaster Flash led the most innovative act in early hip hop, and the song The Message was like a letter from urban America. Punk rock poet Patti Smith and Phil Spector favourites the Ronettes round out the 2007 class. To be eligible, artists must have issued a first single or album at least 25 years before nomination. AP



Mehta's Water feted in U.S.

Excerpt from
The Toronto Star - Lee-Anne Goodman

(Jan. 9, 07)  Just in time for Oscar season, the Canadian film
Water has picked up a prestigious American honour, winning the National Board of Review's Freedom of Expression Award. "It means a lot to me that people are recognizing the beauty of the film," Deepa Mehta, the film's writer and director, said Monday, the day before heading to New York City for a gala during which she'll receive the award. "I am quite thrilled and delighted, and I will be wearing my fancy black sari on the red carpet." Mehta joins exclusive company. Past winners include Bernardo Bertolucci, Milos Forman, Stephen Frears and Michael Moore. Water was shot secretly in Sri Lanka in 2004, after Hindu fundamentalists shut down the production in India in 2000. Mehta has said she had to wait to resume making it because she was so angered by the actions of the fundamentalists, and didn't want her anger to spill into the film.

Water is set in 1938 India, against Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, and tells the story of the appalling treatment of Hindu widows, including an 8-year-old girl. This week represents something of an American cross-country tour for the Hindi-language film, which is Canada's pick for consideration in the best foreign-language film category at this year's Academy Awards. Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 23. "It's good timing; it can't hurt," Mehta said with a laugh of the attention the film will be getting south of the border in the days to come. "But honestly, I don't like to think like that. I am just happy people love the film." On Friday, Mehta will be in Los Angeles for the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics' Choice Awards ceremony. Water is nominated for best foreign language film, along with Apocalypto, Days of Glory, Letters from Iwo Jima, Pan's Labyrinth and Volver. The film is also screening at the 2007 Palm Springs Film Festival this Tuesday and Friday.  Water was named outstanding feature film last month at the Women's Image Network Awards, beating out The Constant Gardener, Yesterday, Miss Potter and The Queen.

Nia Long Opens Up To Essence

Excerpt from

(January 10, 2007) *The beautiful
Nia Long graces the February cover of Essence as she attempts to set the record straight on baby daddy drama.  Rumours had to be squashed regarding the tumult between her, now, ex- “friend” and her ex-fiancé. More on that shortly.  Long also talks about her career and being back on television after doing shows like Third Watch and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  She can currently be seen on Boston Legal opposite William Shatner and Candice Bergen.   “The writing on Boston Legal is so beautiful, so layered and full of life, and I’m working with the crème de la crème—true professionals who take their craft very seriously. So it’s been challenging, but in such a great way. Of course, there’s the constant struggle to find the balance between work and motherhood…”  She also reveals her best leading men and she’s had more than her share of Hollywood’s best Black men. “The most natural chemistry was definitely with Larenz. But Will set the standard for leading men. He really knows how to make a woman feel special.”  Additionally, she lets readers in on her latest projects and her feelings on the industry as it pertains to Black women.  She has a couple of films due out at the theatre as well. “I’m on a great show and I have two films [Premonition, opposite Sandra Bullock, in March, and Are We Done Yet? with Ice Cube, in April]. I’m happy…” OK, now about that situation at The Grove, an upscale mall in LA. Yep, Essence went there:

Essence: So there really was a fight?

Nia Long: Yes. But I want to get this straight: It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t start it; I didn’t throw any punches. It was one man’s ego against another man’s pride. It was all about them.

Essence: But how do two grown men start fighting at a mall?

Nia Long: What happened was, I’d gone out to dinner with my son and a friend of mine. This was the first time I’d ever brought my child around someone I was dating, so it was a big deal. After dinner, my son’s father [to whom Long was previously engaged; the couple broke up when their son was a toddler] needed to pick him up, so I told him to meet me. Really, I had no intention of introducing him to my friend right then, because my life is my business. He knows I’m a good mother, and that’s the most important thing. But he got to the mall a lot faster than I thought he would. It’s like he put on his Batman wings and flew [laughing]. When I saw him I thought, Okay, this is nothing to get excited about, and I introduced him to my friend. They shook hands, and then I guess my son’s father just got emotional, because he basically punched my friend in the face.

Essence: He shook his hand and then popped him for no reason?

Nia Long: Words were exchanged, but I’m not going to repeat them. Really, I don’t think that fight had anything to do with me. I think it had to do with our son. Men are very protective of their children, and ours is his first and only child. I think my child’s father was like, “This is who’s around my son?” and just kind of lost it. Then they started fighting, so I walked off because I didn’t want my son to get the idea that this is appropriate behaviour. That’s when the mall security came and broke it up, and the police were called. [Long’s ex did not return repeated phone calls from Essence.]

Essence: How did you explain to your 6-year-old son why his father just hit a man in the face?

Nia Long: I told him his father got emotional and lost his temper, and he didn’t use his best judgment.

Essence: Did the friend you were with happen to be 21-year-old first-round NFL draft pick Reggie Bush?

We would give you Long's response, but we'll just refer you to the February issue of Essence, instead.

Forest Whitaker Discusses His Craft

Excerpt from

(January 4, 2007) *
Forest Whitaker, the best actor standout of award season 2006/07, joined fellow distinguished actors Ben Affleck, Nicole Kidman and Ed Norton for a roundtable discussion about their profession. Moderated by The Hollywood Reporter (THR), the actors were asked about their process of choosing scripts and what, at this stage of their careers, drives them creatively. Here is an excerpt of Whitaker’s responses:


Forest Whitaker: It is a struggle to maintain being open, to look inside yourself, go inside the dark rooms inside of yourself or the light rooms and uncover the truth. When you reach toward the truth, there is always some sort of trouble. There are obstacles that obscure it when you move toward something that is honest and true. That is a struggle for me, at times. It is a struggle for me to feel like I am being completely honest. There was a period of time where I felt, every time I looked at myself onscreen, "This was false." Inherently, it was false because it was me playing somebody else. At a certain point, not so long ago, I started to figure out how to vibrate a little differently so that I could at least trick my own mind into believing I was this other person. Now, I am trying to work on something different as I continue.


Whitaker: Yes. Because I have been through times where it was painful for me -- you have no point inside of yourself where you are enjoying what is actually occurring. And I started to work on that.


Whitaker: I am trying to grow. I am trying to become a better artist and a better person. So, I am looking to work on something that is going to push me to understand more about myself and others. If I go into a project, I do hope I can find an environment of trust, an environment where I don't have to wonder, when I ask someone if that was OK, if they are telling me the truth or whether they are really saying, "We need to move on." I do have certain needs in that. You have a director who is leading the environment, and hopefully you trust him enough to maybe even make it a Eucharistic experience, where he gives you something that you take in, and (something better) comes out.


Whitaker: I think so. A lot of our time is spent doing our work, and if our work doesn't allow us to grow as people, then we are lost.


Whitaker: Someone who tries to commit, tries to connect and is willing to give and live in that space and reach for the truth.


Whitaker: You are mapping out a character; you are figuring out how he thinks, how he feels, what he looks like, what way he behaves toward this person or that person. There has to be a process of analyzing the script and then hopefully making it organic. And sometimes, that means talking with the director about something that may be missing in the script.


Whitaker: I don't choose to excuse anything that's said in art as being OK (just because it is art). As much as they have the right to do it, I have the right to judge it. There have been many times in history when people have been beat down and oppressed and abused -- and art reflected that (positively). And I am not going to say that is OK.

Bollywood To Launch Blockbuster In Toronto

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

For diehard Bollywood fans, the news couldn't get any better. The hotly anticipated big-budget biopic
Guru will have its world premiere in Toronto next week – the first time an Indian film will be unveiled in the city – with stars Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, a.k.a. Bollywood's hottest couple, on the red carpet. Rumour has it the coy pair may announce their engagement at the gala. Whether or not the pair announce their engagement, having Toronto as the location of the film's worldwide opening is a source of pride for Indo-Canadians and will help to correct misconceptions, said Bollywood fan Samina Talib, an accounting analyst from Mumbai. "It's really exciting. It showcases Indian culture and what we have to offer. Contrary to what some people think, India is not all about cows walking around the roads." The movie's producer, Bobby Bedi, picked Toronto to premiere the movie to continue the momentum created at last year's Toronto International Film Festival by the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. The 3 1/2-hour melodrama about marital infidelity had a gala showing at Roy Thomson Hall, and its stars drew a bigger fan response than Brad Pitt encountered at the opening of Babel, according to festival organizers.

"We chose Toronto as the venue for the world premiere because Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world," Bedi, whose movies include the Bandit Queen and The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, told a Toronto news conference recently. Toronto business partners Nav Bhatia and Roger Nair, who has Canadian distribution rights for Guru, are organizing the event. "This will really put Toronto on the map in India. Whenever we can take the South Asian community to the mainstream, it's a good thing," said Bhatia, who has been bringing Bollywood films here for eight years. Guru will open worldwide, including in 15 theatres across Canada, next Friday after Thursday's premiere at the Elgin Theatre. Yonge St. will be partially shut down to tighten security and handle the crowds of local South Asians who are expected to flock to the vicinity to try to catch a glimpse of the stars, Bhatia said. Interest in the lovebirds – think Brangelina – is so huge that their Toronto appearance will be telecast live in India and a horde of Indian media is expected to be on hand. "I'm thinking they're already secretly engaged," said Anita Mehta of Toronto, who works in financial services. "That would be huge if they announced it here, but then again it could just be hype to promote the movie. Will their marriage last? That's another story. She's a much bigger star than him."

At 33, Rai – a former Miss World who has been called one of the most beautiful women in the world – is among the highest-paid actors in India. She is also among the few Bollywood actors to have achieved international fame, after starring in such crossover films as Bride and Prejudice, appearing on David Letterman's show, Oprah and 60 Minutes, and doing numerous endorsements, including for L'Oreal. Bachchan, 30, is the son of legendary actors Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. The Junior B, as he is known in India, dropped out of business school in the United States to pursue acting. Weeks ago, the Indian press reported that the couple will marry on Feb. 19 in what is being called the most highly anticipated wedding of the year in Mumbai. But the pair have yet to confirm publicly they are engaged. Adding to the speculation of an engagement announcement is the rumoured appearance of Bachchan's parents on the red carpet for the premiere. Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood relies heavily on movie-loving diaspora audiences in overseas markets, including Canada, Britain and the U.S., to boost its box-office sales. The Indian film industry is the largest in the world, churning out more than 900 movies every year, compared to about 500 in the U.S. Bollywood, valued at about $1.7 billion last year, is forecast to nearly double to $3.4 billion by 2010, according to estimates by PricewaterhouseCoopers. It has become such a lucrative market that Hollywood studios have been buying stakes in Bollywood multi-media firms.

"India is the final frontier for Hollywood," Farokh Balsara, a partner at Ernst & Young in India, told Reuters. Guru, a controversial 2 1/2-hour movie, in Hindi with English subtitles, is inspired by the life story of Dhirubhai Ambani, who rose from humble beginnings to become one of India's most powerful industrialists, founding Reliance Industries. One of his sons, Mukesh Ambani, is reportedly unhappy about a film based on his father's life. However, the film itself may well be eclipsed by the intense spotlight on Bachchan and Rai. The couple have faced frenzied speculation in India about their link-up since an aide to Bachchan's father reportedly sent their horoscopes to an astrologer for review last February. Hindus typically consult astrologers before marrying. Then last October, the pair were seen exchanging garlands (a sign of commitment) at a temple in Tamil Nadu.

