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The New Hype: Savannah Ré Is Putting a New Face on Toronto Music

Her debut EP, ‘Opia,’ is the culmination of seven years of starts and stops, love and heartbreak

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Each month, The Ringer’s Logan Murdock will profile up-and-coming artists from across the music landscape. And each month, he’ll also put you on notice about the future of that landscape. Tap in.

When Savannah Ré began making music a decade ago, she felt hindered by a perceived lack of unity from artists in her native Toronto. “When I started, because there wasn’t very much here, you get that crabs-in-the-bucket mentality,” she said. “It was like, ‘If there’s only one opportunity a year, I’m going to just hold this to myself.’ It created this separation between all of the artists.”

These days, Ré says the tide has changed with the second wave of Toronto artists like Daniel Caesar and Alessia Cara finding success independent of the city’s two musical conglomerates. Now, with her Boi-1da–produced debut extended play, Opia, hopes to do the same. Released in November on Universal Canada, Opia is the culmination of seven years of starts and stops, love and heartbreak. And it’s putting a different face on the Toronto movement: one of an unapologetically Black Jamaican woman hoping to show the next generation of women that they too can represent a scene historically dominated by men.

“I feel like a huge part of why music has been so life-altering for me even when I consume it is because I’ve been able to hear myself in other people’s music,” Ré said by phone. “The Lauryn Hills of the world, these people, these incredible songwriters, they helped me to be like, ‘OK. Yeah, I’m a young, dark-skinned Black woman and I exist somewhere.’”

Her debut offering has the goods to place her among the city’s best, providing a soulful, vulnerable look into her life. She sings about faith on “Highly Favoured,” and frustrations with an undefined relationship in “Homies”:

You can keep the stress, I want more of you, I want more of us
I want less of this, I want more of you, I want more of us
I’d be lyin’ if I said, I had it all figured out
Lyin’ if I told you I can’t live without

She even touches on the marital struggles she’s experienced with her husband, YogiTheProducer, in “Love Me Back,” on which she demands reciprocity in the marriage, pleading for consistent energy from her partner: “Oh, but I love you, love you, love you / Till I’m blue in the facе / You can’t love me back / And it don’t work that way.”

“We’re human,” she said. “We’re human beings. People just assume, ‘Oh, it’s perfect. It’s bliss. It’s this, this, that because you’re married.’ It’s like, ‘No. We’re young. We’re in a space that’s entertainment and learning how to do this.’”

The 25-minute EP is a tour de force of self-reflection, chronicling the highs of finally releasing her first project while displaying the vulnerability to describe the lows that made her stronger along the way.

“It feels good,” she said. “It feels good because when you get to write your own story, you’re in charge of the narrative.”

Ré’s musical interests started early. Born in Montreal, she was raised in the Scarborough section of Toronto, home to the Weeknd and Kardinal Offishall. Her father was a DJ, and her mother and sister sang. As a kid, her favorite artists were Whitney Houston, Brandy, and Destiny’s Child. But visual art took precedence over her voice initially. In grade school, she painted murals while attending Claude Watson School for the Arts.

“I’ve always been about expression since I was a kid,” she said. “I started as a visual artist, and then into a dancer and then it’s to someone who sings.”

Singing was an afterthought, and she needed prodding to make her voice heard in public. One night in the early 2010s, while working at a club in Toronto, a local musician named Tika Simone caught Ré singing to herself. Simone insisted she get on stage, but Ré told Simone she wouldn’t do it.

“Then literally the next week of the open mic,” Ré said, “she randomly called me up on stage.”

Ré then became a regular at open mic night, and as she got more comfortable on stage, she decided to embark on a music career. During the day, she’d work at either the Shoppers Drug Mart in Scarborough, which was later featured in Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” video, or an American Apparel in the Yorkdale mall to pay for studio time. She put out a few singles and met Yogi, and the two forged a working—and personal—relationship.

“We would just go overnight and weekends,” she said. “We’d just sleep on the ground in the studio. It was the grind, and it was that time when I really started to home in on, ‘OK.’”

Her demo later caught the ear of Boi-1da, who asked her to come to the studio. At the time, Ré was working her shift as a receptionist at Hilton. At a crossroads, she asked herself some questions: “Do you want to put your career at stake for your job? What matters more?”

“And I quit,” she said. “I literally quit that day. That was my leap of faith. I was sick to my stomach. I was like, ‘Oh my God. What if this doesn’t work out and I just quit my damn job?’ But to be honest, that was the last job that I’ve had that’s not been my career, and going and taking that chance, it worked out.”

Now Ré is among the names of Toronto’s next generation of artists, in a climate she says is more united than ever before. While the city boasts musical acts like Justin Bieber, Drake, and the Weeknd, other artists, like Ré, felt like the region wasn’t as unified. But after the emergence of artists like Caesar, Alessia Cara, and Jessie Reyez, she feels more comfortable in the current climate.

“It started being like, ‘OK, cool. You mean that I could just get together with some of my talented friends, make something I’m proud of and people could actually maybe like this?’” she said.

“This feels like the beginning,” Ré said. “Putting out a project, this feels like, ‘OK, now I’m finally able to be a part of this conversation.’”

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