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Northern Touch: Manifesto Finale A Toronto Kind Of Thing

There was just something so Toronto about it.

Manifesto, a weeklong multi-venue celebration of urban arts and culture, wrapped up Sunday in the shadows of city hall and despite some glitches proved to be a colourful, sincere and entertaining culmination.

After days of exhibits, contests and performances, Sunday brought hundreds to Nathan Phillips Square for close to eight hours of almost non-stop action including sets by scores of local hip-hop and R&B artists, poets and dancers.

Around the humble stage smoke filled the air from barbecued corn, graffiti artists sprayed out a giant mural and breakers spun themselves on portable parquet.

On the whole the event was small enough to feel accessible (not to mention free) and large enough to draw more than just the curious on-looker taking a weekend stroll down Queen Street West.

In only its second year, the festival clearly grew by leaps. And while staff and artists at times appeared over-extended, the collective intentions were unquestionably good.

Canadian icons including  k-os and the Rascalz headlined the bill, though the music felt almost second to the community spirit that can grow from a crowd as diverse as you’ll see even in this most diverse of places.

CityNews.ca caught up with Canadian hip-hop veteran and Rascalz emcee Red1, who had to admit things were looking up.

“I’ve definitely been catching the vibe,” he said excitedly. “It just seems really energetic.”

It was.

Of course a start-up festival still in its infancy won’t rival the likes of V-Fest or the Rogers Picnic and hip-hop Lollapalooza Rock The Bells drew a much more rap-centric lot.

But intentional or not, Sunday’s small slice of Manifesto seemed to be as much a celebration of Toronto itself as it was the so-called “urban” music and culture it put on display.

Perhaps, at the best of times, they’re one and the same.

Of course there were problems, pitfalls and organizational blips – the standard lineups and delays – but in a certain sense that only added to the overriding Torontoness of it all.

Waiting outside Circa nightclub to join a festival after party that promised to include legendary NYC producers DJ Premier and Pete Rock, a beleaguered organizer suggested any and all issues were, “Only the growing pains of a grassroots organization.”

Fair enough.

But there was still more than enough to get the crowd over and the people that stood out in the cool air of a final summer sundown got something much better.

Before k-os took the stage, the Rascalz were joined by Toronto mainstay Choclair for a raucous rendition of their 1998 track Northern Touch, a song that awoke many to the reality of hip-hop music in Canada and introduced several of the people who became key players in it during the 10 years that followed.

“It’s been a decade since we did that song,” Red1 marveled earlier, hinting at the special performance to come.

More than anything else maybe that’s what Manifesto did Sunday: hinted at what’s to come.

Toronto’s not a city that should ignore such “grassroots” movements or the people that work tirelessly to help them grow. Luckily, it’s also never been the kind of city that would.

And with some of that luck Manifesto may just grow into a fixture of the summer festival circuit and a revered annual tradition of cultural exchange.

Maybe all it needs is a little northern touch.

aaron.miller@citynews.ca