Lil JJ: Doing It Really Big

By Karu F. Daniels, AOL Black Voices

(Jan. 5, 07)
Lil' JJ is about to blow up.  Big Time. The breakout teen comedian/actor -- who appeared in such films as 'Crossover,' 'Beauty Shop' and 'Yours, Mine & Hours'-- is the star of his very own sitcom, 'Just Jordan,' which debuts on Jan. 7 on Nickelodeon. Created by Alison Taylor ('The Cheetah Girls,' 'Lizzie McGuire') and executive produced by television veteran Ralph Farquhar ('Moesha,' 'Proud Family', the half-hour, multigenerational comedy revolves around an outspoken, ultra-confident ninth grader named Jordan Lewis, who pipes up about kid inequalities while navigating a new life in Los Angeles. The show is based on JJ's comedy routines, which have been winning audiences over since his pubescent days in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. Dubbed "The Prince of Comedy," the rising star legally known as Jason Lewis' big break came in 2004  when he entered BET’s stand-up comedy competition 'Coming to the Stage' and defeated challengers double and triple his age.  His win landed him on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' and led the way for the aforementioned movie roles.

He also appeared on 'Showtime at the Apollo,' hosted Nick's 'Friday Night Slimetime' and had a recurring role on the teen network's longtime sketch comedy series 'All That.' "[He] is a star for Nick and a champion for kids," offered Nickelodeon's executive Vice President and General Manager Tom Ascheim. "His smart, unabashed sense of humour about everyday kid injustices is the perfect ingredient for Lil JJ’s very own show and poises him to become the Seinfeld of his generation." JJ has a development deal with the Viacom owned network's movies arm, and is set to executive produce and star in a yet to be titled feature film based on his real-life rags to riches tale. The 16-year old funnyman recently headlined BET’s Teens of Comedy 20-city tour featuring five teenage up-and-coming stand-up comedians. The BV Newswire has learned of plans for BET to air 'Just Jordan,' in the near future. No specifics have been announced as of yet. In the meantime, the show makes a special one-hour launch with back-to-back premiere episodes (check local listings). For 13 weeks, new shows will air every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. (ET/PT) during TEENick.

SAG's Triple Threat: Babel, Dreamgirls And Sunshine

Source: David Germain, Associated Press

(Jan 4, 2007) Los Angeles — The ensemble drama Babel, the musical Dreamgirls and the road-trip tale Little Miss Sunshine each earned three nominations Thursday for the
Screen Actors Guild Awards, while Leonardo DiCaprio and Helen Mirren both had two nominations. Mirren was nominated for playing both of England's two Queen Elizabeths, as best actress in a film as the current monarch in The Queen and as best actress in a TV movie or miniseries for playing her predecessor in Elizabeth I. DiCaprio had a lead-actor film nomination for the African adventure Blood Diamond and a supporting-actor nomination for the mob saga The Departed. Dreamgirls grabbed supporting nominations for Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson along with a slot in the guild's category for best overall acting ensemble.

The other ensemble nominees were Babel, the Robert Kennedy drama Bobby, The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine. Babel also had supporting-actress nominations for Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. Little Miss Sunshine earned nominations for supporting actor Alan Arkin and supporting actress Abigail Breslin. Along with Mirren, considered the front-runner for the best-actress Academy Award, guild nominees for best film actress were Penelope Cruz, Volver; Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal; Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada; and Kate Winslet, Little Children. Joining DiCaprio in the best-actor category were Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson; Peter O'Toole, Venus; Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness; and Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland. The guild picks are one of the last major announcements in Hollywood awards season before Academy Awards nominations come out Jan. 23. The Oscars will be presented Feb. 25. Actors guild winners often go on to win Oscars, including three SAG winners from last year: lead performers Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote and Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, and supporting actress Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener. Last year's winner for the guild's prize for the overall acting ensemble, Crash, also went on to the win the best-picture Oscar. Awards will be presented Jan. 28 in a ceremony televised on TNT and TBS. Film and TV nominees were chosen by two groups of 2,100 people randomly chosen from the guild's 120,000 members. The guild's full membership is eligible to vote for winners.

Snipes Opens Film School In Namibia

Excerpt from

(January 4, 2007) *
Wesley Snipes has shown good will toward the film industry of Namibia, where he has just completed filming his upcoming movie “Gallowwalker,” and where he famously chose to remain as tax fraud charges were filed against him in the U.S. late last year. According to The Namibian newspaper, Snipes and the film’s producers have launched the country’s first On-set Film Training project (Noft) in Swakopmund just before Christmas. The main purpose of the venture, according to Noft national coordinator Moses Mberira, is to teach locals the necessary skills and knowledge to meet international film production standards. "This is how we want to thank Namibia for the use of a fantastic location,” said 'Gallowwalker' producer Joanne Reay. “We intend to return to Namibia for future productions and we're confident that this training program will flourish."

Snipes jumped at the chance to participate when the idea was first presented to him, Mberira said. The 44-year-old Orlando native reportedly insisted on giving an opportunity to as many local citizens as possible in the making of “Gallowwalker.” "The industry can help to return the African culture to Africa. You have a very young country; at 16 years you can't even apply for a driver's license yet," Snipes reportedly said, "but you have a wonderful future - also in the film industry."

ACTRA Goes On Strike

Excerpt from the Globe and Mail - Canadian Press

(Jan. 8, 07) Toronto — The union representing 21,000 of Canada's film, television and radio workers went on strike Monday in a dispute that centres on how actors should be paid for performances shown on cellphones and the Internet. An
ACTRA spokeswoman said Monday there would be no picket lines in Toronto, as productions shooting in Toronto have signed agreements with the union. Negotiations aimed at averting a strike shut down Monday with no new talks scheduled. “Our negotiating team has just broke off talks — there's been no resolution as of yet,” Austin Schautz, the union vice-president of finance, told Toronto radio station AM640 early Monday. “I haven't heard whether or when they'll be going back to the table.”

ACTRA members in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had walked off the job at midnight, after instructions from the union not to report for work. Richard Hardacre, the national president of ACTRA, said late Sunday that members were only told to report for work if they're working for producers who have been engaged with ACTRA on an interim agreement. Those productions, such as “the Rick Mercer Report” and the “Royal Canadian Air Farce,” were not expected to be disrupted by a strike. After receiving an overwhelming 97.6 per cent strike mandate from its membership in December, ACTRA was in a position to strike as of 12:01 Monday morning. ACTRA — the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists — is opposed to having their work distributed on new media, such as in promotional materials, without being paid more. “We are the faces that are out front,” said Mr. Schautz. “It's our fair share of the product that goes on the air.” Mr. Hardacre earlier said that while “nobody wants a strike,” the union will have to strike if “forced to concede on a major area.” During a strike, performers will still be allowed to work on commercials and student films. ACTRA is set to strike in Quebec on Wednesday, with other provinces following from there.

African Cinema To Shine At PAFF

Excerpt from

(Jan. 9, 2007) *The 15th Annual
Pan African Film and Arts Festival continues its commitment to showcase cinema from the continent of Africa, including new films from Nigeria, Chad, Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Congo, Mali, and Rwanda.  The festival will take place in Los Angeles from Feb. 8-19. The PAFF attracts an audience of over 40,000 people to the films and over 150,000 attendees to the arts show. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit  or call (323) 295-1706.  Here is a list of new African films to be presented during the festival:     

• GOING INTO EXILE, a South African documentary by filmmaker Peter Se-Puma tells the story of one of the most memorable photos of the 20th Century, the body of young Hector Peterson being carried after the Soweto Uprising. Unknown to many, the first to die in that history-altering event was Hastings Ndhlovu, brother of current Los Angeles South African Consul General Jeanette Ndhlovu. In the film, she and her two sisters discuss how his death and the ensuing government harassment affected their family well as the physical and emotional strains of their decisions to go into exile

• The Sierra Leone film MAN DEM NOR GLADY'O (THE PEOPLE ARE NOT HAPPY) presents a graphic view of Sierra Leone and exposes how the mineral wealth of this poor West African country has been exploited by foreigners and corrupt politicians.

• Nigeria’s THE NARROW PATH by filmmaker Tunde Kelani tells the story of a young woman chooses between suitors. But a haunting experience, family expectations, and culture turn her wedding night into a nightmare.

• In the Congolese film PIÈCES D'IDENTITÉS the former king of Bakongo goes to Belgium in search of his daughter. His daughter, the princess, has a job as a nightclub dancer. With a view of Europe from the African perspective, identity, disillusionment and separation are the themes of this sobering detective comedy.

• The Nigerian film RAG TAG by filmmaker Adaora Nwandu follows Rag and Tag, who were inseparable until Social Services sends Rag away. A decade later Tag is finishing law school but is having difficulty finding a firm willing to hire him. Meanwhile, Rag returns to London and finds his old friend. Their lives have changed, but their friendship is more intense, complex and confusing.

• In the Moroccan film ZAÏNA: RIDER OF THE ATLAS, an 11-year-old girl meets her real father for the first time after her mother’s death. Fleeing from her obsessed stepfather, whom she believes caused her mother’s death, the girl and her father travel to Marrakech where her father, a horseman, plans to participate in the most prestigious horse-race of North Africa. Pursued by her stepfather, the girl and her father slowly begin to create a bond that will get them through the hardships that lay both ahead and behind them. A beautifully told adventure film of love and determination that will cause the entire family to cheer!

• Also from Morocco, DAYS OF GLORY (INDIGÈNES) is a powerful award- winning film which unveils the little known World War II story of African infantrymen in the liberation of Italy and France. Algeria’s official submission to the 2006 Academy Awards.

• Mali shines with BAMAKO produced by and featuring Danny Glover. In the courtyard, a trial against the World Bank and the IMF has been taken up by African spokesmen. Amidst the testimonies exploring the policies that create economic havoc for Africa, life goes on.

Additional festival highlights include the Opening Night Gala featuring Ambassador Andrew Young’s RWANDA RISING, Night of Tribute, Centerpiece and Closing Night film screenings and parties. The PAFF also holds special activities for children in its 2-day Children's Fest, a multiple day StudentFest for middle and high-school students, Spoken Word Festivals and panels for emerging and experienced filmmakers.


EUR FILM REVIEW: The Good Shepherd

Excerpt from - By Kam Williams

(January 4, 2007) *Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) was lucky enough to be born with a blue-blooded WASP lineage. As a consequence, he was not only able to follow in his father's footsteps to Yale, but to join Skull and Bones, the college's secret society which has, for generations, served as a breeding ground for captains of industry, presidents and other powerful leaders. While still in college, Edward was quietly recruited to serve his country overseas undercover, in order to monitor the rise of the Nazis in the late Thirties. However, he had mixed emotions about accepting the offer, primarily because his dad had also been a spy for the government, and had ended up committing suicide under mysterious circumstances while his son was just an adolescent. But due to the not so subtle pressure from his fraternity brothers, Edward capitulated. He even dumped the deaf girl (Tammy Blanchard) he was dating to marry Clover (Angelina Jolie), the well-connected daughter of a senator (Keir Dullea), and sister of a fellow Bonesman (Gabriel Macht). A week after their ostensibly arranged, if ill-advised wedding, Edward was whisked away from her to Germany to begin a career of espionage and counter-espionage so covert it was virtually impossible to sort the good guys from the bad guys. Almost never in the U.S, he persevered out of a blind sense of patriotism, despite the fact that the price for that loyalty is a loveless marriage and a resentful son (Eddie Redmayne).  For full review by Kam Williams, please go HERE

EUR Film Review: Freedom Writers

Excerpt from - By Kam Williams

(January 8, 2007) *When 23 year-old
Erin Gruwell started teaching English at Wilson High in Long Beach, California in the fall of 1994, none of her freshman students expected her to last very long. Afterall, the rope of pearls around her neck was a sign that the fresh-faced newcomer was from the other side of the tracks, and not very likely to stick it out once the going got tough. For what Erin soon discovered was that her class was comprised of troubled cast-offs: gang members, substance abusers, juvenile delinquents, the homeless, molestation victims, and other underprivileged kids with special needs. Because they had already been labelled losers by an educational system which expected to fail, it immediately became apparent that her job was simply to baby sit them till they tired of the charade, abandoned academics entirely, and dropped out. But instead of capitulating to that crippling mindset which allowed for low expectations, Gruwell decided that she would challenge the prevailing attitude about the prospects for her ethnically-diverse group of ghetto kids. She began by having them read The Diary of a Young Girl, 13 year-old Holocaust victim Anne Frank's heartbreaking autobiography about the her family's ill-fated ordeal as they tried to hide from the Nazis. For full review by Kam Williams, please go HERE.

