With Honey Jam Founder Ebonnie Rowe
I am on a bit of a womanist spiritual high. I just returned from the gorgeous island of Barbados as the guest of the US Embassy and Ebonnie Rowe, Founder and CEO of Honey Jam. I was honored to serve as the keynote presenter for the Honey Jam Conference and Showcase, in its second year on the island. Ebonnie has produced Honey Jam Canada for close to 20 years, discovering Nelly Furtado in the process–among many other women artists of note. Honey Jam Barbados 2012 continues in the rich, naturally sweet Honey Jam tradition of discovering fresh talent and artist empowerment.
This conference was an incredible breath of fresh air for me. Talent showcases with a critical mass of solid artistry are increasingly rare in the United States. This is so unfortunate, because the live stage is where talent sinks or soars, and where potential is revealed. Ebonnie Rowe is a self-proclaimed member of the “old school,” so she gets this. She also knows that patriarchy still limits the spaces and opportunities for women artists, and brought the safe space she created in Toronto, Canada to Barbados. The timing is perfect, actually: Rihanna’s explosion as a global megastar shines a light on her home island and puts stars in the eyes of women who aspire to success in entertainment. Ebonnie also is very specific about wanting to work against the tide of overt sexism in the Caribbean where women artists are concerned. From the lyrical content to the positions women are taking on concert flyers, women are pretty much represented as brainless sex objects. And it is amazing how widely it is accepted among the Bajan consumer audience. But then, I should not be surprised: it was in Barbados of all places, that I attempted to observe my Friday Juma’a prayer and was told “women aren’t allowed to pray here.” Shocked, I was directed to another mosque. That was a first for me, a Muslim woman who has prayed on 5 continents without incident. Sexism is real everywhere, and beautiful panoramas won’t mask its ugliness. But I digress.
Thankfully, Honey Jam Barbados raises the voices of women who refuse to be exploited–and raises their entertainment industry IQ in the process.
Check out the highlights from my keynote here:
The showcase was phenomenal. I don’t know how 19 artists take the stage and the show doesn’t feel boring or too long, but that’s a testament to Ebonnie’s skill as a producer with a real ear for talent. Girls as young as 13 to women in their 40s hit the stage; every genre of music was performed, from rock to reggae, to rap, folk, and soul. I was really blown away by the range and skill level of talent. Everyone got up there and gave their best, but for me, there were several standouts, many of whom were in attendance at my keynote, asking questions or unsure about their own paths. But when they hit the stage for a packed house at the Plantation Garden Theater, they were transformed! I am still beaming as I reflect on their courage.
So here’s my roll call, in no particular order of flyness:
She is a grown woman singer-songwriter unafraid to get to the heart of the matter where love is concerned. She looks like a breezy Black girl, but she brings it with incredible tone and phrasing. Click here for more on her.
Rhesa Garnes. She rocked “I Only Wanna Give It To You” by Elle Varner with only a beat box accompaniment and nailed it. Her effusive personality draws you in and doesn’t let go. She even kicked a verse during the set and took the crowd completely by surprise. Get up on Rhesa here.
Melissa Bel. Melissa was the winner of Honey Jam’s “Get Me To Barbados” promotion with the Barbados Tourism Authority. She was the only non Bajan on the bill and was admittedly nervous bringing her very Canadian guitarist self to a discerning Caribbean audience. Well, she didn’t have anything to be nervous about. When she hit her first note, it was clear that she is a serious soul singer. Her rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine” got her a standing ovation. And the title track from her EP Distance choked me up. Click here for more on Melissa.
Mia Cumberbatch. She closed out the show because her voice is bold, clear and liberated. She’s on some shoe-kicking, roof-raising type vocal steez. Judging from the crowd response when she came onstage, her reputation precedes her on the island. Definitely looking forward to hearing more from Mia. You can follow her here on Twitter.
Tabitha Johnson. She performed a bass heavy, driving dancehall-tinged original song, “Driving Me Crazy”–about a husband who cheated on her while she was pregnant. Now, I don’t know if this was art imitating life, but she sang it like it was! She’s also quite a chatta, murdering her verse in impossible glitzy wedges with long locs a-flying. Do not let this sweet little grin on her face fool you. She’s on Twitter here.
Gigi Ma’at. Channeling Grace Jones, Erykah Badu, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, this fashionista took us on a journey of soulful song, jazz scatting, and African call and response that rocked us to the core. She’s badass. Period. She could have dropped the mic to make sure it was broke, but she’s much too gracious (I met her briefly backstage). Check out her equally fierce Pinterest page here.
Paige Banfield, Frontwoman, Vacant Headspace. This girl came out with vocal guns blazing, fronting her own rock band in knee-high Chuck Taylors with neon laces. Perfect for all the jumping and wild, naturally curly-head banging she did, without missing a note. Her rhythm guitarist lost power during the set but like a true professional, she kept it moving and finished strong. For more on Paige and the band, click here.
Kyzz. Amid a flurry of acts with dancers, band members and skimpy costumes, Kyzz was all killer, no filler. She played an original song acoustic and moved the crowd with her bluesy approach to soul. Tracy Chapman and MeShell NdegeOcello can rest assured that someone picked up their torches and put her own quiet fire to them. Read up on her here.
Jamantha Blue Diamond. She asked a question during my keynote about the fixation our industry has on looks. This deep chocolate chanteuse with flowing locs is stunning, but the beauty that matters most is in the raw passion of her voice and live performance. She set it off during the closing number, the Freestyle Finale. Read up on Blue Diamond here.
My honorable mentions go to:
19 year-old accounting major and R&B siren Fate, stunning multi-genre performer Karma Nai, and 13 year-old Aleah Searles, whose voice brought the crowd to its feet and brought tears to my eyes. Just click on their images at this link for more about each of these amazing young women.
If you are a woman who is serious about the entertainment field, whether you go to Canada or Barbados for it, you need to come to Honey Jam. Click here for more on the organization, events,a nd how to support them! Special thanks to SLAM 101, Admiral at Festival Stage, and Cassandra at Morning Barbados for the media opportunities they each gave me to share my story and inform the Bajan massive about Put Your Dreams First!