Bill King: Some people run from the past others embrace, especially when it colors their future. Ammoye you’ve you grew up in the mountains of Jamaica.
Ammoye Evans: In the Claredon Parish the country parts of Jamaica in a little town called Halse Hall. My grandmother and grandfather raised me in the church. I was singing in the church choir since I was three years old. That’s where I got my gusto for singing. My grandfather played the banjo, harmonica and guitar and he would always be tapping away at something, always playing something. My grandmother would always be humming melodies around the yard when doing chores. That is my start. There was a lot of good music. She was a very positive woman; she is like the backbone of the community to be honest with you. She’d cook food and give us to take around to the elderly, the ones who couldn’t leave their houses. She was that kind of women. But, it was always Christian music, gospel music as we call it. It wouldn’t be the dancehall reggae music.
B.K: You must have turned some heads with that.
A.E: They weren’t happy when I left the church and wasn’t singing gospel music. I would say to her before she passed away and even my mom now; I do sing gospel – gospel for the people. My songs are uplifting and positive songs. I don’t talk about how much “bling” I have or gyrating here and there.
B.K: When your life is rooted in the church you may think you can run away from it but you still remain influenced throughout your life.
A.E: Values and integrity!
B.K: Maiko, you were born in Guyana – remember any of that?
Maiko Watson: I did leave when I was three months old and have been back three times. I have huge family there from my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather has sixteen brothers and sisters and I have so many cousins. I don’t have a lot of extended family here so going there everyone was welcoming with open arms – so warm and everywhere we went our cousins cooking food for us – a really nice feeling.
B.K: The last time you were there?
M.W: About three years ago.
B.K: Did they know you as a professional singer – rope you and make you sing?
M.W: Of course. There’s a jazz club in Georgetown called the Sidewalk Café and I got up and sang “Summertime” with the band. I love jazz standards.
B.K: Sugar Jones! I’m going to torture you with this. Was this in your teens?
M.W: Yes; and a show called Pop Stars on Global. It ran early 2,000 at the beginning of reality TV. It was one of the first “make a band” types of shows.
I was living in Winnipeg where I grew up and they didn’t even have auditions there and it was like, I’ve got to get money and go to Montreal and do this audition.
I just had this feeling about it. I borrowed money from my sister and crashed with a friend who lived in Ottawa and went through the process which was a pretty crazy ride. It was about making a girl group – Spice Girls style.
B.K: Sugar Jones – platinum records – did very well. Ammoye what was your first recording?
A.E: It was way back in the day!
B.K: I’m looking at you and the day can’t be that far back.
A.E: They say black don’t crack – that’s what that is. 2007 was my first recording with Version Excursion. They were two DJs that wanted to work with me and we put out an EP together of five songs and two remixes of the lead songs. “Kicking Rocks” was the lead single and “Musical Revolution” as well.
B.K: Did you instantly fall into reggae coming here?
A.E: It took awhile. I’m influenced by all of these different genres and artists. I love jazz, I love dance music, I love R ‘n B, I love Hip Hop so I was dibbling and dabbling in all these things trying to find myself, my voice. Obviously, reggae is one of my first loves in that I love Bob Marley, the writing – what he was singing about. I aspired to be just like that. Make music that is timeless you can always relate too. Sing songs that are food for thought; that gives you something to think about. Social consciousness, spirituality – whatever it is that matters to you and me.
B.K: I always find it strange in that, Marley, his words deal with deep issues – poverty, social unrest – injustice yet you can go anywhere in the world and they will be background at a beach bar – one of those tropical interludes, a source of merriment.
A.E: You’ve got to love him for that.
B.K: I’m hearing “Concrete Jungle” as they pour a Pina Coloda. Get up, stand up.
A.E: And they are ready to get up and dance. No matter where you are in the world people know Bob Marley’s music.
B.K: After Marley the recognition factor fades. You sort of have to search out. You and Maiko – how did you meet?
A.E: I knew when I first saw her I had to meet her. I knew Sugar Jones – had the album and everything – I was obsessed with Sugar Jones.
B.K: How did you and Exco Levi connect – five-time Juno nominee?
A.E: He called me his “singa”…. He’s a fan of mine and I’m a fan of his. He respects what I do and the both of us wanted to do something together. We were on the road together celebrating his release “County Man.” He’s won the last four Junos.
B.K: Is five the cut off point? Ammoye is your middle name?
A.E: It’s from the Italian word Amori – my dad gave it to me and it means, “to love.” That’s what I sing about; love, equal rights and justice for all. I knew this when I was a kid I was going to be Ammoye.
B.K: Maiko – where’s the name from?
M.W: It’s a Japanese name that always confuses people because I’m not Japanese. My dad traveled a lot and liked the name. My sister has an Arabic name, Bahia.
B.K: Bahia is a character. If you can get through her stage show you have witnessed something words can’t begin describe.
M.W: Pomme is French for Apple..
B.K: I had to rethink my life – it is great and highly entertaining. After the “Jones” wore off what happened?
M.W: I went back to Winnipeg for a while and got really involved in the jazz scene there. Then I started playing in a disco/jazz kind of band – doing shows and writing. I put out a solo album with the help of the jazz station there.
B.K: Cool Jazz?
M.W: Yes, it doesn’t exist anymore.
B.K: Girl groups are tough to keep together.
M.W: They are. I kind of left the group – ran away and got married. Then life took a turn. I put the album out here – I’ve been writing and getting my second solo album together.
B.K: How do you reinvent yourself?
M.W: Music is the foundation and I just want the music to speak for it.
B.K: Ammoye – when you came to Canada there was no mango tree to sing under. What did you do?
A.E: I love going to the parks. My favourite one is on Scarlett Road. I love being out in nature and do a lot of good writing and “earthing” when I’m one with Gaia.
I’m a tree hugger – I love to kiss and talk to my trees. I have plants in my home and they all have their own names and talk to them every morning when I get up and water them. Sing to them. They don’t judge me – you know.
B.K: Maiko, you say you love to sing jazz- was this something your family shared?
M.W: My mom loves the divas; Barbara Streisand, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion – so I grew up being very influenced by that. My father is a folk singer and really into the storytelling – played guitar and harmonica. I really loved Billie Holiday’s voice and would listen all day all night when I was a kid.
It’s the same thing as Ammoye said – it’s very eclectic and influenced by so many things.
B.K: Your thoughts on Black History month?
A.E: I love the initiative to make time to acknowledge and remember people who paved the way for us to even be able to share our music freely without being chained and shackled and free to do so. I do celebrate the people who made all this possible for us. I’m all about that. The one thing about giving back I work with InspirEd Arts Resources run by Kim Erin Spratt and what we do is go around to schools around the GTA area and tell students about black history through drumming, storytelling and singing.
B.K: Maiko, your thoughts.
M.W: I agree – black history awareness needs to be more of a year round thing. It is in my conversations with people – know your history, know where you came from is something that was instilled in me from a young age. My mom took the time to teach me and my sister at home.
B.K: It’s still a strange divide. So much of contemporary life is influenced by black culture yet full acceptance as people seems elusive. Just step over the border into the states.
M.W: Why is that? I was in a road trip recently through the states and went to Montgomery, Alabama to see Rosa Park’s Library and Museum – it was really, really moving. Just reading people’s quotes about what they experienced. How they were put down and humiliated. To be there now as they try to make change and educate people is inspiring.