It’s not every day that a showcase with 15 acts starts on time. But at 8 p.m. sharp 14-year-old Jheo Navarro takes to Toronto’s Mod Club to open up the 19th annual Honey Jam showcase with big, bold vocals that fill up the entire room and immediately demand that the audience takes notice. It’s only fitting that the show, founded by Ebonnie Rowe (who self-proclaims to run a tight ship) starts on time. The queen bee wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s been a very serious struggle to keep this going,” she says to a packed club. In fact, funding has been so dire that Rowe announces it is the first year that she is unable to donate the proceeds from ticket sales to the YWCA women’s charity. “I’m going to be washing dishes at The MOD Club for the next year,” she adds jokingly.

But funding constraints do not get in the way of one of the most promising lineups, through and through, from Honey Jam in its recent history. Rosie Monday delivers hard hitting rhymes, speaking to all her “visionaries” in the audience, Jordan Alexander impresses with “Wait For Me There”, which she wrote with Jarvis Church (who discovered Nelly Furtado at Honey Jam many years ago), and Amanda De Facendis, reminds everyone that even though it is a man’s world, it would be nothing without a woman, with her rendition of the James Brown smash.

Although, Rowe is clear that Honey Jam is not a competition, some of the young women do receive special prizes. Most notably, 17-year-old Maranda Thomas, who is announced winner of the chance to perform at Honey Jam Barbados. In order to win, she had to create a video, write a letter and create a successful #GetMeToBarbados social media campaign. Rowe takes a moment to share how incredible of an ambassador Thomas has been for Honey Jam (she sold the most tickets to the show out of all the performers), before the young singer/songwriter accepts a gift bag from The Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association. “Thank you so much, Honey Jam is a movement, it’s not just a showcase,” she says, beaming.

As the night ends with the talented duo Charmie & Renee and the annual free-for-all cypher opens up with a surprise appearance from the always-stunning Jully Black – who recognizes and passes the R&B torch so to speak off to LeiLa Dey – the Honey Jam movement is evident. Honey Jam is, without doubt, a rites of passage for young, female performers across Canada.

Words By. Priya Ramanujam + Photos By. Lee Hon Bong