Shayne Amani is the personification of Canadian-Jamaican reggae, utilizing new sounds and techniques, such as synths and trap hi-hats, over classic roots reggae tracks. He can drop his signature vocal stylings over the low, sub-bass of a dub-reggae beat just as naturally as he can vocalize melodies and hooks over an acoustic guitar. As a performer, he harnesses the power of live reggae music to capture the feeling of oneness and embrace his audience.
The first time I came across Shayne Amani was in a video from the 2021 MixTO festival in Toronto. As I made my way through videos from the festival’s live performances, I discovered a video of Shayne performing “Smiley Face”. In the video he waves his arm side-to-side and reaches out to the audience with a call-and-answer of, “Reggae music!”, conducting their participation. I reached out to Shayne for an interview to find out how he cultivated his unique sound. We met online during lockdown, and I immediately noticed how humble and high spirited he is. When I ask how he’s doing, he replies, “Still alive!”
As always, I break the ice with a Speed Round:
Smol: What’s your favourite drink?
SA: I don’t really do pop and all that stuff, I tend to like red wine or moscato. Especially moscato, I like that one.
Smol: Favourite animal?
SA: Dog. Pit bull.
Smol: What’s your favourite memory?
SA: Well, I could say a lot, but one favourite childhood memory I could say from back home in Jamaica, where I’m from. It’s a small community called Galloway, that’s the west-side of Jamaica. There was a little river close by and me and my friends would go to the river and dive in, doing different things, flips here and there. Yeah, it was a good time. Good memory.
Smol: Do you have a favourite restaurant?
SA: I don’t know if I have one. But, you know, I experienced this one place here in Toronto, it’s called Planta. It’s pretty good, I won’t lie!
Smol: What’s your favourite album of all time?
SA: I must say, for sure, Bob Marley and The Wailers. One of the tracks that had be going recently was, you know, Jamming. I was listening to that and thinking that I can’t wait to get
back to that.
Smol: Who is Shayne Amani?
SA: I must say, I’m a pretty laid-back type of person. Those who really know me know that I’m always about a laid-back vibe. I’m just trying to get along with everybody, because you know I work with a lot of people. First and foremost I would say laid-back. I’m not a confrontational kind of guy unless I need to. I would also say patient, humble, also keen. Those are some things I would say about myself.
Smol: How long have you been playing music for?
SA: Oh geez, I need to scratch my head for that one! I have a photo somewhere on my phone, I was trying to sort out that photo, I was asking my uncle, “Yo, uncle. Where’s that photo?” But I think I was six years old. I remember that day. I was with my uncle, he was on the guitar, I had one of the mics and my cousin had the other mic. I remember I was in a t-shirt and briefs, you know, and all legs [laughs]. It was just a little jam, because my uncle plays music and he had a band, he still has a band, but before it was crazy.
Smol: How did it feel the first time you held the microphone?
SA: I will say there were a little bit of nerves, for sure. But after doing it continuously, it’s like a normal feeling. Once you have people watching you and cheering you on, like at first you’re nervous, but once you break that ice – you’re good.
Smol: What instruments do you play?
SA: I play guitar. I’m not Jimi Hendrix now [laughs] but yeah, I play. I can make my way around it. But the first thing I played was drums. Actually I was just watching a few people that my uncle had playing drums with the band at the time. So it wasn’t like someone showed me, going through the rounds and teaching me, it wasn’t like that. Even with the guitar it wasn’t like that. I should tell you [laughs] the first time I got to the guitar was because of YouTube. I must say thanks to YouTube. So, yeah, by watching other players I would just catch things here or there. It took a while, I won’t lie. When I was 18, then I was really flying!
Smol: How do you describe your sound?
SA: My sound? I would say it’s a refreshing sound because I tend to fuse a lot of things in music. You know, keep it fresh. I would definitely say it sounds like peace and love. I try to understand that balance and try to do good, be the best version of yourself.
