Breaking barriers in the music industry isn’t easy, particularly for young women. A recent study by Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of California found that women’s representation in the music industry has not improved in over a decade. Ebonnie Rowe, Founder and Executive Director of PhemPhat Entertainment, knows that firsthand.
Rowe has been a staunch advocate of female representation and exposure in the music industry for the last 28 years, shining a unique spotlight on rising talent in the Canadian music industry. Rowe spoke to The Edge, A Leader’s Magazine about her artist development program and creating opportunities for young women so that they can take on the world.
Can you tell us about PhemPhat Entertainment and Honey Jam?
Honey Jam is a non-profit programme run by PhemPhat Entertainment Group established in 1995 for young Canadian female artists of all cultures and representing all genres of music that provides mentoring, educational, performance, and networking opportunities culminating with a stellar showcase of live music and more!
How does the audition or selection process for Honey Jam work?
We hold live auditions in Toronto, but it’s a nationwide search, so artists from other provinces can submit online. We have a number of judges from various areas of the industry – vocal coaches, label reps, artists, managers, producers, etc. who give us their ratings and recommendations. Each auditionee at the live auditions gets just 60 seconds. It seems like a short amount of time, but it doesn’t take long at all to see if someone has stage presence and that “it” factor.
What is the Each One Teach One youth mentorship program about?
It was a profession-based mentor program in the 90s for Black Youth – boys and girls. The idea was for them to see a version of themselves in places where they saw themselves in the future, to have an opportunity to meet and be inspired by someone who looked like them succeeding in an occupation they aspired to.
You are recognized among Canada’s 150 most inspiring female role models. What does that designation mean to you?
I was so honoured to be included in that book which featured politicians, spacewalkers, entrepreneurs, Olympians, scientists, artists, filmmakers, activists, educators, and so many others. It’s hard to put into words what it means to receive that type of recognition. When I read the stories of the other women, I wondered if I had done enough and how much more I could do to really feel worthy of the accolades. It’s very humbling.
As a speaker, you participated in and moderated panels on breaking racial barriers. What advice would you give young, marginalized women seeking to break barriers in the industry?
I subscribe to the Malcolm X doctrine of “by any means necessary,” so I don’t allow any challenge to prevent me from reaching a goal. I will put in the work and move the earth to achieve what I want – it’s the difference between “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” and true passion and desire. I believe that the idea of a meritocracy needs to become normalized, and I look forward to a day when there is no systemic marginalization of any group, and we all are able to be considered for opportunities we qualify for. In the meantime, all you can do really is become the best that you can be and claim your space in this world. Don’t give up!
Honey Jam was where Nelly Furtado was first discovered. Can you tell us about other emerging personalities Honey Jam mentored?
I’m super excited to watch the rise of alums like Haviah Mighty, LUKALA, Savannah Re, Jordan Alexander, Jenna Walker of the Reklaws, and many more making their way to stardom.
You recently marked the 25th anniversary of the Honey Jam artist development program. Can you tell us more about that?
Our 25th anniversary coincided with the start of COVID, so just imagine spending years planning for this milestone anniversary and then having every single one of those plans evaporate just like that! It was pretty traumatic, to be sure, but there was no way I was going to just write off the year. This was a time when the artists needed support more than ever, and so we did whatever we could within the boundaries of the restrictions. It was magical and memorable. We didn’t give up or give in to COVID. By any means necessary!
Looking back, what would you say is your proudest moment?
Over the last 28 years, I can’t pick just one! There have been so many proud moments. I love seeing the artists achieving their goals of being good humans in the world, and especially when they return and ask how they can support the program and uplift and support the new artists.
What do you envision for the future?
You’ll have to stay tuned – there’s so much more in store!
What would you like your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be the positive impact of my work. I want there to be tangible proof that my life had a purpose and that others benefitted. “Service is the rent we pay for living,” as they say, and I want to know that I did my part.
David Messiha | Staff Writer