International recording artist meets Honey Jam participants
August 16, 2018
Ask platinum-selling recording artist and songwriter Marsha Ambrosius about her first impressions of Toronto and her reaction -- accompanied by a huge smile -- is, ‘Oh lawd’.
The British-born American resident was refused entry into Canada 16 years ago while on tour with 15-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys who she has written for.
“We were following about two or three other buses and when we got to the Buffalo border crossing at around 6 a.m., a customs agent came on board our bus and asked us to produce our travel documents,” she recalled. “Apparently, our drummer decided he was going to go into a back closet and smoke a joint. He was detained for questioning, we weren’t allowed to enter Canada and so we missed our show.”
Ambrosius didn’t allow the negative experience to cloud her perspective of Canada.
On several occasions, she has visited Toronto which is one of her favourite cities.
“It is so clean,” said Ambrosius who, in 2016, released a musical tribute to late Jamaican reggae artist Dennis Brown. “I travel a lot. When I come here, I enjoy the city and, particularly, the food which is really good. It’s very rare that I get a lot of Jamaican cuisine, so that’s the first thing I go and look for when I come into Toronto.”
Ambrosius rose to stardom as a member of the British duo, ‘Floetry’, which performed poetry before switching to music and selling nearly 1,500,000 records worldwide.
In December 2016, the songstress and her husband – Dez Billups -- gave birth to a girl. Her name, Nyla, represents New York and Los Angeles where her dad was born and raised respectively.
Turned 41 on August 8, Ambrosius is relishing the role of motherhood.
“To see the excitement in our daughter’s eyes right before I start to sing is emotional for me and brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “I also didn’t know I had a high level of patience until I got her. I am very impatient by nature. It’s just so beautiful to have someone around that I have all the time in the world for. Sometimes, I ask myself how on earth did I wake her up, change her, feed her and teach her. I am doing these things seamlessly while doing what I need to do. I really didn’t know I am capable of doing so many things. I feel like a superwoman.”
The Grammy-nominated singer’s third studio album is also named after her daughter.
NYLA will be available in stores and online on September 14.
The visuals for the lead single, ‘Old Times’, reflect the emotions felt in the Black community when unarmed Black men are confronted by police.
“As I am listening to the melody, the narrative just felt like a natural progression of not only what’s going on in the world, buy my fear as a wife and mother,” she noted. “When my husband leaves home, I hope he gets to his destination safely without police stopping him. It seems people have become so numb to the violence that they just move on. I refuse to do that.”
Being around musically-inclined parents was Ambrosius’ inspiration to become an artist.
Her Greek-born father, Paul Ambrosius, was a member of a 1970s funk band.
“My dad had all this musical equipment in our home and I used to fiddle with them,” she recounted. “There was the huge marshall speaker which had a fender base and also a lead guitar and piano. It was through my parents’ passion and love for music that became for me, a natural hobby and habit to create this career.”
Had she not become an entertainer, Ambrosius would be teaching creative arts.
“I like to pull out people skill sets,” she said. “Sometimes, you might not see it in yourself. I would sit down with you and try to find out what’s the plan and what you want to do creatively and harness those emotions within the person.”
Ambrosius’ most recent visit to Toronto was for the Honey Jam media launch on July 26.
A total of 14 young artists from across Canada will showcase their talent in various musical genres at the 23nd annual concert on August 23 at The Mod Club.
When asked what advice she gave to aspiring artists, Ambrosius didn’t mince words.
“The first thing I remind them is that all that glitters isn’t gold,” she said. “If you are in this business for the glitz and glamour, those are the wrong reasons and you will be sorely disappointed. If you really have a passion for music, you will find a way to not only do it, but do it seamlessly without thinking that this is work. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to put in the hard work. You just don’t become successful without years of work and training.”
This year’s Honey Jam stellar line-up includes 18-year-old independent rhythm & blues artist Jasmine Kiara who learnt of the concert earlier this year through her network of female artists.
“They encouraged me to try out and I am glad I listened to them,” she said. “I am so excited I was able to make the final cut the first time.”
Kiara, who started singing about a decade ago, recently released her first EP (extended play) recording. It contains six songs, including ‘Real Love’ which was produced by Juno Award winner Eddie Bullen.
“I was very impressed with Jasmine’s vocal stylings and songwriting,” he said. “She has a very unique way of writing which blends old and new genres. Jasmine knows what she wants to hear and thrives for perfection in her music. I expect big things from her.”
Kiara said the collaboration with Bullen was educational and inspirational.
“Eddie was extremely kind and helpful during the process,” she pointed out. “It was the first time doing something like this and I felt comfortable having him in my corner. In addition to the technical aspects, he also taught me about the business side of the music industry. I consider him a mentor and someone I can always call for advice.”
Though not having a favourite artist, Kiara is attracted to American singer/songwriter/dancer Kehlani.
“It seems, to me, she is authentic and her music is warm and gives me a real good feeling.” Kiara, who played the piano, guitar and saxophone, said. “I also like the fact that she writes.”
A graduate of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Mississauga, the teenager is enrolled in York University’s music program.
“I explored other universities, but I chose York because I am doing a double major in music and international development and this is the only institution that accepted me in both programs,” added Kiara.
Becoming a recording artist, an actor and international development analyst are among her career goals.
Produced by Phemphat Entertainment, Honey Jam provides educational, networking, mentoring, promotional and performance opportunities for aspiring female artists across Canada.