Unity Festival Review29 July 2015 / by Jonathan Rodil (author)
A celebration of hip-hop and community, UNITY festival takes place annually in July and features a diverse set of artists and performers, spanning Toronto and beyond. Events that take place over the four day festival include beatboxing, dance, MC & Spoken Word and a day long concert which takes place for free at Yonge and Dundas Square.
Spoken Word & MC Event
It was an evening where positive vibes grasped all those in attendance at 918 Bathurst. The communal feeling was present and alive where people gathered in eager anticipation to witness the UNITY Spoken Word and MC festivities which featured local talent and headliners, John River and D’bi Young.
All performers were distinct in their narrative and style, yet all were tied together by the positive energy and message that graced the evening. They were open in sharing their personal experiences and stories. It was about acceptance and inclusivity. It was evident that people could relate based on their engagement and response to the performers.
Whether it was spoken word or MCing, themes included hope, peace, and equality, along with many others that spoke to the human condition. Ghettochildsz Kiontay’s coming of age storytelling was of a woman who persevered despite the odds that were placed against her and emphasized breaking through one’s own limitations. Lex Leosis spoke candidly on the subject of role models with a personal narrative attached. On the themes of change and justice, Jenicka Watson delivered a profound message, where she strongly insisted to not settle on the status quo. Headliner D’bi Young had a dynamic showing in her performance touching on love and acceptance. She moved through the audience near the end of her performance, where she delivered her message more intimately by speaking directly to the people and this made a resounding connection. Youthful zest was captured by John Rivers who engaged the audience, getting them off their seats, moving ecstatically side to side. Throughout, he passionately embraced the notion of hope and value of life in his delivery.
The evening was a success, the venue was packed and it was an amazing opportunity to witness the power of words. For the performers and all those involved and present, this was a moment to cherish and celebrate the deep, resonating value of community.
Yonge & Dundas Square Main Event
On Saturday, the UNITY festival held its day long festivities and main event at Yonge Dundas Square. The stage at Yonge Dundas held acts of all kinds in the celebration of hip-hop and community. Breakdancing, beatboxing, MCing, all elements of hip-hop were in full effect. People from all areas of Toronto came down to catch the local talent and managed to bear the heat during the day, even getting through some slight rain which didn’t stop any of the proceedings.
All performers displayed the wide range of talent that youth in Toronto and Canada have to offer. It was a sight to see as it was mentioned by the presenters, that they have been working hard and committing themselves to improving their craft, using hip-hop as an effective means of positive expression. As for the headliners, Juno nominated hip hop artist, Ghettosocks, who DJ’ed a bit that day, had a chance to get out on stage and perform his brand of soul-infused hip-hop which moved the crowd. Toronto’s own Rich Kidd came through beginning his set in the crowd showing love to the people and gave them a dynamic and engaging performance.
Live backing appeared to be a theme that day for headliners, The Airplane Boys and GZA. The live bands added another dimension to the music and heightened the senses of those in attendance. Their performances matched the energy of their bands and fed off the response of the crowd, delivering their raps in fervor.
In all, the effect and impact of the UNITY festival is invaluable for its ability to bring people together through the arts and hip hop, and provide a platform for local artists. Bringing an audience for those artists and having their voices heard is essential because it builds and shares talented, unique voices, and highlights the value of diversity and inclusivity. And whichever form of expression, one commits themselves to in the arts, it’s about the power that it holds in bringing forth a positive light.