Kensington Market. Toronto’s very own vegan paradise. A bohemian daydream come to life. Artists and indie shops line the crowded streets. Vintage boutiques and vegan bakeries cram between painted bricks and pointed rooftops. Racks of tie-died dresses pour onto the sidewalks, while crates of ripened oranges and sweet papaya run like a river along the shores of their stores.
Painted flowers, figures and fish… airplanes, dinos and dogs… an array of outlandish ebullient art, splashed onto bricks and buildings. Hues of fire red and blazing orange, bright green and sunny yellow; indigos, blues, pink and violet, all appear in this rainbow river of eccentricity.
If an ocean existed above sea-level, it would reside here, in this kaleidoscope of colours swarming with life.
The spirit of the streets is warm, like a Caribbean breeze. Even as the air grows crisp with Autumns’ fading breath, this fanciful island radiates.
Hidden speakers release a flow of beating rhythms. They trickle in and out of your ears as you dance across the pavement.
At night, waves of music cascade onto the streets. The prime source? The Poetry Jazz Café. If music is what you crave, the Poetry Jazz Café is the place to be. Located on 224 Augusta Avenue, this intimate, cozy cocktail bar transports you to an era of jazz and swinging blues. A dim dark space filled with florescent colours, hues of fuchsia, indigo, sapphire and cerise, bounding off the walls, ceiling and floor. Over the long stretch of the bar, giant orbs of thin glass hang, carrying small stars of amber light. A flat screen, hugged by shelves of alcohol, adds a level of atmosphere to the night. Chico and Rita, a Spanish adult animation plays on a mute loop. It’s a tale of two lovers, a young piano player with big dreams and a beautiful singer with an extraordinary voice; music unites them and separates them. Love, success and torment; the zestful wallpaper to your euphonious evening. Each night brings a new experience, different delights and fresh faces of Toronto talent, performing live for your enjoyment.
But perhaps, you desire more than the sweet tune of melodies filling your ear. Perhaps… your creativity craves action. For music to be made by your hands. Your fingers the orchestrator, your palms the architect. A rhythm born out of your heartbeat. There is only one place for you…
African Drums and Arts Crafts!
An open door leads you to a chamber exploding with sound! The beating of drums calls you in. The life of the music engulfs the room. A collection of carefully crafted drums overwhelm the store. Mountains and hills made entirely of African drums spread their fingers to fill every corner. Delicate designs of craved patterns trace round the hardwood shells; some stretch high to the drum’s head, while others stay low wrapping the base of the drums. Each is a piece of extraordinary art. Each has its own energy and its own story waiting to be told.
But more spectacular than the instruments is the heart and soul of the store. It’s owner of over twenty years, Saikou. A smile of warmth and a mind of wisdom; Saikou invites you into his beguiling world of music and tradition. Enter as a stranger, and leave as a friend, that is how it works in this haven of rhythms. When I visited the store, my ears and eyes were immediately drawn to a raised platform behind channels of instruments and art. On it, sat a close circle of people with drums between their legs, making the most remarkable music. The group was led by a man in beautifully ornate garments, with colours and patterns that made it undeniably traditional African attire. I would soon learn that this was no other than Saikou himself. When he noticed my presence, he quickly invited me to grab a drum and join the party. I had never so much as touched a drum in my life; my confidence in an ability to produce sounds reminiscent of music was very low, but it seemed like too fun an opportunity to pass.
The lesson began: how to hold the drum, where to hit and when, patterns to build rhythm. Soon we were in the midst of a mellifluous melody. Our hands beat… ba, ba, ba, ta, ta, ta, boom, boom, bam. It was a moment of euphoria! The rhythm captured you in rapture. The beating pulse of our hands was like an echo of Ancient traditions. More than just music, this felt spiritual. Something in your heart, head and hands, connected to ethereal beauty.
Whether you live in the city or just outside, the journey to African Drums and Arts Crafts is not one you will regret. You can pick up exquisite drums and an assortment of instruments, art, masks, clothing and jewelry, attend lessons to learn the art of Djembe drumming, or simply stop by to jam with Saikou. You will be glad you did.
Once you’re done drumming, let the rhythm of the music carry you over to Dancing Days on 17 Kensington Avenue. It’s a whirlwind of culture and colour! A collection of Asian inspired art, spirituality and fashion! From afar, you see it; a makeshift tent of twirling hues and flowing silks. Strands of flags in red, green, blue, yellow and white crisscross over the outdoor overflow of garments and sculptures. They hang amid rows of vibrant lanterns, tie-dyed chandeliers dripping with beads and crystals. Walls of tapestries encircle the store, smiling pictures of golden suns and crescent moons look on passers by. The fence is painted; the doors are open. Come inside.
A world of one-of-a-kind creative colourant awaits. The ceiling sky is crowded with clouds of rainbow lanterns and feathered dream catchers. Wood carved statues and figurines of Buddhas and Hindu deities are the mountain rage of this realm. A forest of fabrics blossoms across the store. Smooth dainty silks, thick coarse wools, light breezy cottons; the nature of this wilderness. Kimonos and bedlahs are just a taste of the unique treasures to be found. Swirling spirals, zig-zag stripes; flowers, diamonds, elephants and more, decorate these spirited styles. While crystals and gems gleam from new age designs of necklaces, bracelets, pendants and rings. Patterns, flags, fabrics and lanterns; Dancing Days shines like a beacon! A colourful hotpot of blended cultures brought to life in dazzling array.
But Kensington Market could not be complete without flavours and food.
Everywhere you step, sweet and savoury aromas whirl out from restaurant doors. Their bold scents calling you to them; a siren song wafting through the air.
Where to eat… where to eat? An impossible thought! There are far too many choices.
Burgers, bacon, crepes and coffee. In Kensington Market you can find it all. And luckily, for my many vegan and vegetarian friends out there, Kensington Market is the king region for plant-based eateries. Hibiscus, Cosmic Treats, Bunner’s Bakeshop, Veggie D’Light, Vegetarian Haven, and more. Of all the neighbourhoods in Toronto, Kensington Market probably has the greatest count of plant friendly restaurants in the closest proximity. Each is only a hop skip and corner away!
Quirky characters and vibrant colours. Echoing drums and heartbeat blues. Bold flavours and savoury sweet scents. Kensington Market is a never ending festival of colour and life.
Will you come and join the party?