Blockorama’s Nik Red talks 20 years at Pride, “Black Is Magic,” and SWV
For two decades, Blockorama has been an unstoppable force of queer liberation at Pride in Toronto. “Blocko,” as it’s been nicknamed, is curated by Blackness YES!, a community-based committee, and is officially known as the longest-running stage at Pride Toronto; 2018 marks their 20th anniversary. This year’s theme is “Black Is Magic,” so it’s no wonder why – among local queer PoC entertainers -that Blackness YES! announced legendary 90’s R&B singing group SWV as this year’s headlining act.
SWV aka Sisters With Voices (Coko, Tamara Johnson George, and Leeanne “LeeLee” Lyons) are one of the most successful female groups of the 90’s, and on Friday, June 22, at the Budweiser Wellesley Stage, they are headlining the longest running Pride stage in Toronto. It’s a match made in 90’s nirvana: Black/Queer Canadian herstory in the making!
Along with iconic headliners, it’s the local talents that have truly helped catapult Blocko to new heights and sites over the years. Every Pride, local DJ’s and performers like Michelle Ross, DJ Blackcat, DJ Craig Dominic, Devine Darlin’, Ill Na Na, House of Monroe, and Nik Red (to name a few) have kept the entertainment value of this seasoned soiree unparalleled.
Nik Red specifically was born in Montreal, Canada (and grew up in both Barbados and Canada). Nik s an artist whose outlets include DJ’ing and writing: he spins from the heart to heal the soul and to entertain the mind. Influenced by griots, songwriters, poets and the occasional novelist, Nik will take you on a trip from bars to beaches, gender outlaws and mind controllers that inhabit our multitude of communities.
I caught up with Nik Red to ask him a few questions about the upcoming 20th anniversary of Blockorama:
Congratulations on 20 years of Blocko! What are some of your fondest memories?
Nik Red: It’s those moments that you wouldn’t be able to recreate that stick in my mind. Spinning during a downpour in 2015 and seeing the crowd just continue to dance in the rain until the sun eventually started to come out with rainbows et al… It was magical! I love how the crowd responded to Destra, too. It meant a lot for those of us with Caribbean roots to have one of our own as the headliner. The first time House of Monroe took the stage was also electric. Ill Na Na’s earlier performances also lit up the stages! The Drag Legend, Michelle Ross did a tribute to Drag performer Duchess and was so powerful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place!
You also DJ at the event; what are some of your favourite musical sets to play?
Nik Red: I love to play a classic house set because I am still a club kid at heart. Or a mix of afrobeat, soca and house because it’s all connected.
SWV is a big headliner, what does it mean for Blockorana, Blackness YES and Pride Toronto in general for a legendary female R&B group to take the Blockorana stage at the 20th anniversary?
Nik Red: For so many reasons it is significant. Being recognized as a viable stage at Pride as well as by an audience that is black, queer and trans (and their allies), it affirms our presence in the larger LGBTQIA community. It also takes us back to the 1990’s, to the roots of Blocko, too. We also appreciate the homegrown talent that nourishes our communities all year round.
Blockorama & Blackness YES have been vocal about unjust or unfair treatment regarding funding and locations at Pride in the past. What kind of progress have you seen, if any?
Nik Red: The founding members of Blackness Yes! had to work really hard to convince Pride Toronto to let them have a space for Blocko, a third of the Wellesley Parking Lot. After 20 years, people at Pride Toronto actually know we exist now. The first Blocko you were hit by a variety of Afro-diaspora beats from house to hip hop, dancehall/soca and afrobeat. This was the first time that these genres were presented together on one stage at Pride. Blackness Yes! broke down a lot of barriers at Pride and began sowing the seeds for other community-led initiatives like the Trans March and Yes, Yes, Y’all to be part of Pride. Blockorama was and continues to be living, breathing proof that we need community-led spaces to express and celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQ communities in Toronto.
How would you like to see change moving into the next 20 years of Blockorama?
Nik Red: I could see us expanding easily to two days of programming and also creating a Toronto Black Pride Weekend coinciding with Caribana.
Blackness YES also produces the popular Blockobana party during the Toronto Caribbean Carnival aka Caribana, what can we expect from the event this year?
Nik Red: Last years moved to Regent Park was so successful that we are back there again this year at For Blockobana, August 5th as part of Black Pride Weekend Aug 3-5 which is our Black Queer and trans community response to Caribana.
Join DJs Blackcat, Tamika, Pleasure, Nik Red and Craig Dominic along with other performers and internationally acclaimed headliners SWV on Pride Sunday at the Budlight Wellesley stage for a birthday celebration for the ages, featuring music, art, fashion and a community marketplace with vendors and food.
Celebrate 20 years of Blockorama: Black is Magic!
Sunday, June 24 from 12:30 -11:00 pm at the Wellesley Stage, where it all began!
Facebook Event: Blockorama 20: Black Is Magic at Bud Light Stage
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.