Celebrating 25 years of Honey Jam: ‘It’s like this female superhero thing’

In honour of the milestone anniversary, we put together a list of 25 notable artists who have set foot on the Honey Jam stage.
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Like most of us, 2020 dealt Ebonnie Rowe a hand she didn’t see coming. This year marked 25 years since the first Honey Jam — an all-female artist showcase that’s produced by Rowe’s non-profit organization PhemPhat.

The milestone would be marked with new and exciting initiatives. At the top of the year, PhemPhat sent an artist to the Grammys. Rowe planned to skip auditions this year and instead provide alumni with things like workshops, artist talks and songwriting camps. Experiences that would allow the artists to travel and build their fan base across borders were also in the works.

By August, the annual concert would have taken place and marked the final phase of a grand celebration. Instead, Rowe found herself trying to find a way forward after COVID-19 brought the globe to a standstill. “I mean, there were so many things that we had planned that are just all out the window,” she says.

But despite these setbacks, Rowe has kept a positive outlook on the future. “So many people are saying that 2020 is cancelled, but I believe that it may just turn out to be the most socially transformative and productive year for creativity and innovation in recent history,” she says. “For 2020 and beyond, we’re excited to continue providing impactful performance, experiential, networking, educational and promotional opportunities for our artists.”

It’s this resilient attitude that has helped Honey Jam become what it is today. What was supposed to be a one-time event, turned into a cultural staple in Toronto that has helped kickstart the careers of some of Canada’s biggest exports. Jully Black, Nelly Furtado and Melanie Fiona are just a few of the artists who performed on the Honey Jam stage early in their careers. Last year Honey Jam alumni Haviah Mighty became the first hip-hop artist to win the Polaris Music Prize, and at least four alumni have starred on CTV’s The Launch.

With the world starting to open up again, the 25th anniversary of Honey Jam is set to go down October 1, 2020 at the El Mocambo. To celebrate this quarter-century milestone, we look at 25 notable alumni who’ve taken part in Honey Jam over the years and talk to a few about how the experience impacted their early career. This is by no means an exhaustive list — it is simply a taste of the excellence that has been on the Honey Jam stage.

Michie Mee Rapper/Songwriter/Actress

Legendary rapper and actress Michie Mee has been on the Honey Jam stage since its early days. Today, Mee is an established hip-hop pioneer in Canadian music with credentials that include collaborating with the likes of KRS-One, MC Lyte, Maestro Fresh Wes, Scott La Rock and more. This past November, Mee released a new single titled “Willing and Able” featuring Xentury.

Jully Black Singer/Songwriter/Actress/Author/Speaker/SheEO

In the years since participating in Honey Jam, Jully Black has gone on to claim legendary status in Canadian R&B. The award-winning singer’s most popular hits include “Rally’n,” “Seven Day Fool,” and “Set It Off” featuring Kardinal Offishall.

Nelly Furtado Singer/Songwriter

Honey Jam was the big break that helped kickstart Nelly Furtado’s fruitful career. In an interview with The Globe and Mail some years ago, Furtado said, “Honey Jam changed my life.” Furtado has since gone on to sell over 40 million records worldwide and earn numerous awards, making her one of Canada’s most successful artists.

Melanie Fiona Singer/Songwriter

Melanie Fiona’s ties to Honey Jam dates back to the early ’00s when she graced the stage alongside Andreena Mill, who she was also in R&B girl group X-Quisite with. Since then, Fiona has gone on to earn a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and win multiple awards over the years, including two Grammys.

“Overall, Honey Jam helped me acquire more business-oriented skills that are necessary for a performing artist to grow.”

Haviah Mighty

Haviah Mighty Rapper/Songwriter 

One of Honey Jam’s biggest success stories in recent years is Haviah Mighty. “I learned about promoting your network to come to your show, performing on a high production value stage, and new live performance skills,” Mighty says about her Honey Jam experience. “Overall, Honey Jam helped me acquire more business-oriented skills that are necessary for a performing artist to grow.” Mighty was named one of XXL’s 15 Toronto Rappers You Should Know in 2019. In that same year, she won the Polaris Music Prize for her album 13th Floor, making her the first hip-hop artist to claim the prize.

