1. the music
Harbourfront was founded in 1972 with a mandate to revitalize a waterfront littered with derelict industrial buildings. Unfortunately, it remains one of the area's few success stories - an island of creativity and vitality in a sea of privatization. As we once again rethink the future of Toronto's lakefront, Harbourfront stands out as an example of what we need more of to counteract the wall of condos that developers have thrown up over the past 30 years.
Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities on earth (arguably the most diverse in the world), and Harbourfront has worked closely with the many communities that make up this city to ensure that programming reflects this. This year is no exception, and has already featured an incredibly strong lineup of summer concerts, including perhaps the best edition yet of the annual dance music festival Beats Breaks & Culture, a historic performance by dub reggae innovator Lee "Scratch" Perry and a sizzling appearance by Senegalese icons Orchestra Baobab. Though Harbourfront could have charged top dollar, these shows didn't cost a cent. (The following shows are also free unless noted.)
The summer is far from over, of course, and many heavyweight musical talents are scheduled for the coming weeks. The week following Mulatu Astatke's appearance as part of What Is Classical? (see cover story, this page), the Island Soul festival coincides conveniently with Caribana. Among performers is Calypso Rose (August 1, Sirius Stage), often referred to as the Queen of Calypso for her 1966 anthem Fire In Me Wire.
On the reggae side, Black Uhuru vocalist and songwriter Michael Rose (August 2, Sirius Stage) has a strong solo career, and heavyweights the Abyssinians (August 3, Sirius Stage) have numerous hits, including the instantly recognizable Satta Massagana.
The South Asia Calling festival gathers both traditional and contemporary music from the Subcontinent, focusing on virtuoso players. Sitar and surbahar master Irshad Khan (August 10, Sirius Stage), one of the leading lights of Indian classical music, wraps up the festival.
While the Hot & Spicy Food Festival is aimed at your belly and taste buds, it's also a good excuse to showcase some fiery musicians from around the world. You'll hear Afrobeat, jazz, funk, salsa and bossa nova. Fans of Latin soul music should catch New York's Raul Midon (August 16, Sirius Stage), a blind singer/songwriter who's vibrant solo career easily eclipses the session work he's done backing pop stars like Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.
Wrapping up the summer season is the Ashkenaz Festival, a biennial celebration of global Jewish and Yiddish culture. This year sees a rich program of artists pushing beyond the klezmer tradition into unusual fusions and combinations of sounds. Don't miss Brooklyn-based clarinet and mandolin renegade Andy Statman (September 1, Enwave Theatre, $25), whose unique style combines traditional Jewish sounds, bluegrass, avant-garde jazz and American roots music into something that is at once familiar and completely exotic.
2. the setting
We know that just about everything about our waterfront is laughable. But think of Harbourfront Centre and you see that it's possible to bring something brilliant to the water's edge.
For over 35 years, Harbourfront's been treating Toronto to music from around the world (almost all of it free), cultural festivals, visual art, stage and dance fests, a gorgeous music garden, not to mention the Festival of Authors, one the most prestigious literary events on the planet.
But it's the setting that makes Harbourfront unique. Hop off the streetcar at the complex on Queens Quay between Spadina and Bay and suddenly the air is fresh and the vibe electric. The crowds, always wildly diverse, make Harbourfront one of those rare spots that reflect the real Toronto.
And as the music plays or while you're stuffing your face with hot and spicy food, look up and see the sailboats sway.
Summer isn't summer without a visit to T.O.'s lakeside haven.
3. the food
Chill than by the lake, where Harbourfront Centre's World Routes festivals offer a multiculti mix of summer-lovin' beats and spice-tastic eats.
Next weekend's Island Soul salutes the Caribbean with a number of food demos including a roti workshop (August 3, 5:30 pm, Lakeside Terrace). At the same time, the winner of an online vote for the best roti in town will be announced. Vote for your favourite roti resto at harbourfrontcentre.com.
The following weekend the focus shifts to the Subcontinent with South Asia Calling. Chef Sanjiv Malhotra of trendy Queen West's Indus Junction shows how to put a contemporary spin on old-school curries (August 9, 3 pm, Brigantine Room), while over in the World Café, familiar names like King's Café, Makkah and Udupi Palace turn up the heat.
Things get even more explosive a week later when the annual Hot & Spicy Food Festival kicks off with a weekend-long tasting series called 10 Tastes To Try Before You Die - among them Chakra's Spicy Chicken Popsicles (Aug 16, 1 pm, Lakeside Terrace). As well, there will be cooking demos from several half-naked Toronto firefighters-slash-beefcake-calendar models (August 16, 2:30, 5:30 and 7 pm, Brigantine Tent). World Café vendors include Viv's and Thai Bangkok.
Finally, the following weekend's TAIWANfest: World In An Island (August 22 to 24) celebrates the top 10 tastes in Taiwan - if you've ever hankered for an oyster omelette or a sausage-rice hot dog, you're in luck - but the longest lineups will inevitably be for Wei's Taiwanese's stinky tofu in the World Café tent.
For more information on World Routes festivals, go to harbourfrontcentre.com.
4. the movies
Oh, sure, everybody knows about the concerts and the waterfront fun and the outstanding dim sum served daily at Queens Quay Terminal's Pearl. But how many of us go to Harbourfront for the movies?