Smol: How has growing up in Jamaica shaped you as an artist?
SA: I won’t lie, you know, it really helped me in the sense of – always trying to go, go, go; be better as an artist. A lot of the people who know me, they always tell me, “You beat yourself too hard, bro.” Because I always think about something now and I’m like, “Yo, I don’t like that.” [laughs] You know? It’s that mentality from back home, it kind of gives me that drive to always want to do something new, something out of the norm. You know what I mean? Even when it sounds good to people, I’m still like “I don’t like that. Let’s go, give me something new, something different. I need it.” Back home gives me that drive to be better, even though it was rough because, as you know, it’s a smaller country, it gave me that mentality to keep going. Never stop.
Smol: What was it like when you came to Canada?
SA: I should be honest; when I just came to Canada I went to Calgary first. My aunt was in Calgary and she brought my family and me to this church out in Calgary, and I started playing drums for the church. You know, so right away I was getting it. There was never a break from music. A lot of people might say they take a break from music, but for me, I don’t know what a break is. Every day, every day.
Smol: You’ve been putting out music steadily. Who have you been working with?
SA: 100%, when I came to Toronto I met a couple people, like Link Up Re-cordz. Now, I’m working with this guy, his name is IIIMPALA. Really, really, good. We see eye-to-eye when it comes to music. We have an understanding when it comes to the music we’re trying to do. We met like 3 or 4 years ago and we’ve just been working since. Last year we released a collaboration project we did with Juno Award winner, Kirk Diamond called IIIMPALA presents: Kirk Diamond X Shayne Amani. Yeah, we released that project, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed because hopefully, hopefully, hopefully we hear something from the Juno’s because we put it in for that.
Smol: That’s really cool. I was reading an interview that Kirk Diamond did with CBC, and he gave you a shout-out saying, “The melodies and the message in Shayne Amani’s music is honest and refreshing.” That must be pretty exciting!
SA: Yeah, 100%. I appreciate what Kirk has done, not only for me but for my whole team. I must say, I respect what he’s done. I won’t lie, working with people is life, and if you want to see growth in life then you have to work with people no matter what. IIIMPALA, Kirk, we realize that and we get things done.
Smol: How did that project come together?
SA: You know, we had been talking over the phone for actually about a year. I think I had seen him like one or two times in Toronto – it’s crazy. We were just messaging back and forth like, “We need to get something done.” I think I just invited him out to the studio at that point and he heard one track and he was like, “Nope, we got to do this. We’re starting TONIGHT!” [laughs] I think we did like three or four tracks in one night. It just clicked! So when you see things happen like that, just go with the flow.
Smol: What did you learn from that project?
SA: I must say, what I learned about myself – which, you know, something about me that even Kirk mentioned – we were in the studio, and going late, and I KNOCKED OUT! [laughs] You know those ones! Kirk was like, “Yo, Shayne! Get that one first!” I got up like – Boom! I jumped in the booth and started singing. So I won’t lie, it doesn’t matter the situation, I make things work. I realized that about myself. I realized I have a lot of versatility and I’ll make things work. Doesn’t matter the situation, once we’re ready to work, we work.
Smol: What are the challenges of being a Canadian musician?
SA: Oh, that’s a big one. Well, with the whole COVID situation, as a musician, live music is really the engine for what I do. Not being able to perform is the biggest challenge at this point in time. And, I would say publicity for reggae music right now. There’s not much, you know, platforms out there that can make an impact and inform people of what you’re doing.
Smol: It doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
SA: And I’m telling you man, you should hear some of these people. I’m telling you, the talent here is crazy. It’s crazy.
I tell Shayne that I was reading a book and learned about Earth, Roots, and Water – an OG Canadian reggae band from the 70’s. He gets so excited hearing about reggae bands playing in Toronto in the past, the same musical path he is on 50-ish years later. “I’ve never heard of them. I got to go look that up! 70’s?? That’s far back, man, that’s deep!” He laughs.