Savannah Ré Singer/Songwriter

R&B songstress Savannah Ré has quickly solidified herself as one to watch with her talent drawing the attention of heavyweights like Babyface and Boi-1da. At the end of 2018 her single “The Best Is Yet To Come” was featured on Ebro’s Beats1Radio show “Discovered” as Ré was simultaneously opening for Jessie Reyez on her North American tour.

Adria Kain Singer/Songwriter

When discussing the new wave of R&B artists poised to take over Toronto, Adria Kain’s name is bound to come up. In just a few short years, Kain has opened up for numerous big-name artists such as Questlove from The Roots, Rapsody and Miguel. She has also collaborated with Sean Leon, performed alongside Daniel Caesar and earned a vocal placement on PARTYNEXTDOOR’s record “Thirsty.”

Leila Dey Singer/Songwriter 

Honey Jam 2015 alumni Leila Dey has been winning over hearts and ears everywhere for years. She’s lent her soothing vocals to songs for artists like Vybz Kartel and late artists King Reign and Redway, as well as graced the stages at events like Luminato, Manifesto and Beats, Breaks & Culture at Harbourfront Centre.

“Meeting powerful Black women who are in control within the industry is always empowering.

Phoenix Pagliacci

Phoenix Pagliacci Singer/Songwriter

Phoenix Pagliacci makes up one half of the hip-hop and R&B duo TRP.P that’s been establishing themselves in Toronto’s music scene. Right now she’s currently working on an EP to release by the end of the year that will be more introspective than her previous work. When she took part in Honey Jam, Pagliacci says she remembers how beneficial it was to see herself represented.  

“Meeting powerful Black women who are in control within the industry is always empowering because a lot of times young women are in the room with these men who might not understand the music and who might think that they need to change their image in order to be heard. And Honey Jam gave an opportunity for us to be heard without changing [our] appearance.”

Another one of Pagliacci’s most memorable experiences at Honey Jam was getting to learn from esteemed vocal coach Elaine Overholt. “She actually helped me to control my breathing and taught me the tips and tricks about actually performing to my best abilities,” Pagliacci says. “I wouldn’t have otherwise had an opportunity like that without Honey Jam.” Pagliacci also won a $5,000 Yamaha prize pack in 2013 that equipped her with everything needed to record music at home — a highlight which she says came in handy even recently during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Shi Wisdom Singer/Songwriter/Vocal Coach/A&R Consultant

Shi Wisdom made her mark in the industry with popular singles such as “LoveSpeak,” featuring KJ, “Easier,” and “Take The L.” She’s also credited, alongside Drake, with writing “R.I.P.” for Rita Ora. This April, Wisdom released “Come Back.”

Tika The Creator Singer/Songwriter/Actress/Model/Film Composer/DJ

Tika The Creator is known for wearing many hats and doing so with ease. Her music has been featured by the likes of Complex, Noisey, Afropunk, The Fader and more. She’s modelled for Sephora twice, and she’s currently transitioning into making musical soundscapes for film.

Sate Singer/Songwriter

Sate is best known for her unforgettable live performances where she blends blues and rock music with rugged yet soulful harmonies. Sate has toured across North America and Europe and has performed at the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, Paris and London.

LU KALA Singer/Songwriter

This emerging pop star has been building a steady following for a minute now and impressing fans and industry folk alike with her unique sound. Her self-empowerment anthem “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out)” has over 1 million streams, and in one year, she’s performed for several music festivals without even releasing an album yet.

BLUE WILL Singer/Songwriter 

Another Honey Jam alumni to keep an eye on is singer/songwriter Keisha Williams, also known as BLUE WILL     . Since taking part in the program in 2017, BLUE WILL has gone on to perform at Art Basel in Miami and was a top-two finalist on CTV’s “The Launch.”

