Even in a world of musical anomalies, 4-time Juno nominee Ammoye is that rarest of things: a powerful female singer/songwriter in reggae, a genre that makes prevailingly male hip-hop seem wildly progressive by comparison. If Ammoye’s story started and ended there, it would be riveting. That her life and by extension, her dazzling original music and unerringly upbeat worldview is the outcome of tremendous victory over adversity make her a performer who both inspires and entertains.
“It’s imperative that feminine energy be represented in reggae,” Ammoye confirms. “We have a voice and we need to be heard just as much as males. It's very important. The imbalance is unfortunate, and I am determined to change it.”
Only a fool would bet against her. Yet Ammoye — four times nominated for a Juno Award and the winner of the 2015 Reggae Exclusive Recognition Awards who counts musical greats Ziggy Marley, Freddie McGregor, Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Sly Dunbar and Steven "Lenky" Marsden among her influences — is too versatile to rest in one category.Indeed, as the singer makes clear on her extraordinary and sprawling new album, The Light which includes the thoroughly irresistible, keyboard-goosed smash “Sorry,” Ammoye is as comfortable singing dancehall, gospel, soul, and R&B as she is soaring above an ace reggae groove. Need a solid dose of sunshine and positivity? Simply look into The Light.
“I wouldn't wish the struggles in my life on anybody,” Ammoye says with disarming candour, recalling her upbringing in small-town Jamaica where she and her two siblings lived with her large extended family on very limited means.“Because of the foundation laid by my grandmother, who raised us with my grandfather when my mom relocated to Canada to improve her life, I was able to endure and to overcome all obstacles. I refused to be a victim and I used all the bad experiences I went through to push myself harder to become more and greater than any of my circumstances.My grandmother taught me to trust my inner voice,” Ammoye adds, “and it has been my saving grace over all my conscious years so far.”
On The Light, slice-of-life tracks like the slow-churning “Don’t Count Me Out” and the vaguely psychedelic “Guns Off The Street” vividly document some of the travails that dogged Ammoye’s early years, including (but not limited to) violence, poverty, and political turf wars. But it’s also clear that Ammoye — who lists Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones, Sade, Tina Turner, and Erykah Badu as kindred spirits — sculpted hardship into strength, unearthing the constructive from the destructive and using music to reflect it all. It’s impossible to hear The Light and not feel electrified.
“I work harder now for everything I want to accomplish because of all that I've been through,” she says. “I know not to take anything for granted because a lot of people simply don't have the opportunities that I have now.”
In addition to family, Ammoye found strength and solace singing in her local church choir in hometown Clarendon, Jamaica. After choir practice, she would regale the neighbourhood with her latest songs and poems from the top of the mango tree in her backyard.In her late teens, reuniting with her mother brought Ammoye to Toronto. She quickly established herself in the community by forming the Sisters in Christ church group and the Voices of the Underground Artist movement, leading to further involvement and collaborations in Toronto’s vibrant music scene.
Over the past several years, Ammoye has been consistently performing at high-profile events and festivals around the world, including the 150,000-attendee EXIT festival in Serbia. The opportunity to sing at major festivals and shows on four continents has afforded Ammoye the blessing of sharing the stage with before-mentioned marquee artists as well as with Chronixx, Romain Virgo, Chris Martin, Tarrus Riley, Barrington Levy, and fellow Toronto-based Jamaican transplant Exco Levi, to just name a few.
The 2017 Juno nomination for the hit “Sorry” (she was also nominated in 2013 and 2014) came on the heels of Ammoye’s officially released debut mixtape Enter the Warriorress which showcased an eclectic mix of new and unreleased tracks, compiled with Kingston production powerhouse Natural High Music. This peek into Ammoye’s heart and soul was just a taste of what is revealed on The Light which features collaborations with top Jamaican reggae talent including legends Sly Dunbar and Lenky Marsden, acclaimed songwriter Mikey Bennett, Kirkledove and Donovan Germain of Penthouse Records and Natural High.
“For me, The Light is a call to action,” Ammoye says. “My intent is to travel across the globe spreading my light through my music and bringing awareness that it's OK to change things up and do things differently, to see each other differently, and to come from a place of love and understanding without judgment. That's the message and energy I want people to take away from my album. If that happens, then it’s a success.”