Interview: Jamaican ‘Soul Rebel’ Ammoye on Consciousness, Rebirth & Claiming Heaven on Earth

As a kid growing up in the provincial little village of Halse Hall, in the Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, the now-force-of-nature songstress Ammoye (Shernette Amoy Evans) was not even allowed to listen to reggae music, which her grandmother, who was raising her, considered vulgar. But by the age of six she was singing in the church choir, which imbued her with a strong sense of music as a great communicator of spirituality.

Her considerable will eventually won out, and she ultimately threw herself into the local dancehall scene. When her grandmother passed, she joined her mother in Toronto, where she discovered hip-hop, soul, house music, R&B… and the musical foundation was laid for what is now her genuinely inimitable style. Still, she points to a “profound spiritual awakening” in 2012 as the true watershed moment in her artistic odyssey.

Since then she has been nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian Grammys) on five separate occasions, and released the utterly singular solo album The Light in 2017.

But as we struggle out of this global pandemic at the tail end of 2021, she finds herself decisively poised for the next great chapter of her musical journey, with a new album whose title, Water (via Lulaworld Records), is very much about her personal rebirth. The first single ‘Give It All’, a lush, chill-inducing empowerment anthem, has already netted her the latest of those Juno nominations – while the sultry, slinky-grooved ‘Bad Behavior’ also definitively reminds that Ammoye is not someone to be messed with or taken lightly. Overall, the thirteen tracks represent a remarkable fusion of genres, and exhibit an artist arguably at the height of her creative powers.

We caught up with her to discuss what it all means.

Were you aware of reggae music as a kid?

I was aware of reggae, yes. Even though we were not allowed to listen to what my grandmother termed “vulgar music” or “ungodly music.” At times I would sneak and listen to other music, especially when I was a teenager going to high school, and was exposed to more secular reggae. I was a dancer then, and we danced to a lot of different dancehall music, until inevitably my grandmother found out about it. By then I had fallen in love with the music and dancing, so I nagged and I begged her to allow me to continue in the dance group. I was relentless until she gave in. 

Why did you leave for Canada?

I left Jamaica after my grandmother passed, and I migrated to Toronto. This was also shortly after I graduated from Clarendon College. The plan was always for my siblings and I to come to Toronto and join my mother, who was already living in Canada pursuing a better life for herself and her family. 

How did both places lay a foundation for the artist you would become?

Both played an integral role. Jamaica introduced me to gospel, spirituality and reggae. I loved and respected Bob Marley’s writing and music, it is conscious, relatable and timeless. True reggae music speaks to the heart, it’s food for thought. So I aimed to write music that would also empower, uplift, motivate and inspire my audience to find their joys in life and to live fully and unapologetically.

Coming to Toronto, where I was then exposed to even more genres of music and cultures, only expanded my consciousness and awareness. I fell in love with hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop, jazz, electronic, dub, house music…you name it. All of these inspired me to want to create my own unique sound: “Jamma,” Jamaican music meets North American influences. My reggae music is now more of a fusion.

Your new album is called Water – what is the significance of the title?

It’s called Water because it represents my rebirth, the new me since discovering the light within myself. In 2012 I experienced a profound spiritual awakening that transformed my life completely. It was me discovering a new intimate and personal spiritual relationship with my inner self, my Higher Self. My writing changed, my consciousness and awareness evolved on all levels, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and even physically. I upgraded. I have been continuously going through more profound awakenings, changes, healing, releasing, clearing, growth and evolving since then. I am more fearless, more empowered, more unapologetic about expressing my truth.

What were some of the things that inspired your writing on this album, musical and otherwise?

The incredibly profound changes I have been experiencing on a personal level and what I’ve been seeing and learning about what is happening within our collective and ever changing world at large. 

‘Bad Behavior’ is built around a theme of self-belief and empowerment. Have you sometimes found it hard, being a woman in a male dominated genre?

That’s an understatement. Absolutely, yes, I have experienced so many challenges being a woman in the reggae industry. Too many to list here. However, as a “Lightworker” and a “Soul Rebel,” which I call myself, I have come to understand that even though there have been these challenges along the way, I no longer need to nor am I required to give those situations my power. I now choose to focus on the energy I give to the things happening in and around me. I call it energy management.

Another track, ‘A Storm is Coming’, seamlessly blends jazz and reggae stylings – what are some of your most pronounced influences?

For sure jazz, soul, gospel, spiritual inspirational and R&B music. I fuse those influences with reggae. I am also largely influenced by artists like Sade, Chet Baker, and Lauryn Hill, to name a few. Chet Baker was the soundtrack for me throughout 2020, I literally rinsed his music, especially the Keepnews Collection album, the entire year while I was writing for Water

How would you ultimately describe your music?

I would describe my music as multidimensional, eclectic, fresh and new. It’s ever changing and evolving feel good conscious music. Jamma is music with energy and intent to not only uplift, empower, motivate, and inspire my listeners to go within and find their joy, but it also aims to activate my audience. Ultimately my music will raise your vibration and frequency to a higher level. 

What do you hope people will take away from listening to the album?

What I would love for people to take away from listening to the album is hope. To be encouraged. To never give up on life, on themselves or humanity. The best is yet to come for all of us as individuals, as a collective. I want my audience to know you are supported and not alone. You are valued and you belong. You are so worthy of a beautiful abundant, joyful, healthy and prosperous life of freedom. So take it easy on yourself, fall in love with you and your life. Focus on the good, take back your power and claim your peace of Heaven on Earth.

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