AHI’s introduction to folk music wasn’t through mainstays like early Bob Dylan or rocker Bob Seger. In fact, the Brampton artist’s first taste of folk came from a different Bob — Bob Marley. For AHI (pronounced “eye”), folk isn’t a genre defined by a distinct sound, but an ethos bound by one’s acoustic instrument, storytelling abilities, and voice. Those are the qualities that make up AHI’s sound, one that’s captured the attention of music fans across Canada – and even Rita Marley, Bob’s widow.
In 2013, AHI’s cover of Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” – a stripped-down acoustic rendition that places the spotlight squarely on his raspy yowl – was featured on Marley’s official website. Along with that highlight came a personal note from Rita herself – which AHI initially thought was spam. “Once I realized it was real, I was honoured,” he explains. “Bob Marley is the primary reason why I believed I could become a singer. He taught me that music is medicinal and revolutionary.”
Since then, AHI’s music (which he sometimes refers to as “indie soul”) has been featured on CBC’s Hello Goodbye, his track “Ol’ Sweet Day” charted on Billboard’s Spotify Viral 50, and this year he was a JUNO Master Class finalist. As he continues to work on music, he hopes that his successes can help broaden our perceptions of what folk music can be, especially when it comes to racial diversity.
“The biggest challenge was convincing myself that I belonged in the folk community,” AHI reveals, of finding representation in folk. “I’ve noticed an active effort on the part of the folk community to not only be inclusive, but to celebrate their diversity. It’s an uphill climb, but the climb has made me a better and smarter musician.”
Partner’s online bio casts a pretty wide net of topics under their songwriting ambitions. Among the themes the duo hopes to “freely explore” in their songs are time, memory, intimacy, friendship, Canadiana and sexuality.
And so far, they’ve already achieved many of those – all before even releasing a full-length album.
To Sackville, New Brunswick, natives Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, no topic is too big or too small to write about. On “The Ellen Page,” they celebrate actress Ellen Page’s coming out; on “Comfort Zone,” they speak on the importance of safe spaces, be they physical or mental ones.
Sonically, Niles and Caron deliver their messages over raucous power chords and reverb galore, with garage-punk-pop drawing comparisons to bands like Weezer, Nirvana and Hole.
“We’re always striving to evolve and become more inclusive, lyrically,” Niles explains. “We’re also always striving to become better songwriters, better performers, the best we can be in every way.”
A full-length album is on the way, Niles promises. Recorded with Beliefs’ Josh Korody, it’s been in the works for a year now. While they’ve been working on some songs for as long as three years, Niles says, “The album as a whole might hold a few surprises — you’ll just have to listen and find out!”
Stella Rio is a student of jazz, but also a lover of pop and R&B. All of those influences coalesce in her songwriting, especially on her single, “Don’t Go Away” — a beautifully crafted melody at its core, delivered with a soulful, jazz-inflected vocal flair. It’s a style uniquely her own, and it’s paid off in the past year.
Having trained under a local jazz artist at a young age, the Toronto singer-songwriter’s musical DNA will always include her exposure to that genre. “That was probably the moment when I realized how powerful music truly is,” Rio recalls. “I love that jazz can take you away to a different era. At the end of the day, when I need inspiration, I go back and listen to my favourite artists, like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.”
All these years later, Rio is still perfecting her mix of classic jazz and current-day pop. She’s now working closely with Kuya Productions, the team who most recently helped Alessia Cara put out hits like “Here” and “Seventeen.” Through Kuya Productions, Rio even earned a writing credit for British pop group Little Mix’s track, “F.U.”
Rio’s upcoming six-track EP promises to be filled with personal experiences, focusing on her preferred subjects of love and heartbreak. As she admits, “I see myself as a romantic and a dreamer.”