Sometimes life can become even sweeter in only 60 seconds.
That’s how little time it took for a group of Toronto music shakers to choose Amber J from 100-plus auditions, as one of 15 performers in the big city’s 2016 Honey Jam.
For 21 years Honey Jam has been bringing the sounds of up-and-coming female talent to the megacity stage, and by doing so, providing a vital support network and mentorship for women artists, like Amber J.
Locals may be thinking that all sounds really great, but also wondering ‘Who is Amber J?’ and ‘What’s her connection to Trail?’
Turns out Amber J, a big talent with her own unique blend of R&B, pop and folk, is actually Amber Oosthuyzen formerly of Trail.
She’s a 2011 graduate from J.L. Crowe Secondary School, and a student the Trail Times featured that year. Then 17, Amber was one of 20 students from across Canada to receive a prestigious TD Community Leadership Scholarship in part, for her role in launching “Redefining Beauty,” a four-week program to help boost self-esteem for girls from grades seven through 12. At the time, she told the newspaper about her plans of using the weighty scholarship to earn a degree in International Development and Sociology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Fast forward to today, Amber did indeed stay that course and graduated with her respective degree last May. But after working at an inner city youth centre and youth homeless shelter in Nova Scotia’s capital for a year, life happenings had Amber moving to Ontario and revisiting her childhood dream of making music.
“My life course changed a bit and through a series of events I found myself in Toronto and really pushing music,” Oosthuyzen told the Trail Times in a phone interview. “The last few months have been a whirlwind of just writing and meeting people – I didn’t even realize that people wanted to hear the sound that I have.”
Born in South Africa and raised in Trail, at the tender age of 22, Oosthuyzen already has diverse influences behind her evolving sound.
With help from her sister Kharri, manager of the Amber J label, she’s been working 24/7 on building her self-written repertoire of songs as well as braving auditions – that’s how she ended up in the very popular Honey Jam Concert, slated for Aug. 11 at The Mod Club in downtown T.O.
“You never know what to expect when you go for auditions,” she shared. “It was one of the people on my management team who said I needed to go, I didn’t even realize how big it was until I got there.”
She admits the experience of sitting through 50 tryouts from very talented female artists was intimidating – but never one to shy away from a new challenge – Amber got on stage and did her thing. (Click link to see Amber sing).
“There was a level of inspiration because you are watching girl after girl perform, all amazing artists who get up there and give it there all,” she added. “And the audition was only 60 seconds, so you really have to pack a punch in that time and sing your little heart out as fast as you can.”
After the Honey Jam audition, Amber went along with life. When she wasn’t pulling a shift at the local establishment, Amber was spending her days writing new songs and meeting with other artists.
“Not that I forgot about it, but a month went past before I got the call to tell me I had been chosen,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a very cool experience that I didn’t expect, so now I am just kind of going with it.”
As Amber J (J comes from her middle name, Joy) continues to live in the moment, she shared her gratitude in getting to this point.
“My sister Kharri has really challenged me and gotten me in the room with the right people, so here we are,” she said. “But I am only as strong as my team, so am very lucky and blessed to have a good support system here to help me build my brand.”
Her stage time in Trail began with singing in church at the age of six. In her high school years, Amber performed in the Crowe Variety Show for three years, placed third in Kootenay Teen Idol, sang at charity events like Relay for Life and Grounds for Haiti, and was runner up in the 2010 for Showcase World Wide in Toronto.
Then in 2014, she placed third in Dalhousie’s “Got Talent,” and her original song “You Scare Me” was featured in a Polyscope Production film, The Takeaway.
Most recently, she released her first single, “Mind Games,” a song that’s gathering steam on college radio as she works toward finishing her self-written EP, “While You Were Sleeping.”
“Literally, I feel like I am living just the stereotypical dream of a musician right now,” she said. “And the thing about Honey Jam is that you are part of a community. It’s not just a competition, you become part of the Honey Jam family, that connects you with other strong female artists across the city and across Canada.”
With the change of scenery in a city that never sleeps, Amber says the change of pace can be overwhelming and calls for a certain level of sacrifice.
“People here don’t sleep so that means I don’t sleep,” she laughed. “But something I like to highlight is that this project (Honey Jam) is not just about Amber J, it’s more than just myself.
“It’s definitely the team I have behind me. Working not just with my sister but other people who are behind the scenes that may not want to be noticed – it’s support by a group of people I have who are making this happen and I have a lot of respect and thanks for them – it’s really exciting.”
Honey Jam is produced by PhemPhat Entertainment Group, a non-profit that since 1995 has given young women interested in careers as artists in the music industry, mentoring, networking, educational and performance opportunities.
The event is hosted by singer-songwriter Tika Simone, with this year’s artists hailing from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, representing a diverse range of genres including pop, hip-hop, rap, R&B, soul, dance, country and folk.
“We were all so impressed by the high level of talent that came out to the auditions,” said Ebonnie Rowe, founder and producer of Honey Jam. “We can’t wait for others to see them hit the stage and for the rest of the country to meet them.”
Leading up to the concert, artists have the chance to receive vocal and performance training and workshops. After the concert, some artists will receive additional opportunities such as receiving song demo sessions at Slaight Studios, over $5,000 of sound equipment from Yamaha, participate in an Artist Incubator program at Coalition music and perform at a concert in Barbados.
A portion of the proceeds will support the YWCA programs for women and girls.
For more information about Honey Jam, as well as photos and bios of the lineup, visit honeyjam.com.
“I’ve started practicing with the house band, which is an awesome group of talented individuals who are supporting us musically,” said Amber. “All the finalists will do one song, it’s a pretty cool showcase and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”