A Passion for Storytelling

17 Jul 2006

An interview with Jemeni, radio co-host and spoken word artist

You’ve probably heard her over the airwaves delivering the entertainment news on Flow 93.5’s Morning Rush.  A multi talented writer, spoken word artist, and performer, Jemeni is as passionate about her art as she is about her community.

Born in Grenada, Jemeni grew up in St. Catherines, later moving to Toronto to attend Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program. Out of a passion for hip hop, Jemeni volunteered at Ryerson’s radio station answering telephones. Eventually she was asked to be on air with the hip hop show Powermove.  Many years later she would make her move to Flow.

“It’s very daunting at first to embark on something new.  Your first day is difficult but half a million people aren’t listening intently for you to mess up,” she reflects sitting across from me at a local Starbucks.  “There’s a lot of firsts.  Myself as a woman on the morning show, the first black woman on a commercial station.  There are a lot of milestones.”

For Jemeni, the biggest plus has been connecting with people through community events around the city.  “My favorite part is inspiring other young women.  When I was growing up I didn’t see a space for me.  When I meet other young women who want my job, that’s inspiring for me.”

As co founder of PhemPhat Productions with Ebonnie Rowe and D’nise Harison, Jemeni is committed to creating spaces for more young women to express their talents.  PhemPhat produces the Honey Jam showcase which has featured talented female artists such as Nelly Furtado and Jully Black.  Jemeni will co host this year’s Honey Jam Showcase with Mark Strong, her co host from the Morning Rush.

Jemeni is also known for her work as a spoken word artist.  She is passionate about writing. Her spoken word piece No More Dating DJs won her a 2004 Spoken Word Recording of the Year Award at the Canadian Urban Music Awards.

“My writing is an extension of myself,” says Jemeni.  “I can be political and introspective but I can also look at things in a comedic way.  Sometimes women get pegged into a specific role.  I like to challenge myself to try to do something different.  Life inspires me.  I’m in love with words.  I’ll write it on a napkin and come back to it later.  I’m famous for sitting in a corner writing before I walk on stage.”

Inspired by writers such as Langston Hughes “I would lick the ground under the garbage pail where he put his old poems,” Jemeni doesn’t write poetry for poetry fans.  “The biggest success for me is when I get to people who aren’t poetry fans.  I love Langston because he used street language.  He wasn’t afraid to speak to us in the language we understand.  I want to do it (poetry) in a way that regular people can get it.”

Jemeni’s performance roles include more than spoken word pieces.  She performed in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, and appeared in the movie Kojak.  “I came to a realization that all the things I do is one thing.  It’s story telling.  Even in radio I’m interpreting the stories,” says Jemeni.

Her latest project finds her cast in the play I Am Not a Dinner Mint…the crap women swallow to stay in a relationship, directed by Trey Anthony and co written by Trey Anthony and Rachael Lea Rickards.  The play features a series of dramatic monologues performed by five women.

“It’s kind of like a sex in the city,” says Jemeni.  “Essentially these are our stories too.  We’re showing the perspective of different women who come at relationships from different angles.”

She is featured in a piece called I’m Afraid of Water.  “It’s a young woman feeling uncertain and being afraid to jump in wholeheartedly.  It’s being afraid to open up yourselves to possibilities. It can be interpreted in many ways,” says Jemeni.  “The other piece I’m in is called Drive Him Away.  It’s a comedic look at how men are like cars.”

“With Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues I felt like I was giving a gift to the audience.  I feel like I am doing the same with this play.  Like Trey says, you are healing the audience but you are also healing yourselves.”

What’s next for this multi talented artist? She has a new song with a DJ in Germany called Jesus was a B Boy coming out at the end of the summer which looks at Jesus from a hip hop perspective.  You can also catch Jemeni on Muchmusic’s Video on Trial as a guest commentator.

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