When Janelle Reid was a baby in Trinidad her parents used to play music on cassette tapes to keep her and her twin sister still. They were super-active kids, but the harmonious voices on the tapes really worked to calm them down. In Janelle's case, the singing had a profound effect.
"I learned to sing before I spoke," says Reid, on the line from her Surrey home, "so technically, I've always been singing. I wasn't much of a talker as a baby, really, but I sang, and so singing was my way of talking. I actually was able to harmonize as a toddler as well, which is an interesting story about me."
When you hear Reid sing today, it's easy to believe that she had been crooning from the crib. Local music fans can check out her compelling vocal stylings for themselves when she performs with reggae-dub act Mad Riddim at the Re-Opening Ceremonies of the Vines Art Festival on August 9.
Reid moved to B.C. from Trinidad with her family 13 years ago and spent a year-and-a-half in Burnaby before settling in Surrey. There she kept her vocal chops up singing in church, her love of gospel originally instilled by American vocalist Helen Baylor.
"I loved her," she stresses. "She sang beautiful songs, with really in-depth, rich melodies, and different stories—she would always tell a story with her songs about her struggle and how she was liberated to freedom and hope because of faith. I just thought it was interesting how I was able to marry my love for gospel and that storytelling and the kind of voice that I admired at first.
"Then I started to gravitate more towards soul music and discover artists like Gladys Knight, and circle back to other gospel artists that kind of dabbled in jazz, like Yolanda Adams. And then there were these two sisters, these west coast American singers called Mary Mary [Erica Atkins-Campbell and Trecina Atkins-Campbell]. With my love for harmonies, their style of singing really influenced me."
Five years ago Reid started immersing herself in another form of music: reggae-dub. Branching out from solely performing in church, she sang at a Motown concert where Mad Riddim's Richard Brown was the drummer.
"After the show he was like, 'Hey, I really like your voice, I'd like you to come sing with my band'," recalls Reid. "That was my first time singing a different genre, like soul music, which I secretly love doing, but at the time I was super shy. He just kind of embraced me with the band, and I've been doing features with them up until now, so it's pretty good."
Reid performed with Mad Riddim as part of the online Surrey Fusion Festival last year, and in a smartly shot YouTube video she's seen sharing the virtual stage with local rapper Ndidi Cascade.
"She's my girl," says Reid, "we have a really good time, love bringing the good hype and energy. I performed with Desirée Dawson as well, an amazing singer and beautiful soul, and Erica Dee. I've also performed with Khari [Wendell] McClelland, who kind of marries that sense of soul and gospel and storytelling and, honestly, liberation."
Now that she's had a few more years to develop her performing style without shyness getting in the way, Reid is very much looking forward to being part of the seventh annual Vines Art Festival. She's no stranger to the event.
"I feel like I've been involved in the Vines for quite some time," she says, "with the connection I had with [artistic director] Heather [Lamoureux] some years ago. It was called the Vines, but I don't think I realized that, and now it's growing and it's getting bigger and bigger. I actually did a dance piece with a very close friend of mine, Marisa Gold, a couple of years back, but being able to do my own set is next level for me.
"I always found that the Vines Festival really gave opportunities where it was not always easy to find those opportunities," adds Reid. "Just the idea behind it and what they're trying to do—creating community and understanding and allowing voices to be heard—is so important. I feel like it's just good to be a part of that."
Other artists, speakers, musicians, and dancers taking part in the festival's Re-Opening Ceremonies include Terreane Derrick, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Manuel Axel Strain, Kwiigay iiwaans, Kimit Sekhon, Lindsay Delaronde, Chantelle Trainor-Matties, and MC jaye simpson. For her part, Reid is psyched about showcasing some of her original songs.
"I've performed them here and there," she says, "and I usually get quite good feedback from it because the things that I like to sing and reflect on are always about empowerment. That tradition of uplifting others, uplifting yourself, getting out of your own mental and physical rut and seeing, you know, the beautiful world that is possible with community and with love and with understanding. So yeah, I'm really excited about that."
Janelle Reid and Mad Riddim perform as part of the Vines Art Festival's Re-Opening Ceremonies at Stanley Park's Second Beach on August 9. Reid also performs with Afro Van Connect at Creekside Park on August 19 as part of the festival.