By Nazia Kahn
She’s in your room when you roll out of bed. Her voice fills your head as you brush your teeth. Her energy coaxes you to start another day. She does all this without being seen.
Every weekday, Jemeni, formerly Ryerson graduate Joanne Gairy, co-hosts the Morning Rush on FLOW 93.5. She delivers the entertainment news, but her listeners know she is more than just a voice giving the low-down on the music industry.
“I try to highlight the hundreds of positive hip hop artists with a conscious agenda, the thousands of songs out there that don’t get the play or push,” says the self-proclaimed child of hip hop.
And the perks don’t hurt either, she adds, mentioning that CDs, concerts, clothes and even free trips to Barbados and New York have come her way thanks to her time at FLOW. However, she also says she recognizes what’s really important about her job, and it isn’t the free stuff.
“Mostly [I love] that I get to connect with people, especially young women, ad try to make a difference in their lives. No amount of movie passes or gear comes close to that,” she says.
Glamour girl she isn’t, but with her dreadlocks falling in her eyes and a warm smile it’s hard to disagree that she is, as her co-hosts refer to her daily, the “Jem of all gems.” Apart from her four-and-a-half hour shift at FLOW, Jemeni roams the streets of Toronto as a mentor, public speaker, performance poet and activist. With many of her poems already published in books, and a song currently at number one in Paris, this constellation sees nothing but more stars in her future.
And while Jemeni hungrily awaits her future success, the hip hop community is already celebrating her achievements. Her efforts in the community and on the airwaves have earned her an Urban Music Association of Canada Award and the Caribbean Woman of Excellence Award. In an industry where flash and glitz is prized and self-promotion is the norm, this surprisingly shy woman keeps her efforts focused on her community.
“I just want to affect some level of positive change. If I can encourage a young woman to go for hers, I’m good,” she says proudly.
Before her career at FLOW, Jemeni studied radio and television arts at Ryerson, and even tried her hand at producing local radio shows for CKLN. The ambitious native of Grenada says that juggling her time between class, the campus radio station, volunteering and writing, forced her to grow, professionally and artistically. She experienced a major leap earlier this year, when she performed her first live on-air interview with a rising star, India Arie.
“My interview with her was the most meaningful [of my career],” she says. “It was my first big solo interview live on-air, and there was a lot of pressure on me to do a good job, to represent the station correctly and still make a good impression and connect with her under all the hoopla and I was able to do it … so it meant a lot to me.”
While Jemeni was growing, so was Toronto’s hip hop scene, which has changed through the years from a couple of underground voices (think Snow and Maestro Fresh Wes) into a full fledged mainstream culture that shows no signs of slowing down. A rocket fuelled by music, slang and baggy clothes, hip hop has exploded from the microphones of Toronto acts such as the Arsonists, Choclair, Brass Monk, Kardinal Offishal, Ghetto Concept and others. The movement has taken Jemini’s career with it. Now she is using the genre’s popularity to secure her place in the radio industry.
By ignoring the protests that the culture glorifies crime, drug use and violence, she says she is contending that hip hop is the doorway to history, politics, activism and lyricism.
“[The music] encouraged me to be strong minded enough to have my own opinions; therefore, I was able to take what I wanted from it, leaving some as entertainment, some as garbage and recognizing the rest as gold.”