I’ll be honest and say that most of my interviews tend to be with “creative types.” Can’t help it. I love being in the company of people who express themselves through music, art, and the written word. (psst..I am also inspired by non-artsy types too!)
In this latest interview, I chose to seek out a person who isn’t an “artist”, but provides a platform for artists to flourish and embrace their skills. I spoke with Honey Jam founder, Ebonnie Rowe.
Just in case you’re unaware of the awesomeness that is Honey Jam, I’ll school you. Honey Jam is an all-female, multi-cultural, developmental initiative for artists across Canada who want to become recording artists. Auditions are held, and artists are able to attend workshops on publishing, management, and songwriting – all the practical things they’ll need to know. The 2-month experience wraps up with a hype concert.
As I chatted with Ebonnie for almost an hour, I learned how extraordinarily determined, committed, and unselfish she is. She has made it her life’s purpose to help others.
But what I admire the most about this phenomenal woman, is that although she’s gone through a series of tragedies (she lost 3 close friends to suicide in the early 90s), she didn’t falter- she decided that she wanted to do as much as humanly possible for others. It was this passion that fueled her purpose.
Over the course of 20 years, she has had a hand in providing us with amazingly gifted female vocalists. Some Honey Jam alums are – Jully Black, Andrea Lewis, Nelly Furtado, Shi Wisdom among others.
I’ve known about Honey Jam since its inception, so it was a joy to talk about it with Ebonnie Rowe.
Here’s what she had to say.
Hometown: Born in Montreal, lived in Toronto since age 11
Astrological Sign: Leo
3 words to describe yourself: control freak, driven, persistent
Fun Fact: Artists from Honey Jam were chosen to be a part of Drake’s first OVO Summit in Toronto
Why did you start Honey Jam?
For me, Honey Jam came out of a social activism background. About 20 years ago, I started the Each One Teach One mentoring program for black students in Toronto. At that time, I started hanging out with a lot of teenagers and they were listening to gangsta rap. One of my female mentees came to me and said that their little brother was calling them a bitch and ho because they heard it on the radio.
After she told me that, I approached DJ X from CKLN and told him about my concern of how women are portrayed in hip hop, as well as its misogynistic lyrics. He said, “Why don’t you come on my show and talk about it? I’ll give you the whole show.”
I was a legal assistant at the time and was mentoring and volunteering with other organizations, and didn’t have the time nor had any idea what it took to produce a show. But since I made a complaint and he gave me an opportunity, I knew I would figure out a way to do it.
How did the show go?
It was great! The editors of Mic Check (a 90s Toronto-based hip hop magazine) were listening to the show and contacted me and asked if I could edit an all-female issue of their magazine. Again, I was given a platform, a voice, so I did it.
At the end of the issue, we had a wrap party which was called “Honey Jam.” It was a party where the female artists from the issue performed. That’s how it got started….it was supposed to be one off, but people kept asking me, “When’s the next party?”
So I went home and thought that clearly it’s a niche that hasn’t been filled. There needs to be a welcoming, supportive space for women to perform – particularly in hip hop. That’s how Honey Jam got started – it came out of how women were portrayed in hip hop.
What was Honey Jam like in the early days?
It was very hip hop in the beginning – we had hip hop artists, spoken work, breakdancers and DJs. These women didn’t feel respected or accepted going into the male arena of hip hop. That’s why it took off right away.
What was one of the biggest moments for Honey Jam?
When Nelly Furtado came to Honey Jam in ’97, she was the first Caucasian artist to perform. Because our focus at the beginning was in hip hop and r&b, people thought that it was a “black thing.” Once Nelly Furtado performed, the look of our audience changed dramatically. We got people from different cultures and all different genres of music.
It was a very pivotal moment for us when Nelly Furtado became successful. In her first record (I’m Like a Bird), she put in her liner notes, “I’ll never forget my experience at Honey Jam.
How have things changed over the years for Honey Jam?
Some of my early interviews I would say that my goal is for Honey Jam to not have to exist…because we were filling a need for women to have a safe, supportive environment. Now we exist because it’s beneficial to the artist from an educational and networking standpoint.
What should we expect from the upcoming Honey Jam concert?
It’s going to be great live performances, and a supportive and loving vibe in the room. Something that can’t be captured on film. You really have to be there.
What are your goals for Honey Jam going forward?
We would like to be around for another 20 years! Keep going strong, doing more for the artists and providing more opportunities.
Even when the interview came to a close, Ebonnie still wanted to mention how grateful she was to everyone involved in the success of Honey Jam – media, the artists, sponsors, the public and the volunteers. Thoughtful, eh? Looks like I just met my newest (s)hero. Thanks for talking with me Ebonnie!
For more information on Ebonnie and Honey Jam, please visit the following links
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