De Niro, Clooney Highlight Berlin Film Festival

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Jan. 6, 07) Berlin -- Second World War dramas starring Robert De Niro and George Clooney will lead the line-up at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival next month. De Niro will come to the German capital with The Good Shepherd, the tale of an idealistic Yale graduate recruited by U.S. intelligence in the 1940s. In Steven Soderbergh's The Good German, Clooney plays a journalist embroiled in a murder conspiracy in postwar Berlin. British singer and actress Marianne Faithfull will appear in competition entry Irina Palm as a down-on-her-luck widow working in a sex club. The festival runs Feb. 8 to 18. AFP

Hilary Swank Gets Her Hollywood Star

Excerpt from
The Toronto Star

(Jan. 9, 07) LOS ANGELES –
Hilary Swank and her mom came to Hollywood 16 years ago with only $75 in their pockets. On Monday, the two-time Oscar winner received the ultimate sign that the move paid off: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "I remember my mom using a roll of quarters to call agents from a pay phone and telling agents they should sign me," said the emotional 32-year-old during the dedication ceremony. Swank, wearing a sophisticated black sleeveless dress, was flanked by producer Joel Silver and Richard LaGravenese, the director of her new film "Freedom Writers.'' In 2000, a then-unknown Swank walked away with the best-actress Oscar for her chilling portrayal of murdered transgender teen Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry.'' Five years later, she won another best-actress Oscar as the scrappy and determined boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in "Million Dollar Baby.'' Her star is the 2325th on the Walk of Fame. In "Freedom Writers," Swank plays a real-life Long Beach English teacher whose idealism spurs her to empower teens affected by racial strife.



Rogers OMNI.1 to Air Rare Interview with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

Source:  OMNI Television

(Jan. 5, 2007) Rogers OMNI Television pleased to present a rare interview with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe -- his first with foreign media since 2004 – on OMNI.1, Thursday, January 11th at 9:30 p.m.   In this no-holds-barred interview, the controversial African leader talks openly about his lack of concern about charges against him for crimes against humanity, countering that it is US President George W. Bush instead who should be the one standing trial before the International Criminal Court.  Mugabe also speaks candidly about the land reform process he implemented that effectively dismantled his country's agricultural industry. He insists he made the right decision and goes on to blame British Prime Minister Tony Blair for any negative fallout received in its wake.  Mr. Mugabe further claims that "Clean the Filth," an operation which destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, wasn't politically motivated and admits that the government still has not resettled all the people it displaced in 2005.

As for the tragically short life expectancy in Zimbabwe, Mugabe blames AIDS rather than admit to any government action (or inaction) as largely attributable. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, Zimbabweans have the shortest life expectancy worldwide, listed as 37 years for men and 34 years for women.

About Rogers OMNI Television:

Rogers OMNI Television is a free over-the-air system consisting of four regional broadcasters covering nine markets in British Columbia (Victoria, Vancouver, and Fraser Valley), Manitoba (Winnipeg), and Ontario (Ottawa-Gatineau, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area). All Rogers OMNI Television stations are owned and operated by Rogers Communications in the Rogers Media division, and have the collective mandate to reflect Canada’s diversity through the airing of inclusive and accessible programming. In addition to specializing in Canadian multicultural, multilingual and multi-faith programming, OMNI TV also carries well-known American and International series and films. 

Possible Suitors Circle Alliance Atlantis

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

(Jan 6, 07)  A handful of major players are believed to be taking a close look at
Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., the distributor of the hit CSI television series that put itself up for sale last month. Among those believed to be scouting the media giant are Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications, in partnership with New York's Goldman Sachs & Co., but also Corus Entertainment, Astral Media, Rogers Communications and Quebecor. No bid has been made, sources said. Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis said yesterday in a statement that it is "engaged in discussions regarding a possible sale" and that there were no assurances the talks would result in a deal.  The company also said its controlling shareholder Southhill Strategy – which is owned by Alliance Atlantis chairman Michael MacMillan and Seaton McLean – is involved in the talks. One industry source said no deadline has been set, and it could take about two months to play out. A CanWest-Goldman bid, if one were done, could see CanWest get the company's 13 specialty channels and Goldman take the television distribution business, which includes the lucrative CSI, the source suggested. But it's also possible that unit could be split off and sold separately. CBS, which already owns half of the crime drama CSI, is also a potential buyer of that division. Alliance also holds a 51 per cent stake, worth $166 million, in publicly traded income trust Motion Picture Distribution LP.

Carl Bayard, media analyst at Desjardins Securities, said in an interview that the pairing of CanWest and Goldman made strategic sense. "CanWest really doesn't have any concentration in specialty television and this would be attractive for them, and it helps when you have the deep pockets of Goldman," Bayard said. As well, CanWest is exploring whether it should unload its Australian Network Ten television assets.  A partnership with Goldman would allow CanWest some financial breathing room since it is uncertain when and if an Australian sale would go through, Bayard said. Without Goldman's backing, CanWest would simply not have the balance sheet to be able to take on something the size of Alliance Atlantis, he said. Rogers and Quebecor are seen as outside contenders. "At the end of the day, it's whoever is going to be willing to bid the highest, and who wants it the most," Bayard said. Bayard said Corus makes the most sense strategically, since it already has several women's channels, including the W network, and acquiring the Food Network Canada, Life Channel and HGTV Canada from Alliance Atlantis would make a good fit. Astral would arguably reap less synergy from the sale because most of its channels are francophone and operate in Quebec, Bayard said. "Astral has been quite disciplined, I would doubt they would get into a bidding war."  A Bay Street analyst who did not wish to be named told the Toronto Star that one of the problems in analyzing the sale was trying to value the popular CSI franchise. "Nobody really knows what it's worth or how long it's going to last in popularity," the analyst said. He estimated the Alliance Atlantis specialty channels alone would be worth up to $1.5 billion and said the CSI franchise would likely fetch more than $700 million. Crédit Suisse analyst Randal Rudniski, said he expects a price "north of $2 billion" for Alliance Atlantis. Adam Shine, an analyst for National Bank Financial, said in an investors note that while Alliance might prefer to sell the entire company to a single party, he's "not convinced that they optimize the value of each distinct asset in the process."

Little Mosque Treats Toronto

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Canadian Press

(Jan. 5, 07) The world media have landed in Toronto to report on a CBC comedy that has yet to air but has a tantalizing title:
Little Mosque on the Prairie. The attention is gratifying yet also a bit puzzling to Zarqa Nawaz, a 39-year-old filmmaker who's the heart and soul of Little Mosque, a comedy about Muslims living in a Canadian prairie town. After all, the show doesn't premiere until Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. "A lot of people writing about it haven't even seen it yet," said Nawaz yesterday in Yonge-Dundas Square, where "the world's biggest halal chicken shawarma" was being served to promote the show. "People are assuming because of the title and subject matter that it's going to be really controversial and political. But it's just a comedy that happens to have Muslim people in it."

A segment was to air on CNN's Paula Zahn Now last night after a crew visited Little Mosque's west-end Toronto set. (Zahn herself did not visit, as wrongly reported previously.) The New York Times, BBC Radio, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle and countless blogs have also run items on Little Mosque. At yesterday's un-CBC-like event, friendly camels were on hand, including one that shared a shawarma with one of the show's stars, Boyd Banks. He plays the resident redneck who is suspicious of the mosque goings-on in the fictional town of Mercy. "Let's face it, after Sept. 11 we all had racist thoughts," Banks said. "I know I had them and I'm not proud of that. It would be nice, wouldn't it, if this show could end some of the prejudices people have about Muslims."

Croc Hunter Death Videos Destroyed

Excerpt from - Meraiah Foley

Jan. 4, 2007) SYDNEY, Australia – Australian authorities handed the video of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin's fatal encounter with a stingray to his family and destroyed all copies to prevent the grisly footage from being made public, a state coroner said Thursday. Irwin, 44, died on Sept. 4 after being stabbed in the chest by a stingray's poisonous barb while filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland State Coroner Michael Barnes said authorities gave the original video to his wife, Terri, in late December and destroyed all remaining copies made by police to assist in their investigation. "The footage has been the subject of widespread media interest and it was wholly appropriate that we took all possible steps to ensure something of such a personal and tragic nature did not fall into the wrong hands," Barnes said in a statement. "This is in line with the wishes of the Irwin family." Police made a small number of copies of the video to assist their inquiry into the cause of Irwin's death, but they were kept under tight security throughout the investigation, the coroner's office said.

In the age of popular video sharing networks YouTube and My Space, speculation had been rife that footage of Irwin's death could eventually be posted on the Internet. Calls to the Irwin family's Australia Zoo were not immediately returned Thursday, but in an interview with U.S. television last September, Terri Irwin, originally from the U.S. state of Oregon, said the video should never see the light of day. "What purpose would that serve?" she told ABC's Barbara Walters, adding that she herself had not seen the video. Irwin's friend and business partner, John Stainton, has seen the film. He told Walters he never wants to see it again and doesn't want anyone else to see it, either. "It's just a horrible piece of film tape," he said. Stainton told The Associated Press he did not know what Terri Irwin planned to do with the tape. The death of the exuberant television entertainer and conservationist set off an unprecedented outpouring of grief. Tens of thousands travelled to Irwin's zoo near Brisbane to drop off flowers and other mementoes, many of them signing khaki shirts – his on-screen trademark – instead of a condolence book.

Genie Shines On Big Films

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

This year's list of Genie nominations for best picture is a bit different: you've probably heard of the films and may even have seen some, as well.  "It's probably our most commercial slate," said Paul Gratton, chair of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, after unveiling the short lists for the 27th annual Genie Awards, Canada's version of the Oscars.  The box office clout comes courtesy of two entries in particular, Bon Cop, Bad Cop and Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.  The first, a bilingual comedy that tosses together Ontario and Québécois police detectives to solve a murder, is the highest grossing homegrown film of all time in Canada, taking in nearly $13 million (most of which was in Quebec).  The big-screen chronicles of Trailer Park Boys' Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, meanwhile, posted a record opening-weekend number for a Canadian film at $1.3 million.  But the film scoring the most Genie laurels was the biopic of Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice ("The Rocket") Richard. The Rocket scored 13 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Charles Binamé) and Best Actor for Roy Dupuis, who played No. 9. Bon Cop, Bad Cop had 10 nominations. Its lead actors, Colm Feore and Patrick Huard, are both up for Best Actor.

A Sunday in Kigali, about a French-Canadian journalist who returns to Rwanda after the massacres in search of his Hutu wife, picked up seven nominations, including Best Picture, plus Best Actor (Luc Picard) and Best Actress (Fatou N'Diaye).  Rounding out the Best Picture category is Guide de la petite vengeance (The Little Book of Revenge), a Montreal-made movie in which a downtrodden accountant seeks revenge on his boss. It received three other nominations.  Other films receiving multiple nominations were Tideland (six), a Prairies drama directed by Terry Gilliam, and Eve and the Fire Horse (five), a coming-of-age film set in Vancouver’s Chinese community. Trailer Park Boys received three nominations, for Best Picture, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay. All the movies that dominate the nominations list, except Guide de la petite vengeance, have played in Toronto, either in general release or at its film festival.

