Among the most successful movements are ones that translate across spaces and meet people where they are. They’re multi-pronged and multi-dimensional, possessing a clear directive without being stagnant. Such a movement exists in Toronto, led by a group of young women who live in the space where music, sex, and Black Girl Magic meet. If you haven’t yet heard of the Gyalcast collective, let this be your introduction.
The 2016 Manifesto festival event lineup in Toronto featured a live taping of the Gyalcast podcast, transforming the energy from an audio experience to a live-and-in-living-colour one. Joining the podcast hosts were special guests Toronto legends Ponytailz (dancer who started her video career in Sean Paul’s "Gimme The Light" video) and Tanisha Scott (famed dancer/choreographer), with a performance from alt-rapper Sydanie Moon. The audience got a peek at the inner workings of some of our favourite music videos and took in pop culture critique with the Gyalcast personalities. The live show was recorded for the Gyalcast Season Four finale, broken down into Part 1 and Part 2.
“Gyalcast started in the most organic way possible. A few of us were having our usual funny banter, and a friend of ours said, 'You guys need a podcast.' We laughed it off at first but after giving it some thought and recognizing how badly it was needed, we went for it,” explains Gyalcast segment producer and co-creator Sajae Elder. “It’s necessary for us to hear a black alternative voice in media that we don’t normally hear in mainstream media,” says Gyalcast executive producer and co-creator Tika Simone.
The Gyalcast podcast provides an uncensored view of music, pop culture, and life issues while celebrating cornerstones of Toronto-centric creatives in music and media. The flavour of the podcast is culturally rich, with hosts blending African and Caribbean heritages with Toronto upbringings. “We are unapologetically first-generation Toronto, but a girl of Nigerian descent in London can connect or a Grenadian living in New York City connects too because it’s just familiar enough to them,” says Sajae. With a diverse range of guests, Gyalcast has become part of the fabric of Toronto’s renaissance and current emergence on the world stage.
Gyalcast extends its movement with the Baregyal party series. Launched in June 2015, it has become one of the most popular parties in Toronto, with plans to tour various cities in 2017. Playing everything from trap to soca to afrobeats to Beyoncé sets, the vibe is always live — and aimed at prioritizing the celebration and well-being of women. “Our entire movement has been about creating safe spaces for black women, women of colour, trans women,” says Sajae. “We consider everything. Our branding and promo always includes beautiful darker skinned or plus-sized women. The Baregyal party is hosted mainly by female DJs and emcees...everyone who comes to our parties connects with this.”
Alongside the parties and podcasts lies another arm of the Gyalcast movement that continues the mission of empowering women of colour — the Gyalcast Academy, which debuted in August 2016. As Simone explains, the genesis of the academy was personal. “Alicia (co-director of Gyalcast Academy + Gyalcast personality) and I were discussing the lack of safe spaces in the city for women of colour to learn the fundamentals of being a creative freelancer but also spaces that teach the importance of self-care...it was important to discuss mental illness, depression and trauma in a comfortable, safe and positive space with other women of colour.” Led by guest mentors and Gyalcast members with relatable experience and skill sets (“Alicia is a registered therapist as well as a talented writer,” says Simone), 15 young women were guided through career, creative, and therapeutic mentorship. “The response for the academy from the girls and the community was astounding,” Simone says. “The ladies felt more prepared in taking on their personal goals, found clarity in structuring their businesses, and created a community to communicate with one another even after the fact.”
Looking at the momentum of the Gyalcast podcast, Baregyal parties, and Gyalcast Academy, how do these creators feel about it all? Simone sums it up: “Overall we’ve been praised for our candidness, our openness, our bravery, and our resilience. That’s what pushes us forward. We’re honoured by the social responsibility. I think Gyalcast is important for our culture. We’re the first black women talking from Toronto during a renaissance. It’s unreal.”