Smol: What do you have planned for 2022?
SA: I’m actually working on a project right now with IIIMPALA. Getting it done. We started recording so far, just recording as much songs, then going through the process of just choosing which ones, and putting on the finishing touches.
Smol: So we can expect some new music soon?
SA: Definitely, definitely [laughs].
Smol: Where can people go in Toronto to hear some good reggae music?
SA: There’s one spot that I’ve heard about, this band called Dub Eclipse, they’ve been doing some gigs in Kensington Market. You could go down there to hear some reggae music. There’s one spot, but since COVID it’s been on the low, it’s called In The Black. It’s Kirk Diamond’s space. That spot was up on the rise because you had all kinds of people coming through; jazz, reggae, RnB. All the music was passing through. Because of the restrictions he’s been holding back, but it’s coming back!
Smol: What’s your favourite song that you’ve written?
SA: Oh geez. Can I name more than one? I would definitely say “Smiley Face”. If you listen to the radio a lot you might hear “Weak Fence”. Off the project, I must say “Nothing Is New Under The Sun”. But honestly, let me just be honest, I’m trying to cut it down but I can’t lie – the project that I did with Kirk, I love them all. They’re all solid tracks. This one song I have, “Love and Affection”, this lady named Ms. Carlene, she was like “How do you know to write this type of song? You’re so young, what do you know about love?” [laughs] But that’s just life, we’re all experiencing love.
I must shout-out Ms. Carlene Ling, she owns this company called BLing Events International. I must say, big shout-out to her for helping me when it comes to reaching out to people, paperwork, and even on an inspirational level. She has really, really pushed me, that’s something that maybe a lot of people don’t see, but she has really pushed me to do things. She’s a very nice lady.
Later, when I was typing up this interview, I looked up BLing Events International. I discovered a series of videos on YouTube by Carlene Ling AKA Vanda Li, called CRAFT. As I explored the CRAFT videos I saw interviews (including an interview with Shayne Amani), performances, and videos of events organized to promote Black African Caribbean artists and provide GTA communities access to their music. In one video I learned that she wrote and requested a proclamation to have the mayor of Burlington to declare August 2021 as Black African Caribbean Canadian Appreciation Month. It is really awesome to see the events her company has organized. Even better, she herself is a reggae singer performing as Vanda Li, and has a really cool music video on her YouTube channel for“Sweet Love”, a cover of the MF DOOM sampled classic originally performed by Anita Baker.
Smol: What advice would you give to someone who is performing for the first time?
SA: I would say, first and foremost, no need to worry. You’re going to be nervous but just look through that. Take your time and release what you need to release. You know what I mean? It’s going to be nerve-racking the first time, but do what you need to do.
Smol: If you could perform your music for anybody who would it be?
SA: Alive or dead? On the dead side, definitely, I would perform for my Grandma. She always pushed me, you know, playing guitar, playing drums, so yeah definitely my Grandma. She would be very surprised to hear what I’m doing now. She’s very special to me. Alive – I would definitely say, even though he doesn’t do reggae, I would say Kanye. I’m not trying to compare myself with him, but I think he would understand my music. I like how he fuses types of music. It’s crazy. Also I would say, definitely Damian Marley, and Jay-Z. Musically, they’re out there. And not just with music, they have the intellect too.
Smol: How can fans support you?
SA: Look up Shayne Amani on Google and you can find me on Spotify, Soundcloud, iTunes, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube… all the things. Just Google Shayne Amani and you find everything. Yeah, definitely, if you follow, listen, I really appreciate it. When shows start again, come see some reggae! Like I said, the genre of reggae music is live – to really feel the power of reggae music you have to experience it live! Don’t get me wrong, listening through a sound system is nice. But live? You feel it and you’re hooked! [laughs] Let’s jam!
Like the man said, you can follow him and listen to him online!