This year, homegrown movies that did well in English Canada are well represented on the Genie nominations list. That's not always true, thanks to the academy's complicated nomination rules and a stunted box office beyond Quebec for French-language films. Last year, for instance, David Cronenberg's History of Violence was deemed ineligible for a Genie because it was financed in the U.S. And Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies was shunned in the Best-Picture category. The year before, Le dernier tunnel, a heist film, received the most nominations despite being virtually unseen outside Quebec. And Annette Bening's Being Julia, a Canadian co-production shot overseas, was ignored in the 2004 nominations while Quebec's Le grande séduction, which had yet to play outside Quebec, led with 11. This year, the academy's Gratton said, there was a comedic trend in Canadian films that boosted box office figures. In English Canada, the domestic take was 2 per cent of the total box office in 2006, up from 1.1 per cent the year before. In French Canada, homegrown movies remained steady at 20 per cent of total box office.  Leading up to the Feb. 13 awards gala at the Carlu, telecast live on Citytv, the academy will show three trailers at Canadian cinemas to promote the country's movie industry.  The trailers feature three English-language films – Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Trailer Park Boys and Snow Cake – with English subtitles and the tagline: "Why do we look at Canadian films like they're foreign to us?"  On another note, Gratton said yesterday he is hoping for a quick resolution between film and TV producers and ACTRA as the actors' strike heads into its third day.  "It's just not a good thing," he said. "We can only hope both sides sit down and resolve their differences instead of anteing up the rhetoric."


Fox Puts Teen Soap Opera The O.C. On Ice

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Jan. 5, 07) Los Angeles --
The O.C., the once-hot teenage soap opera that saw its ratings plummet like a delinquent student's grades, has been cancelled. The final episode of the drama will air on Feb. 22, Fox TV and Warner Bros. Television Production Inc. said Wednesday. The finale "will deliver real closure to the series, to the story we began telling four years ago," series creator Josh Schwartz said. Based in the affluent Orange County, Calif., city of Newport Beach, The O.C. caught fire in its first season, 2003-04, as the top-rated drama among advertiser-favoured young adults and with a total audience of nearly 10 million. But this season, The O.C. has only drawn about four million viewers. AP



Richard Ouzounian Warns Blue Man's Successors: Know Thy Audience

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -

Playwright George S. Kaufman said it best: "You can't believe how many people will stay away from a show they don't want to see." That may seem like an obvious statement of the essential audience-to-theatre relationship (if it interests them, they'll buy tickets; if it doesn't, they won't), but lately some people have had trouble comprehending it. When Lord of the Rings closed its disappointingly short run at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Labour Day weekend, producer Kevin Wallace blamed poor notices from Toronto critics. Now the
Blue Man Group, with a final performance today at the Panasonic Theatre, has written off its lacklustre showing here to the fact that "Toronto hasn't rebounded yet and has lately been unable to support long-run shows," according to publicist Laura Camien. But before you don that chic little black armband over the fate of our showbiz future, look uptown to the Capitol Theatre, where a show called Menopause Out Loud! will celebrate its 200th performance on Jan. 20, having reached 60,000 people. All this despite generally dismal reviews, including a scorching one-star blast from me who called it "the chintziest musical revue I've seen in years."  If the Toronto critics are such show killers, why has this one survived?

We'll get to that in a minute. First, let's look at that other damning assumption, the one that claims in the aftermath of 9/11 and SARS, people don't go to Toronto theatre in sufficient numbers to make a production here worthwhile. There's one big problem with the Blue Man Group's excuse: Wicked, which just concluded its second local run on New Year's Eve. This time around, it played to nearly 100 per cent attendance during its 12 weeks, attracting roughly 215,000 contented theatregoers to the Canon Theatre. It took in, generally, $1.5 million a week, which made it the No. 1 grossing stage show in all of North America. Believe me, a lot of other cities would like to be doing as badly as we are. Clearly, it's totally possible to have a hit show in Toronto, even without the critics on side. But there are two ingredients vital to that success:

1. Identify the audience for your project.

2. Tailor your advertising specifically to the local market.

For a clear indication of how (and how not) to do this, look at this month's loser and winner: Blue Man Group, closing today, and Menopause Out Loud!, reaching a new box office milestone with no end in sight. Now, although it may not seem obvious at first sight, the two shows have a lot in common. In terms of surface content, it may seem hard to equate a troupe of cerulean-skinned, marshmallow-gobbling performance artists with a quartet of ladies who celebrate mood swings and hot flashes with a bit of musical comedy and simplistic pop-song parodies (i.e. "Puff, My God I'm Draggin'," "My Husband Sleeps Tonight"). But both are oddball pieces of entertainment that somehow wind up resonating with enormous audiences. They both started as small, homespun ventures and then ballooned into theatrical franchises extending around the world. Blue Man was born in 1987 with Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink, three iconoclastic performers who honed their anarchic routines on the streets of Manhattan until moving indoors to the Astor Place Theater in November, 1991. Their quirky, indefinable entertainment gradually built a following and before long, they were a hit. The show has been running in New York for more than 15 years, in Boston for 12, Chicago for eight and Las Vegas for seven. Companies have also opened in London, Berlin and Amsterdam since 2004.

The show is "customized" in each market (the Toronto Blue Men learned the Hockey Night in Canada theme), but the stage product is essentially the same – which is ironic, considering the show began as acts of individuality meant to fly in the face of a cookie-cutter status quo. In a funny way, Menopause Out Loud! followed a similar flight path. Back in 2001, Jeanie Linders, "inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine," set out to put together an amusing musical revue "as a celebration of those women who are the brink of, are in the middle of, or have survived The Change." It opened in Orlando at a 76-seat perfume store that also served as a theatre. By the middle of this year, it will be playing in 24 cities, from Johannesburg to Adelaide to Toronto. Both winners, the shows came to Toronto with considerable track records. But they approached our city in drastically different ways and that's why one succeeded and the other failed. From the very beginning, there was a whiff of arrogance about the arrival of the Blue Men, right from their initial announcement. "We hope to do Blue Man Group in Toronto for a long, long time. We're assuming there will not be a hitch," said Scott Zeiger, speaking for the organization that was then called Clear Channel. (Zeiger has since left and it's now called LiveNation). What they ignored was that their show was coming in late. Toronto is used to starting the North American trajectory of its show business hits (Mamma Mia!) or at least getting them within a year or two of their debut (The Phantom of the Opera). Here was a show that was opening in Toronto more than 14 years after its New York debut. It was already old news in Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas. Why should we care? But the Blue Men never asked themselves that, and simply laid out a campaign identical to the one they'd followed everywhere else. "The Blue Men are the same wherever they go," said the company's spokesman Manny Igrejas in January of 2005, "that's what's beautiful about them."

It wasn't so beautiful here. An ugly dispute broke out with Canadian Actors' Equity about the Blue Men's failure to comply with local union rules. The technicians and musicians followed suit and the battle was on. "We've performed thousands of shows around the world to millions of people, appeared hundreds of times on national TV shows, won countless awards, gotten platinum DVDs and gold records," said founder Goldman. "Why should we suddenly change the way we do things for Toronto?" It got uglier and uglier, with the Ontario Teachers' Union finally boycotting the show in support of Equity and taking away the student matinees that were the production's lifeblood in most other cities. And then, the week before they opened, the Blue Men bought a full-page ad in Toronto papers – not to drum up interest, but to say they were breaking off negotiations. Hardly the kind of P.R. you want to generate at the 11th hour.  The principals of FLIP Publicity, the well-regarded local marketing and publicity firm that Blue Man had engaged to do their bidding, found their advice was constantly ignored and they finally parted company with the stubborn New Yorkers. The list of things that Blue Man could have done to improve their stay in T.O. is obvious and long, and were tried late in the day: appearing at charity events, trying to join the community, even endeavouring to make peace with some unions. Too little, too late. The message had gone out that they didn't really care about us. And the people of Toronto treated them the same way. Now turn 180 degrees and see how Menopause Out Loud! came to our market. The producers had learned a few things in their numerous engagements around the U.S. First off was the fact that the show usually got bad reviews – and the bigger the city, the worse the notices. So they tried to make the show as critic-proof as possible by marketing directly to individuals and organizations likely to be interested in a revue about middle-aged women going through a life change.

An added complication in Toronto was the fact that the actors weren't performing in a conventional venue. The Capitol is known as an "event theatre," rented out for corporate dinners, weddings, bar mitzvahs. Its location (Yonge St., north of Eglinton) is also way out of the usual theatre-going loop, so that had to be factored in, as well. Mark Zimmerman is the director of operations for the Canadian company of Menopause; according to Deborah Knight of dkpr public relations, who promoted the show, "he worked closely with the original producers and creators to evolve a strategy specifically geared to Toronto. "Long before the conventional media even knew about the show," said Knight, "a series of group sales promotions, direct mailing campaigns and project-awareness initiatives were well under way." When the show began preview performances, each patron received a glossy 40-page program that, as well as listing the cast and crew, was full of colour ads for plastic surgery, skin creams and menopausal therapy.  How do you get women to attend a different kind of theatre in a different kind of neighbourhood? Offer a different experience. The Capitol was opened early every night for "Happy Hot Flash Hour" with themed cocktails like Mood Swing Martinis and free hors d'oeuvres to create a party atmosphere. The ladies were pumped long before the show began. The strategy also created product loyalty. I have never received as many (or as vituperative) emails after a negative review as in the days following my pan of Menopause Out Loud! Part of me was happy to read the venom flooding my inbox. It meant that they really cared.

The audience for the show is 93 per cent female and 75 per cent over the age of 40. Neither statistic is a surprise; recent (U.S.) figures suggest that the theatre audience in general is 63 per cent female and the average age is 42. It's simply good business to create a show aimed at the people who already like theatre – but it's something that the stage version of Lord of the Rings overlooked: the film's audience was mostly (72 per cent) male, with an average age of 24. The makeup of the audience for a show about menopause isn't surprising, of course; but it's amazing how accurately the producers targeted their market.  Is there a lesson here? Absolutely. John Karastamatis, director of communications for Mirvish Productions, summed it up when he said, "People in this city will come to see the shows that they want to see." But you have to let them know what they want to see. And if you're planning to produce a piece of theatre – large or small – in this city, don't ever forget the words of Chilliwack's 1971 song, "Rain-O": "If there's no audience, there ain't no show."

Dawnn Lewis: Hallelujah Time

By Karu F. Daniels, AOL Black Voices

(Jan. 5, 07) When it rains it pours.   Just ask actress
Dawnn Lewis -- who is having a career renaissance of sorts with her most recent acting endeavours. The plump-lipped 'A Different World' star has an important cameo in the hit movie musical 'Dreamgirls' and is also fronting the stage adaptation of Whoopi Goldberg's box office smash 'Sister Act.' So in essence, the woman who many affectionately know simply as Jaleesa Vinson (her character on the groundbreaking 'Cosby Show' spin-off) is literally flipping the script:  'Dreamgirls,' of course, was a legendary Broadway musical and is now a Bill Condon-helmed cinematic spectacle; and 'Sister Act' was a ….  Well you get my drift. In 'Sister Act the Musical,' Lewis stars in the lead role as diva-in-waiting Deloris Van Cartier (a.k.a. Sister Mary Clarence) --an icon of empowered, ferocious, irreverent African-American womanhood-- who after witnessing a murder, packs up her platform shoes and moves in with the sisters at the down-and-out Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith.

If you saw the movie, you know it's a comedic romp. The storyline set to music sounds like it could be real fun. Directed by Peter Schneider (producer of Broadway musicals 'The Lion King' and 'Aida'), 'Sister Act' will make its world premiere at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre on Jan 24, after a week of preview performances. The show is scheduled to run through Feb. 25. Lewis, a Brooklyn native who turns 46 this year, married retired NBA player Johnny Newman in 2004. They are now separated.   Professionally, she recently worked on the wildly popular Cartoon Network series 'The Boondocks.'

