Done with be­ing shaped by the mu­sic in­dus­try, the Toronto up-and-comer goes back to her roots


COL­LI­SION as part of RED BULL MU­SIC FES­TI­VAL fea­tur­ing EBHONI, LIL BERETE, THE SORORITY, YASMINE and PILLA B at Love Child So­cial House (69 Bathurst), Thurs­day (Oc­to­ber 25), 8 pm. $10-$15. red­bull.ca/TOFes­ti­val.

In per­son and on In­sta­gram, Toronto R&B singer Ebhoni has a seam­less care­free yet cu­rated cool­erthan-you qual­ity about her. It’s what en­tices her nearly 70k fol­low­ers and has landed her mod­el­ling cam­paigns for Adi­das and Ri­hanna’s lin­gerie line, Sav­age X Fenty.

How­ever, when Ebhoni and I meet at a Lib­erty Vil­lage café, there is one strik­ing in­con­sis­tency with her feed: her strik­ingly plat­inum hair is now black.

She first de­buted blonde hair at the be­gin­ning of 2017 and it served as her sig­na­ture look un­til a few weeks ago.

“To be hon­est, I was ac­tu­ally in a re­ally bad sit­u­a­tion when I had blonde hair,” she re­veals.

“[It was] def­i­nitely in­dus­try-re­lated,” she elab­o­rates in a text con­ver­sa­tion a few days later, with­out get­ting spe­cific. “[It was an ex­pe­ri­ence in which] I re­al­ized how young Black women are per­ceived by mid­dle-aged white men and women in the in­dus­try.

“It was the first ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve had where some­one was telling me how I should look and how I should sound. I was just so over hav­ing to make mu­sic that I felt peo­ple wanted me to make and not what I wanted to make.”

Still in her teens, Ebhoni has been putting out mu­sic for a few years now. Although her youth puts her in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion, she looks at her ex­pe­ri­ences so far in the in­dus­try in a pos­i­tive way. “It’s helped me re­al­ize and value who I am and what I love about my­self, es­pe­cially as a young Black girl.”

When she switched back to her nat­u­ral hair colour, she also re­turned to her mu­si­cal roots.

“I feel like my look now has def­i­nitely played a huge part in what I’m work­ing on in my mu­sic be­cause it’s 100 per cent me,” she says.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, Ebhoni re­leased the sin­gle Street Lights, a sul­try, Blood Or­ange-es­que bal­lad that has a much more sub­dued sound than her re­leases ear­lier this year, like bouncy, is­land-in­spired R&B an­thems Opps and Warn­ing. It echoes the feel­ing of 2016’s For­give Me, which pairs the re­frain “I broke your heart” with a quick­en­ing beat – but on Street Lights, she sits in her re­morse rather than mask­ing it in club-ready beats or heavy 808s. The song, along with the oth­ers re­leased this year, show Ebhoni’s will­ing­ness to ex­per­i­ment with­out damp­en­ing her pop po­ten­tial.

Ver­sa­til­ity and au­then­tic­ity are traits shared by other hip-hop and R&B artists in Toronto’s emerg­ing fresh­men class, some of whom will share the stage with Ebhoni at Thurs­day’s Col­li­sion, which aims to show off that new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent. Like Ebhoni, up-and-com­ing MCs Lil Berete and Pilla B are part of a SoundCloud gen­er­a­tion of artists who write their own rules.

In a scene some­times crit­i­cized for its sim­i­lar sounds, Ebhoni says what this up­com­ing group has in com­mon is their sonic di­ver­sity. (And un­like last year, this year’s event has mostly fe­male per­form­ers.)

“In this gen­er­a­tion, every­one is do­ing their own thing,” she says.

While Ebhoni will be rock­ing her newly raven hair at the Red Bull Mu­sic Fes­ti­val event, she doesn’t rule out go­ing back to blonde – but only on her own terms.

“I’ve come to ap­pre­ci­ate all sides of my­self,” she says. mu­sic@nowtoronto.com | @sumikoaw

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