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Sweet Sisters


Honey Jam Barbados is helping women to make it in the music industry. We caught up with the pioneer behind this innovative artistic collective, and showcase three of the star performers it’s championed so far

Ebonnie Rowe (pictured above) has long wanted to make a difference. It was in 1990, after one of her friends died by suicide, that she decided she needed to have some purpose in life – to do something meaningful, something to help others.

She started a mentoring programme called Each One, Teach One for at-risk black students in Toronto, where she was living. “I started hanging out with teenagers from the programme who were listening to gangsta rap. My female mentees would tell me that their five-year-old brothers were calling them ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’, because they were hearing those terms in the lyrics. So I approached a popular hip-hop DJ and told him what was happening. He ended up asking me to produce a whole radio show about it.”

Ebonnie had no radio experience, but felt she couldn’t say no. “He was giving me an outlet to address a big issue, so I had to rise to the challenge – do something or say nothing.” Then an entertainment magazine asked her to put together an all-female issue, which proved to be another opportunity, another platform. “The party celebrating the completion of the issue was called Honey Jam,” Ebonnie says. “It was supposed to be a one-off – and 22 years later, here we are!”

Honey Jam, which started in Canada in 1995 and Barbados in 2011, is a non-profit developmental programme for aspiring female artists in all genres of music, involving workshops and culminating with a showcase. The programme provides educational, mentoring, networking and performance opportunities for the women, as well as nurturing their confidence and self-esteem. The opportunities provided are for the artists to use as a springboard, and the goal is also to connect emerging talent with the people and companies that can help to turn their musical ambitions into reality in Barbados, as well as regionally and internationally.

The programme aims to be loving and supportive. “Honey Jam is where creativity and artistry meet advocacy and support for women,” says Honey Jam artist Victoria. “Also, we all have similar struggles like accepting yourself and building confidence. Knowing other artists face similar obstacles is helpful. I don’t feel alone.”

Ebonnie is very protective of her artists. “I’m like a mama bear!” she says. “But at the end of the day they have to make their way in the real world, so we give them tips on how to deal with it. It’s crucial for them to know their worth, that they teach people how to treat them, and that if they are being disrespected it is not to be tolerated. Many men in the industry will use their position to make you think that if you don’t comply, you won’t get opportunities. But there is no price on your self-respect. There will always be another opportunity.”

It is a challenge for anyone to make it in the music industry, with lots of people going for the same spot. “It’s tough, and tougher for women in a patriarchal society,” says Ebonnie, “but I’m not one to play victim. If I see an obstacle, I find a way around it. Either you want something or you don’t, and if you do then you don’t accept any barriers to entry or success. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there. You just do whatever is necessary to push through.”

Honey Jazz Barbados Festival January 2018
Watch jazz-themed events, from singers and dancers to DJs and movies, with a thrilling finale at Frank Collymore Hall on 27 January

1 Adaeze
“You’ve got to get to know and love yourself”
I went to university thinking I’d be a psychologist, but I soon discovered spoken word and rap. That’s when I knew I wanted to use words and music to reach people instead. I’ve done music full-time ever since. I write, produce, perform, co-direct and edit my own music videos, and do my own graphics. I built my own studio, and by doing so much myself, I’m able to produce a lot of work and hone my craft. As an artist, my music is Afro-Caribbean-infused hip hop – soulful, catchy, inspirational. As a songwriter/producer, my work tends to be a fusion of multiple genres, ranging from calming to anthemic.

Honey Jam caught my eye because it was dedicated to women in music. When I first auditioned I didn’t make it through. But I kept doing my thing, and the next year I was invited to perform. The programme is definitely what you make it. I recognised the opportunities to network and learn about the music industry. I’ve made lasting relationships, made better decisions and gained loyal supporters as a result of participating.

Being Caribbean means we have a wide range of musical influences, making our writing and production globally sought after. Soca is doing unprecedented things right now and the world is tuned in. We are influencing the biggest records coming out of America! On the flip-side, being an artist in the Caribbean can leave one feeling unappreciated, because the rest of the world tends to see more in us than we see in ourselves.

To anyone with dreams of making it in music I would say: get to know and love yourself! Trust your intuition, work hard, surround yourself with genuine people, and keep your eyes on your own movement – comparison will kill your joy.; @adaezelyrics

Quick-fire questions
Favourite food? Chicken wings
Favourite music of all time? Impossible to answer!
Favourite music right now? The Human Condition by Jon Bellion
Favourite place in the Caribbean? Jamaica
A secret about yourself? I want to be left-handed so badly. I’ve been practising for years!

2 Faith Callender
“We are stronger as part of a collective”
I was involved in music from a young age, singing in the school choir and pageants, but as the years went by my passion grew; it wasn’t just a hobby but a career. After university I gave music my full attention. I attended voice training, did some professional photoshoots and started working on original music. My style is full of energy and happiness – it puts you in a place where you can be free of your worries and enjoy life.

I first got involved with Honey Jam when I realised I wanted to take my singing more seriously. I heard other singers talking about the experience, and thought it was a great way to learn the business of music and to network. The workshops are very inspiring and helpful in my development as an artist. Also we are stronger as part of a collective – the relationship is like a sisterhood. Everyone supports each other in some form, from attending each other’s events to singing back-up on a track. We help build the artistic community as young women.

It is harder as a female entertainer, especially in the male-dominated soca arena. People expect you to sing about certain things or dress a particular way. But I believe that we should be able to sing what we want to and act in a way that reflects our personality and not the formality of society.

To make it in this industry, you need to stay grounded and true to yourself. If it is something you want to do, go full steam ahead and invest all you’ve got into it. It’s a learning and growing experience.; @246faith; Facebook: Faith De Artiste

Quick-fire questions
Favourite food? Shrimp pasta
Favourite music of all time? The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
Favourite music right now? ‘Thunder’ by Imagine Dragons
Favourite place in the Caribbean? St Lucia
A secret about yourself? I’m terrified of millipedes

3 Nikita
“Focus on the craft, not on my body”
My first on-stage solo performance was at nursery school, and I was hooked from that first applause. I performed everywhere and for anyone who would listen, which led to cultural showcases and local talent shows. I also performed on the hotel and nightclub circuit. There followed a tough journey of countless auditions for record labels, and my first introduction to the harsh realities of the music industry.

I’m proud to say that I’m an original Honey Jam Barbados alum, and was fortunate enough to perform at the very first showcase. Even now there are limited platforms for upcoming female artists to be seen and heard – Honey Jam has opened countless doors of opportunity. The brand has developed a great level of respect in the industry, and has created a movement of strong female artists equipped and ready for the world of music.

The music genres of the Caribbean are so prominent in the music of today, which means that it’s about time it’s taken seriously and treated as a business and not just a hobby. The focus shouldn’t only be what’s happening on stage but instead in appreciating and understanding the entire dynamic surrounding the brand of an artist. A lot of our artists require support, especially our women.

It’s definitely harder to be a woman in the industry. There’s a constant battle for respect, especially when it comes to image. Focus on the craft, not on my body. I sing what is true to me, and the advice I would give any aspiring performer is: be unapologetically YOU! There’s nothing wrong with who you are. Know your craft and know it well, so that whenever the opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to deliver. It’s coming!; @nikitasings

Quick-fire questions
Favourite food? Breadfruit cou-cou and saltfish
Favourite music of all time? Dangerously In Love by Beyoncé
Favourite music right now? 1st John by John Yarde
Favourite place in the Caribbean? Animal Flower Cave, Barbados
A secret about yourself? I don’t like tequila – I just sing about it. I’m rum and coke all the way!