David E. Talbert & Morris Chestnut Team For 'Tyme'

Excerpt from - By Kenya M Yarbrough

(January 10, 2007) *Playwright
David E. Talbert has been writing and producing stage productions since the early 1990s developing his skill in the genre of gospel plays and moving into romantic musicals.  This month, Talbert is heading out on his 12th tour with the third instalment of a romantic series of plays he's produced. This one is called "Love in the Nick of Tyme" and introduces movie heartthrob Morris Chestnut in his live theatre debut. "I was at a stage in my career where I wanted a different challenge," Chestnut said of taking the lead role in the play. "I've done a lot of movies and I needed something to reinvigorate my career in terms of me being enthusiastic about what I was doing. I kind of got complacent. I was doing so many movies and some of them were so similar in theme. I just wanted to do something different and work on my craft. When David called me, it happened to be the right time." Chestnut, who also has producer credits for the play, is the reason Talbert tags the new play the "Rolls Royce" of his repertoire. It's the actor's current and major star power Talbert says brings Hollywood to the stage. But while Chestnut modestly accepts the accolades, he explained that he's working hard for the compliment. He says working on the stage is a lot more labour intensive than his days on the movie set.

"It's still a work in progress for me," Chestnut said. "Doing a play is a very difficult thing for me to do because I'm used to just going to the set, doing my thing, and going back to the trailer and not having to deal with an audience." The actor admits that even with the tour beginning this week, he still finds acting in front of an audience to be a bit difficult. "There are certain liberties that I like to take as an actor that you can't do on stage. Someone's always watching and you always have to be in character. A lot of times when I do a movie, I discover things as we're shooting and doing takes. Here, you may have a discovery in rehearsal and then trying to recreate it is difficult." Although Chestnut is a little bit apprehensive about his talent on the stage, Talbert is quite confident. He told EUR's Lee Bailey that the role was practically written for Chestnut, calling the actor "the quintessential leading man." "I wrote this play several years ago. I wanted Morris to play it, but he'd been doing movies one after another," Talbert explained.  Talbert explained that he waited quite a while for the actor to be able to do the play, but was also delaying the play to work on a film project. "I'd been holding it because I wanted it to be special. I worked on a movie project for two years. I said, 'You know what? I'm going to get back to doing what I do.' I decided I was going to stop waiting for the Hollywood game. Then everything started falling in place for the play," he said.

The writer's plans were almost foiled at that point because he'd heard that Chestnut had signed on to do a different play. Fortunately, Talbert's wife called Chestnut's wife and got the two together. "He's established himself in romantic movies over the years, so what better person to put behind the wheel but Morris," Talbert said. "The craft does transfer, and that's the beautiful thing. To have someone of his stature on stage, it makes it more than just a touring musical. Never before have you had a current film star that's in a limited engagement tour. Never. So it really is a special moment in time. It's black Hollywood on tour." In addition to Talbert's distinction and Morris Chestnut's star power, the play also features songs written by R&B singer Vivian Green. "Vivian came in and auditioned for the play," Talbert said. "I thought she looked too young to play the lead, but I was a fan of her music, so I said, 'You should write the songs for the play.' And then I found out that that was one of her dreams; to write music for a play. She's done an amazing job." The play - also starring singers Terry Dexter (as Tyme) and Avant - begins its tour tomorrow (Thursday) in Houston and will hit 11 other cities including New York, Miami, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and more, to be followed by the release of the DVD and soundtrack. To check tour dates and find out more about the play, visit

Charmion King-Pinsent, 81: Stage Veteran

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian

(Jan. 8, 2007) She was the class act of Canadian show business.   
Charmion King-Pinsent died peacefully in Toronto on Saturday at the age of 81.  Born in Toronto on July 25, 1925, her long and distinguished career began in the early days of Hart House Theatre on the U of T campus with a critically acclaimed 1947 performance as St. Joan. She was also a  driving force in such seminal Canadian theatre companies as the Straw Hat Players and the Crest, spent several seasons at Stratford and was directed on Broadway in 1960 by Tyrone Guthrie in Robertson Davies' Love and Libel. During a 1962 Crest Theatre production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, she first played opposite a young actor named Gordon Pinsent. They fell in love and remained happily married for 44 years. Their daughter Leah was one of the major joys of King's life and she cherished appearing opposite her in the 1998 Tarragon production Emphysema. Although she was frequently in demand on TV and appeared in works as varied as The Newsroom, The Promise, Twitch City, Last Night, Wind at My Back and Anne of Green Gables, she felt the stage was her first love.

"There is an excitement in live theatre that doesn't exist in other mediums," she told the Star's Robert Crew in 1986, "I suppose because you really open yourself up. You are at your most vulnerable and you give to the audience. That can be traumatic if they don't like it but if they do, it is the most rewarding thing in the world." Perhaps her trademark performance was as Jessica Logan, the temperamental actress attempting a comeback in David French's show-business comedy Jitters. King originated the part at Tarragon in 1979 and later played it in New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre in the same year, as well as in a Toronto revival in 1986. Anyone who ever saw King in the role never forgot her. She managed to be earthy, grand, theatrical, touching, warm and waspish all at the same time. "Jessica's a lot like me and she's very different from me," she once volunteered, "and I'm damned if I'm going to tell you which is which." Most recently, she appeared last February in Soulpepper Theatre Company's opening production at the Young Centre, Our Town, and she had been looking forward to being in the revival this summer. "It's good to be in a play, of course," she said, "but it's even better to be part of a company. That's when I've been happiest in my work." Pinsent remembered his wife of 44 years by saying "I hope you have as great a love as we've had, if not, go and find it." In lieu of flowers, King requested that donations be made to the Actors' Fund of Canada. There will be a private family funeral with a memorial to be announced at a later date.

Good Theatre To Come

Excerpt from - Richard Ouzounian

Jan. 4, 2007)   If critics were clairvoyants, things would be a lot easier. We'd just review the shows we knew were going to be good and phone in sick for the ones our second sight told us were likely to be dreadful. But that isn't how it works. And even though I can gaze into my crystal ball at the plays already announced for 2007 and offer my considered opinion as to which of them looks like a promising evening in the theatre, that's all it's going to be – an opinion. There are no guarantees in this business. Sometimes the shows that sound surefire turn out to be turkeys, while the ones you drag yourself to in fear and trembling prove to be delightful.  "You pays your money and you makes your choice," as the gambling men are fond of saying. With all that as preamble, here are 10 shows I'm looking forward to in 2007 and why:

The Threepenny Opera, Soulpepper, Jan. 24

Take Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's masterfully acidic look at heroism, romance and capitalism. Add an inspired director like Tim Albery, a leading man filled with the panache of Albert Schultz and a leading lady who sings as well as Patricia O'Callaghan. All this plus the joys of hearing "Mack the Knife" and "Pirate Jenny."   Is it any wonder I want to be there?

DollHouse, New World Stage, Jan. 24

The iconoclastic group Mabou Mines and its visionary director, Lee Breuer, tackle Ibsen's classic play about female emancipation and make us look at it a whole new light. All of the chauvinistic men who claim to have the power are played by people averaging 3 feet in height, while the supposedly "inferior" women are all towering amazons at close to 6 foot. This is bound to be a provocative evening.

The Rocky Horror Show, CanStage, March 29

I know, I know, the whole "Let's Do the Time Warp Again" thing has gotten pretty old and after last year's Hair, we have no reason to approach a CanStage musical with a light heart. But this one is directed by Ted Dykstra and stars squeaky-clean leading man Adam Brazier, complete with fishnet stockings and high heels, as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Edward Scissorhands, Hummingbird, April 4

Matthew Bourne is one of the certifiable geniuses of modern dance theatre. His all-male Swan Lake was a groundbreaking event and now it looks as though he's created the same kind of magic with his adaptation of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands.  No, Johnny Depp won't be leaping across the Hummingbird stage, but reports from earlier stops on this tour indicate this is one not to be missed.

Sizwe Banzi is Dead, New World Stage, April 18

One of the world's greatest directors, Peter Brook, brings us a production of a play by one of the world's greatest authors, Athol Fugard.  Sizwe Banzi is Dead was written during the darkest days of apartheid 35 years ago, but its message still resonates firmly today, questioning the essential nature of our humanity in the face of tragic oppression.

King Lear, Stratford, May 28

Brian Bedford is known as one of our most skilful comic actors, but anyone who's ever watched in awe as he delivered a fragment of King Lear in his one-man Shakespeare show will be eager to see how he handles the whole thing. A great artist approaching a great play for the first time. That's the kind of scenario that has the potential for excitement.

The Cassilis Engagement, Shaw, June 15

The last time director Christopher Newton staged one of the nearly forgotten plays of St John Hankin, the end result was The Return of the Prodigal, one of the best shows of 2001. There's reason to hope that lightning will strike twice, especially since Goldie Semple is starring and her name alone is usually an assurance that we'll be witnessing something with style and distinction.

The Fringe, Toronto's Theatre Festival, July 4

Why do I love the Fringe? Because it never lets me down. I always manage to see at least half a dozen fascinating new shows – comedy, drama, or musical – that are worth all the power walking, lineups and pinching necessary to stay awake during some of the real gobblers. I also love the Fringe because it's a microcosm of life: you get picked purely by chance, but after that, it's up to you to make things good or bad. All this and an ongoing excuse to visit Greg's Ice Cream numerous times over a 10-day period. It can't be beat. 

A Delicate Balance, Stratford, Aug. 9

Yes, William Hutt was supposed to retire after The Tempest in 2005, but as he put it, "Every diva deserves an encore." This is one hell of a parting piece: a great (if not widely known) Edward Albee play, Martha Henry and Fiona Reid as co-stars and Diana Leblanc directing. Hutt's character delivers some of the greatest speeches in modern drama and the anticipation is thrilling.

Dirty Dancing, Mirvish, Nov. 15

Maybe you're tired of recent pop movies being turned into musicals, but this one has surprised all the experts. It's been a hit in Australia, Germany and England, earning the largest advance in London theatre history and getting mostly favourable reviews from the tough British critics.

And with "The Time of My Life," there's at least one tune you can sing along with. I'm so there.


Stigma Of AIDS Persists

Excerpt from - Barbara Turnbull

Jan. 4, 2007)  Sushila Singh was two months pregnant when her already shaky existence collapsed. After taking standard blood tests, she was called in urgently to see her doctor.  "I thought maybe something was wrong with the baby," says the woman whose real name and image will not appear with this article. She was told she is HIV-positive. This was in 2001 when she was two years into a marriage with the man who had been her only sexual partner. Singh was raised in a progressive household. She moved from India at 12, after being adopted by her uncle, and grew up in London, Ont. Shortly after high school she met a man online and they began dating. His family was here, but they all travelled to India for the wedding. Upon returning, everything changed. "When I met him, to me he looked fully Canadian and I didn't think he would be that kind of typical Indian man, but when we got married it was like a 100 degree turn," she reflects. "I wasn't allowed to have a haircut, I wasn't allowed to go out, I wasn't allowed to wear shorts, I wasn't allowed to talk to any of my friends. I changed myself completely."

As her husband was the eldest male child, they lived with his parents who had strictly traditional — and abusive — views on women's roles. Singh worked full time, handed over her paycheques and did all the cooking and cleaning. When she told her husband the news, he refused to answer her questions. When she started medication prescribed by a specialist, she recognized the pills her husband had been taking and realized he had knowingly infected her.  With tension thick in the house, Singh was told to leave one Saturday — kicked out with only the clothes on her back and no money. In the chaos and stress that ensued, she left her job.  Now 25, she and her son live alone in subsidized housing, existing on a disability pension. Singh's 4-year-old son has good health, consistently testing negative for HIV. Singh's health is also good — no one would ever guess the pretty young woman is carrying a potentially deadly virus. No one would ever guess her status because she also takes great pains to keep her secret from everybody.

