Who is Joni NehRita?

18 Dec 2005

If you have not heard of Joni NehRita Rodney yet, it will only be a matter of time. This charismatic and talented artist has been wowing Toronto audiences for years with her brand of uplifting, inspirational jazz-imbued soul music. Her music is inspired by a wide variety of genres with special focus on what is referred to as “Grown Folk’s music”. Beyond vocals, she also plays the piano skillfully. Her performances are also pure and heartfelt because she likes to give her listeners deep, meaningful insights through her lyrics.

In 2003, Joni NehRita Rodney was a 26-year old vocal teacher when she joined Canadian Idol. I was not surprised. I had seen her playing to the crowd at an event called La Parole on Yonge Street, Toronto a year earlier. She had a beautifully haunting voice reminiscent of what I imagine a Mombassa (Kenya) mermaid would sound like.

Toronto musician Joni NehRita

Referred to as one of the smoother singers by one of the shows critics, she made it to the top 30, along with Toya Alexis, Gary Beals, Audrey De Montigny and Billy Klippert who made it to the top ten. I recently sat down with Joni at her home for an interview.

First of all please tell me about yourself.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Both my parents are from Jamaica. I never really had the experience of living with both parents at the same time. I lived with my mother until I was sixteen and then I don’t know, weird things happened and she ended up moving to the States, so I moved in with my dad. I started getting to know my dad at sixteen. I mean I knew him but I am referring to getting closer.

I wanted to congratulate you for having the courage to be a part of the Canadian Idol. Can you please tell me about that experience?

Where do I begin? Ah, Canadian Idol. It’s funny because in the beginning I did not want to join. I thought it was kind of cheesy you know just because I knew that they probably did not let you be your real self as an artist. Like they would try to mold you into whatever they thought the Idol was. So I never went into it with the intent of trying to win. I just thought it would be cool if I could get some visibility on TV and maybe meet some interesting people through that or make some connections that way. So I went and I had a really had a good time, although many people think that I got ripped off because I did not make the top ten.

When were you first aware of the fact that you wanted to be a singer? At what age?

I was always aware of it. I cannot remember not being aware of it but I definitely was not one of those kids that went around saying ‘I am going to be a star.’ I told myself that, but I did not tell my parents that because they were very traditional in a lot of ways and to them it’s not a real career to become a musician.

What did your parents think when they first heard you wanted to go into singing?

They were not impressed. They said you get a real job, you should go to university, which I did to please them. I thought, okay I will become a teacher or lawyer or something. So that is what they wanted. They wanted me to have a nice, respectable, normal, safe job. My dad used to say, ‘I know why you want to be a musician, it’s because you are lazy, isn’t it?’ Now he knows. But eight years ago, all I could say is dad you are so mean. [Laughs] Now he sees the struggle and they are both really supportive now but it took a few years for them to know that it was not just a passing phase. Or that I just wanted to be famous. I believe that it’s literally what I was meant to do.

When did you first begin singing?

My mum would tell me that when I was two, whenever Soul Train would come on, I would go in front of the TV and sing, or try to sing and dance along. It was always something that I did. I used to write songs when I was a little kid and make up dance routines. But then again at that age, I must have sensed that it was not acceptable to really want to do that so I did not try to force it upon my parents. I did get my mother to buy me a keyboard when I was nine but she could not afford to pay for my piano lessons. So I taught myself. She bought some books and said get to it. So I did.

Obviously you are your own individual, but do you feel a closeness to Hidden Beach Records musicians like Jill Scott and the Neosoul Movement?

Yes and no with the Neosoul Movement. I mean I love Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild and people like that. I guess the only difference is that with myself, I personally really like recording live with real instruments and not programming and stuff like that. India Arie would be another one that I really love. I just have an affinity for music from the 60’s and the 70’s when it was all in front of the microphone and you had everything from the orchestra to the bass player to the drummer to the three background singers. If I had money, that is what I would do. But even though I do not have that much money, I still don’t use that much programming in my music and that is probably why it is taking me so long to finish my album (laughs.) I still insist on using real people.

How has your music been received in Toronto?

That’s an interesting question. I feel like I am finally getting recognition at least from my peers. I think sometimes people like the music but I come across as too nice. People always tell me that I have to be more aggressive and sassy and that I have to be a b*tch to make it in the industry. But that is not me. When I was younger I felt like I was never getting any recognition for my writing and the people that were getting recognition were making it were tough. But now I feel like it’s coming full circle. 

Would you say that your songs are aimed at any group of people in particular?

I do not write with the intent of a certain audience in mind, but I guess it’s aimed for people that are looking for something more meaningful and deep.

Toronto is filled with many aspiring singers. What is it about you that stands out?

My writing. I do not strive to be like vocal gymnastics or anything like that. I just strive to be centered enough to let whatever inspiration come through purely so that I can just share it just like that.

So what''s next for Joni Nehrita Rodney?

Completing my album.

What do you need to complete that?

Money. I have a few people working on spec-that is for free until the money comes in. But essentially it’s money.

I hope that you take breaks here and there. What do you do in your free time?

Honestly? Music. I am either thinking about music, writing music, arranging music. I also like yoga and Pilates, I try and do that as often as I can when I wake up. I love to read.

For more on Joni NehRita, please visit www.myspace.com/joninehrita

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