It's not as well known as it should be, but Harbourfront offers some excellent screening opportunities, supporting its festivals with impressive cinematic presentations at the Studio Theatre. And most of them are free.
Island Soul, running from August 1 to 4, includes a selection of documentaries exploring reggae, soca and soul music. South Asia Calling (August 8 to 10) is accompanied by a selection of docs and dramas. Look for In The Name Of God, Shoaib Mansoor's timely feature about post-9/11 tensions between the Western world and Muslims, and within Islam's own factions.
TAIWANfest (August 22 to 24) offers five documentaries about Taiwanese life and culture, and the Ashkenaz Festival (August 28 to September 1) screens a selection of shorts and documentaries, including Simone de Vries's Kinky Friedman: Proud To Be An Asshole From El Paso.
Even the Hot & Spicy Food Festival (August 15 to 17) comes with "sizzling shorts on the boardwalk," with outdoor screenings of select one-reelers, including Isabella Rossellini's Oh La La. And the Slap 'N Tickle program offers a best-of complication of "saucy shorts" culled from recent editions of the Canadian Worldwide Short Film Festival.
And then there's the Free Flicks series that's been running at 9 pm on Tuesdays all summer, over at the Sirius Satellite Radio Stage. There are only two dates left in this year's program - Run Lola Run on August 5, and an audience choice pick of Monsoon Wedding, The Wild One, Touch Of Pink or The Motorcycle Diaries on August 12 - so grab a blanket and head down to the waterfront early, the better to claim a clear sightline.
5. the theatre
Harbourfront Centre's not just for strolling by the water and enjoying the cool lake breeze.
Theatre and dance are hot at Harbourfront's summer festivals.
As part of this week's What Is Classical? fest (July 25-27), look for Queen of Pudding Theatre's Love Songs, in which mezzo Lauren Phillips sings composer Ana Sokolovic's favourite songs of amour and frames them with a declaration of "I love you" in 100 languages.
The same event brings South Asian classical dancers and dance artists together, as Sampradaya Dance Creations and Ballet Jörgen perform works that show the differences and similarities in their dance styles. Also check out Little Pear Garden's classical Chinese dance and works by emerging South Asian dance artists Ankita Sarkar, Kiran Phull and Ravi Mohani, as well as Persian dance by Maria Sabaye Moghaddam.
Want more international choreography? The Island Soul festival (August 1 to 4) features highly spiced Caribbean dance by the Reggie Ambrose and Maboya Performers, the Caribbean Folk Performers and the Caliente Dance Collective, among others.
South Asia Calling (August 8 to 10) features a Bollywood dance competition as well as dance from Tibet and Sri Lanka, while Hot & Spicy (August 15-17) highlights Toronto's Funk Factory, led by Shawn Byfield, in an energetic tap program.
The annual Ashkenaz Festival (August 28-September 1) brings the most unusual dance blend - Argentinian Zully Goldfarb offers an evening of Yiddish tango music; Toronto tango dancers Roxana and Fabian perform on the same bill.
And if your interest in Ashkenaz is theatrical, Allan Merovitz revives his solo show If Cows Could Fly, about growing up Hasidic in Smiths Falls, Ontario. The performances include a live klezmer band.
6. the art
Visual arts at Harbourfront Centre go beyond the Power Plant (see art review, page 59). Art hangs in the York Quay Centre all year long, and many weekend festivals include a visual arts component.
Two shows connected to June's Rocky Mountain High weekend run until September 21. Bureau De Change presents work by artists who've shared ideas at the Banff Centre, including David McMillan's photos of overgrown sites in Chernobyl and Kim Adams's model-railroad Artists' Colony. The Importance Of Being Banff features ceramics by Banff Centre artists-in-residence.
Also running till September 21 (and part of TAIWANfest: World In An Island festival, August 22 to 24), the Twain exhibit uncovers synergies in the work of four Canadian and four Taiwanese artists. On the August 22 weekend only, Legends In Water-Colour brings together watercolours by Canada's Doris McCarthy and Taiwan's Kuo-Jen Shen.
Amin Rehman's Black Hole installation covers walls with politically loaded words, Kathryn Walter/FELT creates Shelter, a diorama of urban survival using grey industrial felt, and residents at Harbourfront's Craft Studio exhibit in Three X Four. In the Service Canada pavilion, Ruth Spitzer plays with transportation technology in Water Walker (all four run to September 21).
Three installations by Canadian architectural firms on the subject of Sacred Space run to September 7.
On the grounds, Artists' Gardens (to October 31) include Janet Morton's planted TV sets, Alia Toor and Farheen Haq's vegetal interpretation of shisha embroidery and Ed Pien and Johannes Zits's monster-bee attractor.
Southeast Asia Calling (August 8 to 10) includes SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) members' show Re-Generation, South Asian Textiles and video artist Sharmila Samant, who screens her work and answers questions (August 8, 7 pm).
Asheknaz (August 28 to September 1) features two painters who explore the legacy of Jewish life in Poland: Maciej Frankiewicz paints imagined shtetls (and speaks August 31, 5 pm); and Mayer Kirshenblatt, whose paintings of childhood memories of pre-war Poland are presented in a slide show and discussion (September 1, 2 pm).