Today marks
World AIDS Day and, despite living with the disease for 25 years, the stigma stubbornly remains among those cultures where sex is taboo, homophobia rampant and male domination extreme. "For South Asian women it is shameful and for black African women it's a secret," says Rounak Khan, support co-ordinator for Toronto's Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP), a charitable organization that provides health promotion, support, education and advocacy for South Asians affected by HIV and AIDS (  Part of the problem is that women are inferior in this culture, Khan says. "Everything depends on (men) — even negotiating sexual behaviour," she says. "Using condoms, these are not the kinds of things women can negotiate in our country. Sometimes, even living in Canada, they can't negotiate these things. That is where the burden of guilt also comes in. Even though it's not their fault, they take the shame of it." AIDS carries a stigma that crosses boundaries just as the virus does, but because the South Asian culture does not talk about sex, the problem magnifies, Khan says. "They think this is a disease that comes from doing bad things."

Though her adopted family has a more enlightened attitude, they could never accept her disease, Singh believes. "If it was anything else they would be by my side. In their minds, you only get AIDS by having sex with many people. That's what everybody in the community thinks.   The disease is never examined in Indian newspapers or on television and radio programs in Canada, she notes. "They think it doesn't happen to Indians. And it's like hush, hush. You don't talk about it, you don't tell anyone." Omer Abdulghani understands that need for secrecy. He was diagnosed with HIV in March 2001, right after moving here from India. He doesn't know where he was infected; he had unprotected sex with women in India and South Africa. Sex before marriage is taboo in his culture, so is the topic itself. "They find it offensive and highly degrading, talking about sex," he says. As for HIV, the belief is that it's limited to two groups of people. "Gay men have it or people that have a loose character. That's the only thing that they can think of," Abdulghani says. Like Singh, Abdulghani isolated himself after learning he was HIV-positive, rarely leaving home.  He discovered ASAAP shortly after his diagnosis, but only embraced it after months of coaxing by Khan. "She started calling me and talking to me over the phone and she was so compassionate," he recalls. "She's changed the lives of a lot of people. She's a Mother Teresa for us." He is now treasurer on the board of directors and feels he has reclaimed his life. His brothers know about his diagnosis, though his sisters and parents do not. His health is good. These days Singh is also feeling well. She is considering returning to work, but worries about using health benefits for the expensive medication and being discovered.

She does have friends, but keeps her status hidden. "You are always scared of them finding out your secret, so basically I stay alone, just me and my son. I keep him busy," she says. Her family visits once a year and she carefully hides her medications and anything else that would leave a clue. She pretends to work, so her uncle does not find out she's on social assistance. "Sometimes you believe in your own lies because you've been telling them for so many years. You're scared all the time of people finding out Singh hopes for the courage to come forward. "If everybody knew my secret then I could just sleep, not worrying about anything. I wish I could do that," she says. "I want to be the one to break the circle so that people can come out (and show) you can still live, it's not the end of the world. But I'm still scared."

The Gym A Strain On Eyeballs

Excerpt from - Vinay Menon

Jan. 4, 2007)  Why do we torture ourselves with resolutions each year? Stop drinking, start exercising, eat healthy, read more, watch less, walk don't drive, listen don't talk, be a better friend, a better spouse, a better worker, a better dresser, a better inhabitant of Planet Earth ... Sure, noble intent is to be applauded. But if on New Year's Eve, you find yourself digesting a 32-ounce porterhouse steak, vodka martinis, decanters of Shiraz and shots of tequila while standing outside and chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes, stamping your feet to stay warm – which, incidentally, is the most exercise you've had since Grade 10 gym class – well, the fuzzy notion that you will magically transform into a yoga-obsessed herbivore come dawn is, at best, a cruel delusion. Which is not to say that you should just give up, shrug the saturated-fat crumbs off your shoulders and move your corpulent backside into the nearest crackhouse. But as with everything in life, moderation is the path of the righteous.

(Before you take any of this glib rationalizing to heart, take a good, long look at the bloated, stressed-out mugshot that accompanies this column. Here's the weird part: that picture was snapped when I was 12.) My point: the pressure to make life changes this month is difficult to avoid. To help you not avoid it, Discovery Health Channel has rechristened January as "Makeover Month." What's the No. 1 resolution in North America? I'm not totally sure, but let's go with "join a gym." The Gym (Discovery Health Channel, 9 tonight) is the perfect show for anybody who's ever thought: "Gosh, I'd love to watch a cheaply produced reality show in which totally uninteresting people exercise as their totally irritating trainers crack wise and attempt to manufacture interpersonal tension where none exists."

For everybody else, The Gym is as tedious as bench-pressing in the dark. In tonight's premiere, we meet six of the trainers at BodyImage, a Hollywood gym. The trainers encourage their clients to push, lift, stretch and crunch. (Lest you think these are the only verbs that can be applied to kinesiology, trainer Ben encourages his client's muscles to "stimulate, grow, change, sculpt, beautify, dignify and clarify.") I may now join a gym just to use the lingo: "Quads, isn't it time to clarify? Come on, pecs! Have you no dignity?" The narrative friction tonight concerns the arrival of Amber, a buxom redhead who saunters into BodyImage looking for work as a trainer. Matt, one of the trainers, tells Amber there are no jobs. But then Steve, a co-owner of BodyImage, bolts from his office, tells Matt to vamoose and interviews Amber on the spot. (Pay close attention: you can actually see Steve's pupils dilate when Amber says she used to be a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. Surprise, surprise; she's hired.) Later, Matt confronts his old pal Steve in an exchange that does not evoke Plato and Socrates. "I know you, dude," says Matt. "If she didn't look the way she did, you wouldn't have a thing to do with her, dude. I know you. Tell me I'm wrong." "Okay, you know me, that's fine," says Steve. "I like a good looking lady just as much as the next guy.... But what you're saying is a load of crap."

Steve says he needs more female trainers. And trainers who can work with the "injured," "diabetic" and "elderly."  "What are you talking about?" asks Matt, clearly stung by the insinuation. "Like I can't deal with people that have injuries? Like I'm not tender?" Did I mention Matt is a hulking, bald-as-Mr.-Clean fellow with tattooed biceps the size of rolled-up sleeping bags? Or that when he's not huffing around the gym in his tank top and menacing facial hair, he's repossessing cars at night?  Matt seems about as tender as a 2x4 to the side of the head. "Here's the biggest tip you're going to hear on this show," says Ben, during a fade-to-commercial soliloquy. "Move your body. Now." Very well. Hey, while I'm up, might as well grab the remote. Other series/specials slotted for the channel's "Makeover Month" include: Living Fresh; Reconcilable Differences; You: The Owner's Manual; You: On a Diet; Ultimate Plastic Surgery: Before & After; XXX-Treme Weight Loss; Who Rules The Roost? (Go to for details.) And, finally, if you're suspicious of modern diet fads, don't miss Diet Confidential (CBC, 8 tonight), which explores the lucrative, marketing-driven world of the anti-fat gurus in search of the next big trend. By the end of the hour, you may even question a few of the resolutions you're struggling to keep this week.

Farewell To The Gypsy, A Queen West Pioneer

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Raju Mudhar

(Jan 6, 07) Goodbye,
Gypsy Co-op. The bar/restaurant/lounge/candy shop was for a long time an outpost of cool on a once barren stretch of Queen West. It was one of the first places to lure scenesters away from College St. and the Annex for a night out in a part of town better known for its Goth culture. And now that there's a yoga studio down the block and a Starbucks across the street, it's time to pack up and leave.  Sure, you could say time has passed the place by, and the real nightlife has moved farther down the road. But in its 11 years of existence, it left an indelible mark on this city's night scene. Gypsy was the antithesis of club land and when it opened up it was a breath of fresh air, often the place to be on the weekends.  Izzy Shqueir has long been a part of Gypsy, first as an employee and eventually as co-owner. He helped build up its former sister bar, Fez Batik, and was given a choice to buy one of them.  He chose Gypsy, he says, in the hope of carrying it further in the future. But as time has gone by, with the difficulties of the restaurant business, the liquor licence up for renewal in the coming months and the building in need of renovation to keep it competitive, Shqueir found he and his partners could no longer afford it. They made the tough decision to close the bar, instead.

It closed abruptly last week, three days before New Year's, bringing a sudden end to a place that once represented Queen West cool. Gypsy leaves behind long-time neighbour bars Squirly's and the Done Right Inn. It will be missed.  We let Shqueir have the final word on the Gyspy: "Everyone has a memory there. That's the thing. And given the circumstances, I don't think I lost much. I do wish I could go in and get a few more sentimental pieces, but if there's anything that the Gypsy represents to a lot of people, it's really memories. You can talk about how it led the way in terms of culture and style and attitude on Queen West, and it was a complete reflection of the neighbourhood, but I can't even tell you how many people were engaged there, or things like the `I am Canadian' commercials that were penned in the dining room, and artists who would sell out stadiums and prefer to hang out there and have a drink or even perform there. There are a lot of memories and magic that will be gone."

India Hicks On Island Life

Excerpt from - David Livingstone

Jan. 4, 2007)  India Hicks arrives at the media lunch at the Spoke Club full of praise and appreciation for the work put into introducing her Island Living collections of fragrant home and body products. The collaboration with Crabtree & Evelyn is coming to market in March. You hear her gratitude coming, and the sound of her good cheer is followed by the sight descending stairs into a room set up for pleasure: tanned legs glowing beneath pale fishnet hose inside high-heeled sandals in silver satin with ribbons; a curvy dress in a grey menswear check; blonde hair, great jaw line. There's little trace of the tomboy that Hicks, 39, likes to say she was back in 1981 when, at age 13, she had to put on a frilly dress and peach-coloured shoes as a bridesmaid at Diana Spencer's marriage to Prince Charles, her cousin and godfather.  But she still does not imagine herself as soft, insisting, "I'm not a girly-girl. I'm not this kind of feminine, pretty woman. I'm the kind of girl who's going to change the car tire when we break down."

There's really no need to worry then, about her fishnetted tootsies on a chilly day in Toronto.  "I've been to Gordonstoun," she says citing the school in Scotland (also attended by cyber babe Lara Croft and the Prince of Wales) the name of which is synonymous with austerity. It would take a certain toughness to bear the weight of Hicks's family history that at times must grow heavy.  There was the "imposing eye" of her father, designer David Hicks who "made purple and red work." His 1998 obituary in The New York Times described his interiors as "the acme of jet-set chic in the 1960s," and his clashing colours and geometric motifs have recently been an inspiration to several fashion designers, among them Miuccia Prada, Tom Ford, Tory Burch and Christopher Bailey. Like her father, who was buried in a sycamore coffin lined with one of his prints, Hicks's grandfather, Lord Mountbatten, war hero, the last viceroy of India and the first governor-general after its independence in 1947, was a man sufficiently self-absorbed to have planned his funeral in great detail, including the number of velvet cushions to hold his medals. From her mother Lady Pamela Hicks, Mountbatten's daughter, India gets that jaw line and backbone, too, judging from the way she admiringly describes her mother's intelligence, open mind, taste for privacy and preference for, instead of taxis, taking the bus on her senior citizen's pass. Together, India Hicks and her mother are working on a book about India to come out later this year in time for the 60th anniversary of that nation's independence.  Hicks already has a couple of books to her credit, Island Life: Inspirational Interiors and Island Beauty, about which, despite their dreamy titles, she holds no illusions, laughingly saying that you can read them in about a half an hour – and repeating a compliment from interior decorator Nicky Haslam who told her, "It's nice, India, you don't do challenging books."

