Manifesto Festival's Sweet 16 Was a Fitting Celebration of Their Devotion to Community — Headliner Drama Be Damned

Budweiser Stage, August 12

Though the initial headliners couldn't make it, performers like Davido, DVSN (pictured), TOBi, Amaal and Dylan Sinclair did more than deliver a great show

Photo: Taija Anderson

BY Vernon AyikuPublished Aug 15, 2022

Following a rough weekend for events in Toronto, Manifesto delivered a successful festival, despite it not being the show they initially promised.

Let's address the elephant in the room first. Yes, the advertised headliners of Tems and Jazmine Sullivan were not at Budweiser Stage on Friday night (August 12). However, to the credit of the organizers behind the music and culture festival — and perhaps learning from the failures of Kultureland and Kingston Music Festival the previous weekend — anyone who bought a ticket hoping to see the rising Afrobeats queen and Grammy Award-winning R&B singer could receive a full refund and skip the show.

Speaking volumes to the integrity and class of the organizers, Manifesto's managing director Tinesha Richards appeared on The Brandon Gonez Show a day before new headliners DVSN and Davido took the stage to address the lineup changes and provide transparency. "Unfortunately, Tems had issues with her VISA, out of our control, and Jazmine has a personal family issue," Richard told Gonez before expressing how devastating the cancellations were to her and her team. "We picked them for a reason. Being a Black woman, it was very purposeful picking two strong Black women. It's a series of unfortunate events, really."

Launched in 2007 as a free outdoor concert at Nathan Phillips Square, the heart of Toronto's downtown core. In the years since, Manifesto has come a long way. This year, for their 16th edition, the event organizers took a chance and brought the festival to the much bigger Budweiser Stage, a successful and fruitful move that helped prove the festival is the champion for hip-hop, arts and culture in Canada run and curated by Black voices that it claims to be.

Here is what stood out from this year's main event:

The culture and community 

It is one thing to put on a festival, and it is another thing to celebrate and champion a culture. For 16 years, Manifesto has tirelessly created opportunities for local hip-hop and R&B artists. Taking the festival to Budweiser Stage this year is not just a "We made it" moment for festival organizers but a moment for the entire community. Despite being headlined by internationally recognized artists, community and culture came first and were on full display, from the vendors outside the stage to the handling of the last-minute changes, to the low-cost programming, to Dylan Sinclair's family loudly cheering him on as he sang near the opening of the show. As a Black Torontonian, It is hard not to feel personally invested in each local performer and the festival itself. There is no other festival like it in the city, and it is well deserving of the big stage for years to come.

Dylan Sinclair

The undercard 

Local artists are the heartbeat of Manifesto, and one of the standouts this year was 29-year-old Somali-born R&B singer Amaal. With all the production value of an established star, Amaal came out looking stunning in all green and immediately dialled the mood to smooth and sexy. With the crowd about half full and the sunset as a backdrop, anyone outside grabbing a drink or taking a break missed a hell of a star-making set. 


Proving more than worthy of his placement on the lineup, TOBi shut it down as the last artist before the headliners came on. From Ottawa but born in Lagos, Nigeria, like headliner Davido, TOBi's energy was infectious on stage. From the moment he walked on stage, fully engulfed in the night sky, draped in the Nigerian flag, singing "Growth," it was clear he understood the assignment: make new fans. Playing a mix of older and unreleased music, he simultaneously made those in the crowd unfamiliar with him want to learn more and excited for his new project next year.


The hosts

Manifesto would not have been as successful without its hosts at the helm: JUNO Award-winning rapper Charmaine, content creator and self-proclaimed President of the Faithful Black Men Association Tresor, and in-house DJ Killa Kels. Before DVSN and Davido, the trio managed to truly excite the crowd and get everyone out of their seats and dancing — not an easy task with festival optimism in the city at an all-time low and the sometimes too cool-for-school nature of Toronto audiences. However, by the time they had the crowd singing "Finesse" by BNXN and Pheelz in unison, there was no doubt that it would be a good night. Here is the highest praise: it felt like an episode of 106 & Park.

The headliners

Despite organisers' initial want for two Black female headliners, DVSN proved to be the perfect replacement for Tems: a pair of talents from Scarborough on the cusp of what feels like a big mainstream breakthrough with morally questionable single "If I Get Caught" out and a new album on the way. Seeing DVSN run through their hits like "Too Deep," "Miss Me?" and "Body Smile" made them feel like he was the measuring stick for all the local artists that came before him and a final reminder that the city is filled with talented people capable of doing big things.

DVSN's Daniel Daley

Closing the show, Davido brought Lagos to Toronto after some minor technical difficulties to start. Bringing a different energy from Jazmine Sullivan, Tems or even DVSN, ultimately, the choice to have Davido headline and close the show worked out in favour of the festival. Turning what would have been a more chilled night into a full-on party that matched the crowd's energy. It was a fantastic set and a fun way to end the night, leaving us feeling we should do it all again next year.


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