Since it began in 1995, when it provided a space for emerging female hip-hop and R&B artists to express themselves, Honey Jam has developed into an influential player in Canada's music scene.
Artists such as Nelly Furtado, Jully Black, and Tara Chase got critical breaks in their career performing at the showcase which has continued to evolve as it looks back. "In 1995 it was probably 60 percent hip hop and 40 percent R&B," says founder Ebonnie Rowe. "But as we've grown, so many more genres of music are now represented; opera, country, folk, pop, jazz, gospel, dance, rock—everything!"
The eclectic variety of sounds is not the only sign of evolution. Honey Jam is no longer just a music showcase; it has developed into an artist development initiative in which the artists are offered educational and performance opportunities, mentoring and guidance to fully engage with the tools at their disposal. Because of her hands-on involvement, Rowe has seen many changes occur in this area over the years. “The biggest growth I've seen is in the artists and that has a lot to do with technology which has made access to information, free websites, photography and the production of music so much more accessible. They have all the tools at their fingertips so they can be much more prepared and professional.”
The Harbourfront Centre in Toronto celebrated the showcase's history with Honey Jam: Then and Now on February 3. Hosted by long-time Honey Jam affiliate Michie Mee, the event featured performances by Honey Jam alumni and also an exhibit allowing Rowe to "dig through the crates" to unearth archival photos and footage of Honey Jam in the past.
Not a bad legacy to have at your disposal, especially since Rowe admits the whole thing started as an 'accident' in response to good feedback she got when editing an all-female edition of now-defunct music magazine Mic Check. “I thought, even though I had a full-time job as a legal assistant and was also running the Each One, Teach One mentoring programme and had no experience in music event production that I'd give it a try for a year or so.” says Rowe. “And here we are going on year 17 in 2012!”