By way of a last laugh, Hicks, who will be back in Toronto in February to talk at the Interior Design Show, points out that Island Life has gone through several reprints. The island in question is Harbour Island, an idyllic hideaway in the Bahamas where Hicks lives with her partner David Flint Wood. He had given up London, a reputation as a man about town and a career in advertising to manage a boutique hotel in the Caribbean. How they ended up together? Hicks calls that "a long and dirty story."  She's known him, a friend of her sister's, since she was a child. Later, there was an innocent romance consisting of a kiss in the moonlight. And that was it for more than a decade. Happening to turn up on Harbour Island, she ran into him. "I said, `Oh my God, David Flint Wood,' and four months later, I was pregnant. Thank God! Otherwise, I'd still be running around the world, modelling and being hopeless."  The mother of three, Hicks is still unwed, though she figures she's as married as most married couples she knows. "We live 24/7 on a rock in the middle of nowhere, and we have done so for 11 years."

A favourite of Ralph Lauren, Hicks modelled throughout her 20s.  But, while it may have given her skills in self-presentation that she still finds use for, it was hard on self-esteem. She calls modelling a mistake, while she regards everything since then as a natural progression: becoming a mother, investing in the hotel business, building a house, decorating homes, doing a book, doing a beauty book, getting involved with Crabtree & Evelyn, a beauty company.  "If I had a daughter, would I want her to model? Of course, I wouldn't," she says, without meaning to imply that such a path would be all right for any of her three sons.  "That goes without saying. Just the idea of their drying their hair with a hairdryer worries me."

Life Without A Computer

Source: Sky’s the Limit Youth Organization

(January 4, 2007)   How often do you check your email? When was the last time you Googled information? Or used your computer for research?
Sky’s the Limit Youth Organization (STL), is a non-profit organization that provides under-resourced students with access to the tools and resources they need to pursue the infinite opportunities available online. 

STL bridges the digital divide between the ‘haves’ - those with access to technology and the ‘have-nots’ - those without access. Computers are an integral part of students’ education and the repercussions of not having access to current technologies results in a lack of self-esteem. Students feel disconnected from society and the world around them.  It is important that students have equal opportunity in order to compete with their peers”, says Lara Tavares , Founder of STL.

With funds raised through online donations and through fundraising events, STL purchases refurbished computers from reBOOT Canada , (, and donates them to students enrolled in Regent Park’s Pathways to Education Program, ( STL supports Pathways in breaking the cycle of poverty by providing technology and by participating in a mentoring and tutoring program to get the student recipients up and running.

STL also funded the set up of computer labs for students throughout Toronto including the St. Lawrence Community Health Centre; 230 The Esplanade, and Burkes Bookstore; 873 St. Clair Avenue West, Canada ’s oldest Black bookstore.  Donations can be made by contacting Lara Tavares , Director of STL, at or by contacting the organization at 416.350.8888.

About Sky’s the Limit Youth Organization:

Sky's the Limit Youth Organization,, founded in 2004 by Lara Tavares, is dedicated to addressing the widening digital divide in Canada by providing students with access to the tools and resources they need to pursue the infinite opportunities and possibilities available to them online.

Unconventional Path To Success

Source:  MetroNews, By Rosa Soo Young Park

(Jan. 9, 07) It’s no secret that the easiest path is usually the one we know others will approve of.  But that’s far from the way
Dalal Al- Waheidi has chosen to live her life. “Having the confidence to pursue unconventional things is most important in being successful,” says Dalal, 27. Young, bright and accomplished is the chief operating director at Free The Children, a youth-driven organization helping children in over 45 countries get education. And she was one of the honourees at the recent Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 summit. At the event, she stood in front of 1,000 people and shared the story of her extraordinary life. Born in the Palestinian territories — where women are not allowed to have much voice, let alone extensive education — Dalal, at age 17, left her home to pursue higher education abroad. She was selected by ministries of education in Norway and the Palestinian territories to attend the Red Cross Nordic United World College, where students from more than 80 countries are chosen based on their leadership qualities. In Norway, she worked hard to fight the stereotypes people have of Palestinian youth as well as tackle her own misperceptions of her Israeli neighbours. She was also a founder of a group of Palestinian and Israeli youth cooperating to set a positive example. She later moved to Canada and attended Trent University where she earned a BA in international development and political science. “At times, being away from home is difficult but my family has always supported me,” Dalal says. She brightens up whenever she talks about her mother, whom she talks to over the phone at least every other day. Dalal first started working at Free The Children as the international projects director, overseeing development and humanitarian operations. She spent seven months in Ecuador working with street children as well as travelling around both the Middle East and Latin America.

Now as the chief operating director, Dalal manages more than 100 staff members. In the past three years that she’s been with Free the Children, the organization has grown 30 per cent. And as a woman who came from a region where women do not have the same opportunities as we do here in Canada, Dalal believes we are all capable of becoming anything we dream of. “We’re not here to conform to one dream. In a country like Canada, you can be the woman you want to be,” says Dalal.

Fans Go Depp For Pirates

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Associated Press

LOS ANGELES–The movie swashbuckler Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and its stars, Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley, led the parade of winners at the 33rd annual People's Choice Awards. Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Nickelback, Justin Timberlake, Eva Longoria and Patrick Dempsey were also fan picks last night. "If it wasn't for the people, I'd never win an award," Longoria said, laughing, as she accepted her award for Female Television Star. The movies Click and Cars were also winners. Depp, appearing by satellite from London, said he was humbled by the honour. He won for Favourite Male Movie Star and Favourite Male Action Star. "I know that I've said this before. But the fact this award comes from the people makes it all the more special," he said. "And thanks for keeping me employed, yeah? You're the boss." The CBS show from the Shrine Auditorium was hosted by Queen Latifah. Winners were picked by open Internet balloting.

The honourees included:

Female Star: Jennifer Aniston
Male Star, Male Action Star (2): Johnny Depp
Leading Lady: Cameron Diaz
Leading Man: Vince Vaughn
Female Action Star: Halle Berry
Onscreen Matchup: Johnny Depp & Keira Knightley
Movie, Movie Drama (2): Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Movie Comedy: Click
Family Movie: Cars

Female Singer: Carrie Underwood
Male Singer: Kenny Chesney
Group: Nickelback
R&B Song: "SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake
Hip-hop Song: "Shake That" by Eminem
Pop Song: "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira
Country Song: "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood
Rock Song: "Who Says You Can't Go Home" by Bon Jovi
Song from a movie, Remake (2): "Life is a Highway" by Rascal Flatts from Cars

Comedy: Two and a Half Men
Animated Comedy: The Simpsons
Drama: Grey's Anatomy
Competition/Reality Show: American Idol
New Comedy: The Class
New Drama: Heroes
Female Star: Eva Longoria
Male Star: Patrick Dempsey
Talk Show Host: Ellen DeGeneres

Writer Hits Big In U.K.

Excerpt from
The Toronto Star - Judy Stoffman

(Jan. 9, 07) Richard & Judy's Book Club, Britain's answer to Oprah, has a sterling record for creating bestsellers and
Lori Lansens is set to become the first Canadian novelist to obtain their blessing.  Yesterday Lansens' Toronto agent, Denise Bukowski, announced that the show's producers have picked eight titles for the spring season, including Lansens' second novel, The Girls, about twin sisters joined at the head. This week, a film crew from London will follow Lansens around her hometown of Chatham for a segment of the program, to be aired Feb. 7. Lansens recently moved to Los Angeles, where her husband, Milan Cheylov, is directing episodes of the Emmy-Award-winning show 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland. She is returning home especially for the shoot.  Lansens was better known as an actor in Toronto when she published her first novel, Rush Home Road, in 2001, about the descendants of runaway slaves in southern Ontario. In the U.K. her publisher is Canadian-born Lennie Goodings, who heads Virago Press. The Girls came out in 2005 in Canada but did not appear till 2006 in Britain, to good reviews but moderate sales. The book is now being rushed into paperback, according to Bukowski.  Richard (Madeley) and Judy (Finnigan) are a down-to-earth married couple who have hosted the book club show since 2004, inviting celebrity guests such as Nigella Lawson and Bob Geldof to take part in the discussions. When Richard and Judy (known throughout the U.K. only by their first names) featured Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul, it went on to sell 500,000 copies.  According to The Guardian newspaper, 21 of the top 100 bestselling books in the U.K. are by authors who have been selected by Richard and Judy. The show is broadcast live on Britain's Channel 4; it cannot be seen in Canada.  Other current books chosen by Richard and Judy include William Boyd's Restless and Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.


Image Award Nominations Announced

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – The musical Dreamgirls and the TV comedy Everybody Hates Chris each collected a leading eight NAACP Image Award nominations Tuesday. Dreamgirls star Beyonce Knowles led the individual nominees with five nods. The awards honour "projects and individuals that promote diversity in the arts.'' Dreamgirls was nominated for best picture and soundtrack, and six members of its ensemble cast – Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose and Knowles – earned acting nods. Other best-picture nominees were Akeelah and the Bee, Blood Diamond, Catch a Fire and The Pursuit of Happyness. The stars of Akeelah and the Bee – Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett – also earned acting nods, as did Djimon Honsou of Blood Diamond and Pursuit of Happyness stars Thandie Newton, Will Smith and his son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith. Other big-screen acting nominees were Forest Whitaker (``The Last King of Scotland''), Denzel Washington (``Inside Man''), Harry Belafonte (``Bobby'') and Kerry Washington (``The Last King of Scotland''). Besides its best-comedy nomination, Everybody Hates Chris earned two directing and five acting nods. Other best-comedy nominees were All of Us, The Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends and Ugly Betty. Best-drama nods went to 24, Grey's Anatomy, Heroes, The Unit and The Wire. Best-album nominees included B'Day by Knowles, Corinne Bailey Rae's self-titled debut, John Legend's Once Again, Mary J. Blige's Reflections: A Retrospective and the Dreamgirls Soundtrack. Knowles, Blige and Rae were also nominated for best female artist, as was Fantasia and India.Arie. Competing for best male artist are Legend, Chris Brown, Jay-Z, Lionel Richie and Prince. The 38th NAACP Image Awards ceremony will be held March 2 in Los Angeles and broadcast live on Fox.



Canadian Captures Freestyle Bronze

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Jan 6, 07) STE-ADELE, Que. – Moguls skier
Alexandre Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., overcame a ninth-place qualification round to capture a bronze medal in a freestyle skiing World Cup event Saturday. Dale Begg-Smith, who grew up in British Columbia but competes for Australia, took gold with a score of 25.74. France's Guilbaut Colas took silver with a 25.59 score. Begg-Smith, a gold medallist at the 2006 Olympics, said he hasn't had trouble finding motivation after winning at Turin. "There's a strong field, so I have enough motivation to ski well," Begg-Smith said. Bilodeau, 19, performed a double-twisting back flip and a complicated off-axis manoeuvre en route to a score of 25.55. "It was pretty good, except that I landed my jumps a little deep," Bilodeau said. "I'm pretty happy just to start the season with a podium." Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Que., finished 10th while Vincent Marquis of Quebec City was fifth in the qualification round before finishing 11th.

Jenn Heil of Spruce Grove, Alta., who last season collected medals in 10 of 11 World Cup starts, had her ski caught in the snow after her first jump and crashed en route to an 11th-place finish. Shannon Bahrke of the U.S., had the sixth World Cup victory of her career. "I'm from California and I'm used to this," said Bahrke of the foggy, warm and mushy snow conditions. "I skied the course the way I wanted to." Sara Kjellin of Sweden was second in 24.59, while Margarita Marbler of Austria took third in 24.46. Bahrke said this was one of her sweetest victories because she has come back from her a few injuries, including a broken jaw two years ago and more recent reconstructive knee surgery. Stephanie St. Pierre of Sainte-Foy, Que., was the top Canadian, in seventh place. After two earlier-season cancellations and seeing this event might be cancelled because of minimal snow, St. Pierre said she was still prepared to ski. "I was ready to compete a month ago, so I was even more ready to compete today," St. Pierre said. "I was just happy we were going to have snow." Audrey Robichaud of Quebec City placed ninth, Maxime Gingras of St-Hippolyte, Que., was eighth and World Cup newcomer Marie-Josee Lessard of Louiseville, Que., was 12th. The World Cup season resumes with aerials Sunday.

