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Donor crisis simmers just below the sweetness of Honey Jam.

11 year-old Victoria Azevedo steps slowly to the centre of The Mod Club stage.

In a single moment her voice silences the excited chattering of the eager west end crowd, commanding them in to a dazed silence. 

Azevedo was one of 15 young female artists selected to perform at Honey Jam, an annual showcase of local Toronto talent that emphasizes the development of young female musical talent.

With representatives from almost every genre—all the way from folksy country to in-your-face rap—the concert aims to bind together a network of female talent in the Toronto music scene.

In terms of the music community there isn’t another opportunity like it for the young artist,” says Honey Jam founder Ebonnie Rowe, noting that the event’s ability to pack a venue for emerging but often unrecognized talent is a unique one. 

Rowe has been organizing and heading the showcase every year since its conception, working in the trenches to coordinate everything from sound to publicity.

showcase “accidentally” came to fruition in 1995 when Rowe found herself organizing a female rap party in response to an all woman’s issue of now defunct music magazine Mic Check.

Honey JamThe party, which gave female artists a previously unavailable outlet to perform, took the name Honey Jam. 

In the early years the all hip-hop event was meant to protest the rampant misogyny present in hip-hop music while also giving female artists a rallying point in the community.

The ones who come to Honey Jam are the meat and potatoes artists. They’re the ones who starve for their art, the ones who cannot imagine themselves doing anything but this,” says Rowe.

Initially the novelty and purpose of the event made it an absolute hit. With packed venues and binders of media coverage being the norm per set, the event help launch the careers of artists like Nelly Furtado. However, as the years have gone by funding and support has dried up. Not even Honey Jam’s emphasis on community building has managed to spark interest from new donors. 

I don’t know what it is like to have proper funding, to have assistance,” admits Rowe, whose job now includes spreading out a limited budget to ensure the annual tradition can continue.

2014 marked the first year where it seemed like Honey Jam would not be able to support a woman’s charity since its formation in 1995. If not for last minute donations made during the show, the concert would have spurred only enough cash to cover costs, effectively ending a seven year relationship with the YWCA.

Part of the reason is due to the shifting demands of financial supporters, many of whom reserve funds to promote events with established “export-ready” artists, a requirement that directly conflicts with the values Honey Jam was founded upon. 

“That’s not what Honey Jam is,” says Rowe.  “It’s unknown artists, and for many this is their first big show and we are providing a stepping stone. I don’t believe in chasing money and just taking it because it’s there.” 

Despite the financial issues, Rowe has been successful in organizing the event year after year, and she’s done it while navigating logistical hurdles and amid constant suggestions that she should throw in the towel. 

I am too determined to be defeated and I will choose when I am ready to hang it up.”
Dylan Freeman-Grist is a staff writer for Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter

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