RHYTHMS AND RESISTANCE: Celebrating Toronto's Powerful Caribbean Music Legacy

Black History Month 2022 in Toronto

Enterprise Canada

Release Date

Wednesday, February 9, 2022


It may have a cold climate, but Toronto has long been a hotbed of Caribbean music, a global legacy now being showcased in Rhythms and Resistance at the Friar’s Museum. It is the first ever exhibition of its kind, celebrating a wide range of Caribbean sounds in Toronto, the many artists who produced them and the cultural soundtrack they created.

Rhythms and Resistance is being presented by the Downtown Yonge BIA and the Friar’s Museum (the permanent display in the Shoppers Drug Mart south of Yonge-Dundas Square, a legendary building that housed the Hard Rock Cafe and famed nightclubs The Friar’s and The Nickelodeon), in partnership with the newly founded Toronto Music Museum, a not-for-profit organization formed by the Downtown Yonge BIA to preserve and exhibit Toronto’s rich, diverse music history.

“Caribbean music has been vital to Toronto’s cultural development over the course of a century,” says Downtown Yonge Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director Mark Garner. “The exhibition’s name reflects the history of Caribbean music in this city as one of resistance to injustice.”

Among the Rhythms and Resistance exhibition’s many rare and wide-ranging artefacts are hundreds of photographs, posters, handbills, recordings, videos, instruments, costumes, clothing and assorted ephemera related to calypso, reggae, soul, funk and hip-hop musicians in Toronto, dating back to the first arrival of Caribbean immigrants in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Artists featured in this exhibition include Bob Marley, Lillian Allen, Jackie Mittoo, Louise Bennett, the Mighty Sparrow, JoJo Bennett, Leroy Sibbles, Michie Mee and many more.

Highlights include:

  • The illuminated sign for the Record Nook, the music store at 1400 Bathurst Street run by reggae

legends Jackie Mittoo and Lord Tanamo.

  • The flugelhorn of the late JoJo Bennett, the beloved bandleader of award-winning reggae band the Sattalites.
  • The original hand-painted sign advertising the first Caribana, which began in 1967 and grew to

become one of the largest annual Caribbean carnivals in the world.

  • The orange silk shirt worn by Bahamian-born Eric Minns when he performed in the group the

Debonairs. The vintage garment, complete with embroidered conga drums, is reflective of the

costuming worn by Toronto calypsonians.

  • A rare recording by JoJo & the Fugitives, one of the scarcest 7-inch 45 r.p.m. discs in Canadian music. The recording of “Chips-Chicken-Banana Split” was featured on the acclaimed compilation Jamaica to Toronto: Soul, Funk & Reggae 1967-1974.
  • “Bob Marley in Toronto.” Along with rare photographs of the international superstar performing and playing soccer in a Toronto park, the exhibition features an authentic Bob Marley autograph, concert tickets and a vintage “Natty Dread” t-shirt, similar to the one he wore onstage at Massey Hall.
  • A display featuring Michie Mee, Maestro and Dream Warriors. With their Caribbean-influenced sound, these artists were the hip hop pioneers who first put Toronto on the map and paved the way for global superstars like Drake and The Weeknd.
  • Rarely seen photographs. The exhibition features images by such prominent photographers as Boris Spremo, Joan Latchford, Rick McInnis and Isobel Harry. The latter’s portrait of Bob Marley at Massey Hall serves as the exhibition’s limited edition poster.

Rhythms and Resistance is curated by music historians Klive Walker and Nicholas Jennings, who have created a unique experience showcasing both the music and culture.

“The artists recording and performing this music are primarily a combination of Caribbean people who became Canadians through immigration,” Walker notes, “and others with Caribbean heritage who either grew up here in Toronto or were born here.”

“By the 1980s, the city was known as the second-biggest source of reggae on the planet, second only to Kingston, Jamaica,” Jennings adds. “This collection of artefacts is an invitation to immerse yourself into the memories of diverse rhythms, melodies and lyrics – all underpinned by a burning demand for equality.”

About the Curators

Klive Walker is an author, cultural critic and music historian specializing in reggae culture, its origins in Jamaica and its adventures in Canada, the United States and the UK. His book, Dubwise: Reasoning from the Reggae Underground, was published in 2005. He has written for CBC Music and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Review.

Nicholas Jennings is one of Canada’s leading music journalists, a music historian, curator, cultural heritage preservationist and author of several bestselling books. His passion for Caribbean music found an outlet in the Toronto Star and eye weekly newspapers, where he often wrote about reggae artists. He also deejayed at Ontario Place and Toronto’s beloved Bamboo club, spinning tropical sounds including dancehall, dub, ska and soca.

About the Toronto Music Museum and Friar’s Museum

The Toronto Music Museum (TMM) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the stewardship, preservation and celebration of Toronto’s music legacy. Currently in development in conjunction with the Downtown Yonge BIA, TMM will collect and protect artefacts, instruments, recordings, documents and other materials related to the artists, venues and events that shaped Toronto’s deep, diverse music history. The Friar’s Museum is the first of TMM’s satellite museums in historically relevant areas of

Toronto and is accessible to the public.

About Downtown Yonge

The Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (DYBIA) is a catalyst for creating vibrant urban

experiences and events in the heart of downtown Toronto. Representing more than 2,000 businesses and their employees, as well as the broader community of residents, students and visitors, the DYBIA champions attractive public spaces, popular events, safety and cleanliness. It plays an active role both at street level and in boardrooms, advocating for a thriving and diverse community of retailers, restaurants and services.

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