New Orleans Coach Wins Top Honour

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Jan 6, 07)
Sean Payton might have had the toughest coaching job in football this season, making his selection Saturday as The Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year that much more impressive. Payton, in his first year as a head coach, didn't just lead the New Orleans Saints to a 10-6 record, the NFC South championship and a first-round playoff bye. He helped revitalize a battered city's spirit. With New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005, the Saints became nomads that year, winding up 3-13 under Jim Haslett. Payton, an assistant coach in Dallas, was hired to revive one of the NFL's historically unsuccessful franchises. Payton and his team gave the city – indeed, the entire Gulf Coast – something it desperately needed: a reason to smile. And hopes for the Saints' first Super Bowl appearance. "It's just been the right mix of guys who believe in each other," said Payton, who ran away in the balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. ``Players putting the team ahead of everything else. I think that's the biggest thing that we've been able to do to date. That's what's most important. That's what we were looking for in the offseason: character, toughness, those are things you win with.''

Payton received 44 votes in a season when there were a half-dozen outstanding coaching performances. Eric Mangini of the New York Jets, another first-year head coach, got three votes, while San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer, the 2004 winner, received two. Jeff Fisher of Tennessee got one. "I'm honoured and somewhat humbled. This is a time in our league right now where there are probably seven or eight Hall of Fame coaches currently coaching in our league," Payton said Saturday after learning of the award. "I still have tags hanging out of my Reebok gear on the sidelines.'' Payton became the third Saints coach to win the award, joining Haslett (2000) and Jim Mora (1987). Last year's winner was Chicago's Lovie Smith. No coach ever was faced with rebuilding a roster while his community was recovering from such devastation. Football might seem trivial under such circumstances, but Payton and his players understood how uplifting their success could be to those struggling to put together their lives again. "You have to trust your gut a lot and follow your heart,'' Payton said. "There certainly were going to be some challenges coming into this region at this time. But I think the city is very committed to this team and it's really an amazing fan base we have, not just in New Orleans, but in this whole Gulf South area. And I'm excited we can provide a little juice for these people during the course of the week, get them excited about football.'' Payton began with a tough training camp of two-a-day practices in the heat of Jackson, Miss. Many players called it one of the most demanding camps. "He wanted to put his foot on the ground and establish that this was a new beginning," veteran wide receiver Joe Horn said. ``In our profession, football, you don't start a new beginning by coming in and making it easy. It has to be hard. "Fortunately for us we won football games. It worked out well.''

So well that the Saints had their best regular season since 2000 thanks to a potent offence and strong special teams and a defence that improved markedly over last season. Give Payton credit for those units, too. He signed free agent quarterback Drew Brees even though Breed was coming off delicate surgery on his throwing shoulder. Brees responded with a Pro Bowl season. Payton lucked out when Reggie Bush was bypassed at the top of the draft by Houston, and Bush was a dynamic rookie as a runner, receiver and punt returner. Even more dynamic was seventh-round pick Marques Colston, a receiver from Hofstra who had a questionable work ethic and concentration lapses in college. Under Payton's guidance, Colston became an elite rookie. Payton wisely alternated running back Deuce McAllister, coming off a serious knee injury, with Bush, and McAllister finished with 1,057 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. "We have a great head coach in Sean Payton, and his system,'' `` Brees said. "I think we all believe in it, and I think it suits us all very well. I think we take a lot of pride in it.''

T.O. Native Leaves Message For Argos

Excerpt from
The Toronto Star - Rick Matsumoto

(Jan. 9, 07)  
Nautyn McKay-Loescher wants to come home.  The Argonauts would, of course, be interested in accommodating the 6-foot-2, 260-pounder, who grew up in the Greenwood-Gerrard neighbourhood of Toronto. With the recent release of veteran Eric England, a defensive end job is open. Third-year Canadian Riall Johnson is tabbed for the spot, but McKay-Loescher could provide strong competition at training camp and at worst would be a solid backup.  The Argos, however can't express any interest in the 26-year-old McKay-Loescher. At least, not until Feb. 15 when he becomes a free agent. In the meantime, he remains the property of the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions.

Any mention of interest in a player – or for that matter any personnel – under contract to another team could lead to tampering charges under CFL bylaws. However, there's nothing preventing McKay-Loescher, who handles his own contract negotiations, from letting the Argos know he'd like to be wearing double blue beginning with the 2007 season. And he did just that in a recent phone interview with the Star from Vancouver where he lives with his wife and two children. "I want to come back east," said McKay-Loescher, whose first name means "calm water" in Cree.  "The main reason is my (7-year-old) son, Markcus, who was born while I was still at Central Tech. He lives with his mother. "My first choice is Toronto, but I'd also play for Hamilton or Montreal. I'd live in Toronto, but Hamilton's just down the road and Montreal's an hour commute (by air); not five hours like Vancouver."  McKay-Loescher said he's wanted to play for the Argos ever since Mike Clemons, who was then the team's star running back, visited Leslie St. Public School where he was an 11-year-old pupil in 1991.

From Leslie St. he went on to Central Tech, where he became a city all-star and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama. After four seasons with the Crimson Tide he was drafted in the second round of the 2004 CFL draft by the Lions. While he went undrafted in the NFL auction, his play at Alabama attracted enough attention that he was signed to a contract with the Indianapolis Colts. He made it through the Colts' mini-camp, but was among the final cuts at main camp and eventually signed with the Lions. Coincidentally, his first CFL game was the 2004 Grey Cup game in Ottawa when the Argos defeated the Lions 27-19. McKay-Loescher did, however, earn a Grey Cup ring with the Lions victory over the Montreal Alouettes in November. Now he wants to add a second ring with the Argos.


7 Shape-Up Secrets for 2007

By Joyce Vedral

1. Don't think of working out as an option.

The first and most important obstacle to conquer -- if you want to get and stay in shape -- is to stop negotiating the issue of exercise. Devoting a small portion of each day to fitness is not a luxury, but a must -- the same way you brush your teeth or take a shower! No negotiations and I mean that. Really absorb this truth!

If you don't bathe or brush your teeth, people will avoid you! If you don't work out, you'll avoid your "self." What do I mean? You won't love yourself, feel good about yourself, and have confidence in yourself. And worse, your health will suffer! Make an appointment with yourself every day to devote a short block of time to exercise. And it can be only 16 to 18 minutes a day of weight training! More about this later.

2. Work out at home!

Joining a fitness club is the easy part -- getting there is the killer. But even worse than having laid down your money is refusing to "cut your losses" and simply work out at home. People give up and do nothing because every time they remember they paid money and didn't go, they punish themselves further and do nothing. Don't fall into this trap! Cut your losses and work out at home!

In a Stanford University study of 350 men and women ranging in age from 50 to 65, participants were randomly assigned to work out either at home or in a fitness center. After two years, it was discovered that those who worked out at home actually did work out, while a significant number of the "gym-goers" dropped out. So work out at home and save time and money. And guess what? You will be more likely to actually do it!

3. Be patient. You weren't in a hurry getting out of shape.

What happens if you've started a workout program, and it's already two weeks, but you're not seeing a thing! If you are working out with weights, in time, muscles will be created and those muscles will tighten tone and define your body. The muscles will also raise your metabolism. Some body parts take longer than others, but keep going. It didn't take two days to get you out of shape, so give it time.

Were you in a rush when you were neglecting your body? Did you say, "Why didn't I gain more weight this week? Why didn't my thighs get flabbier this week?"

No. You blissfully enjoyed your life. You had all the time in the world. But now that you're working out, you're watching every second to see results. Calm down. Relax. Give it time.

4. Have a plan B.

If you have a plan B, nothing can stop you. Say your alarm clock doesn't go off and you will be late for work so you can't do your morning workout. No problem, if you have a plan B.

Your plan B, which you thought out ahead of time, may be to hit the weights the moment you walk in the door after work. Figure out what works for you. Nothing can stop you if you are bound and determined to do it, if you believe in your heart of hearts that this is something that will greatly benefit you.

5. Don't let your mood rule you!

Turn off your brain and just start the workout. Once you get started, three minutes into the workout, your energy level and mood will pick up. A few minutes later, you'll forget yourself and go through your workout. By the time you've finished, you'll be looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.

When you exercise, the endorphins kick in. We used to think it was just from aerobic activities that you got this high, but we now know that weight-training can be as effective as anti-depressants.

6. Don't be so hard on yourself.

Say you missed a workout. Instead of attacking yourself and calling yourself lazy and hopeless, tell yourself, "I'm only human. I give myself credit for trying. One mistake does not mean I'm finished." Then start again! And when you do your workout the next day, congratulate yourself! And the next time you're tempted to skip a workout, remember how great you feel and how proud of yourself you are afterward. Do this day after day and, hey, your body will be in shape.

7. Do a shorter workout.

If you commit to doing a shorter workout that works, you'll actually do it and see some changes. On the other hand, if you're determined to punish yourself and commit to working out for hours a day, you won't do it and see no results. Better to do something every day than beat yourself up for not working out.

You can tone your whole body in 16 to 18 minutes a day working out with weights the right way. The secret is to cut your resting times, and you burn more fat that way, too. I can show you how. My workouts are very short because I'm very lazy. But look at the shape I'm in at 63. None of my photos are touched up. If I can do it, you can do it, too.

Ageless Joyce Vedral, a grandmother with the bone density and shape of a woman half her age, has penned the No.1 New York Times best-seller Bottoms Up!, as well as Gut Busters, The Fat-Burning Workout, Definition, Weight Training Made Easy and Bone-Building Body-Shaping Workout. Joyce has been a frequent guest on Oprah, Montel Williams and the Today show. For more information, or to order her workouts or books, visit

For a short workout combination that works, visit Joyce at her Web site at and get a copy of her 2007 Quick Workout Power Combo Package deal.



Motivational Note - 10 Steps to Healthy Self-esteem

Excerpt from -
- by Jewel Diamond Taylor

(January 8, 2007) Daily dosages of positive words and thoughts can empower you. The following are "stress antibiotics" which can heal the dis-ease of low self-esteem.

#10 - As you consistently keep promises you make to yourself to be resourceful in taking care of your needs and following your dreams - your confidence will increase. As you learn to responsibly take care of yourself without blame, shame or procrastination - your confidence and self-esteem will be boosted.

#9 - If you are not happy with your body image, education or income --- love and lift yourself up and in the meantime, commit to taking steps to improve those areas in your life where you are discontent.

#8 - Get involved in work and activities you love. It's hard to feel good about yourself if your days are spent in work you despise. Self-esteem flourishes when you are engaged in a purpose and activities that you enjoy and make you feel valuable. Even if you can't explore alternative career options at the present time, you can still devote leisure time to hobbies and activities, which you find stimulating and enjoyable.

#7 - Make a list of your positive qualities. Are you honest - loyal - unselfish - helpful - punctual - talented - athletic - a people person - intuitive - reliable - a good parent? Be generous with yourself and write down at least 20 positive qualities. Again, it's important to review this list often. Most people dwell on their inadequacies and then wonder why their life isn't working out. Start focusing on your positive traits and you'll stand a much better chance of achieving what you wish to achieve.

#6 - Make a list of your past successes. It can include your "minor or major victories," like learning to salsa, graduating from school, receiving an award or promotion, speaking up when someone disrespects or abuses you, making a sale, following through on a project or idea, going on that audition, losing 10 lbs, finishing a book, getting to work on time, etc.

Numbers 5 through 1 are forthcoming.

Read this list often. While reviewing it, close your eyes and recreate the feelings of satisfaction and joy you experienced when you first attained each success.