“It’s such a unique thing that you feel amazing to be part of. It’s like this female superhero thing.”


Benita Singer/Songwriter

When discussing the benefits of taking part in Honey Jam, one thing R&B singer and songwriter Benita pointed out was the sense of family amongst alumni. It’s been five years since she took part, but Benita still gets invited to Honey Jam events and is contacted here and there about various opportunities. “It’s such a unique thing that you feel amazing to be part of,” she says. “It’s like this female superhero thing.” Since completing HJ, Benita has gone on to sing backup for Daniel Caesar on his sold-out tour and open for Kehlani at Toronto Pride alongside TRP.P. Right now, Benita says she’s working on songwriting and completing her EP. She’s currently promoting her single “No Good” and plans to release a few more singles in the near future.

Falana Singer/Songwriter/Instrumentalist

Neo-soul R&B artist Falana is drawing attention both near and far for her ear-catching sound and for a good reason. Blending afrobeat, jazz and soul music influences, Falana creates a refreshing sound that’s all her own. Over the past year, Falana has released her EP Chapter One and has performed on the Global Citizen stage three times.

Rosie Monday Rapper/Songwriter

Rosie Monday is a rapper and songwriter who participated in Honey Jam’s 2015 run. Monday has performed at numerous venues and events across the city, including a performance for Steve Lobel at Trebas Institute.

Jayd Ink Singer/Songwriter

Since Honey Jam, Jayd Ink has put out several singles and appeared on CTV’s “The Launch.” She recently released the visuals to her single “SIMA” and has a brand-new EP out called Bound By Nothing.

Stella Meghie Film Director/Screenwriter

After Honey Jam, Stella Meghie took a different direction and found success in making films. Today, she’s made a name for herself as director and screenwriter of a handful of critically acclaimed films. Her most recent achievement is The Photograph starring Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield.

Divine Lightbody Singer/Multi-instrumentalist

Divine Lightbody is yet another Honey Jam alumni who starred on CTV’s “The Launch.” Lightbody is one of the latest alumni. Earlier this year she released the single “Bothered” where she hops on a catchy hip-hop and R&B beat to assure an ex that she isn’t bothered by their absence.

Charmie Deller Singer/Songwriter 

Charmie Deller is a contemporary R&B/pop-soul singer who went from busking to performing on several local stages like      Manifesto, UNITY Charity festival and Union Summer by TD. Deller recently performed at virtual music fest Iverna Island and opened for Nigerian singer Davido on his Toronto tour stop.

Saveria Singer 

If you watch “American Idol,” then you’re probably already familiar with this London, Ont. native. Saveria went viral after impressing judge Katy Perry right out of her seat. Despite not making it all the way, Saveria has since built a considerable following and has released a number of singles, including her latest, “Pity.”

Kyla Charter Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist

Kyla Charter is another alumni that took part in Tika The Creator’s Iverna Island virtual festival. Charter has sung background or provided her rhythm guitar skills for several stars, including Alessia Cara, Zaki Ibrahim and Patrick Watson. Charter is currently working on her first project with the support of FACTOR Canada and the Ontario Arts Council.

Maranda Thomas Singer/Songwriter/Actress

Maranda Thomas has found success in both music and TV appearing on shows “The Next Star” and “Lost & Found Music Studios.” In February, Thomas released a demo track titled “What’s Up.”

Tasha Angela Singer/Songwriter/Composer 

Since completing Honey Jam in 2017, Tasha Angela has created a name for herself as someone to pay attention to. Earlier this year, Angela completed a three-show residency at the historic Cameron House and released her debut EP Hidden Gems. Exclaim also named her as one of 9 Emerging Canadian Artists You Should Hear in April 2020.

Photos supplied by Honey Jam

Murissa Barrington is a multimedia journalist specializing in music, fashion, pop culture and wellness. She graduated from Humber College's Journalism program in 2017 where she honed her writing and news reporting abilities for print, broadcast and digital media. She once ran an urban music blog called Pretty Hype TO, loves discovering new talent and is a firm believer that soca music is good for the soul.

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