Jessie Reyez Says #metoo at the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Singing About Politics and Healing in a Time of Tension

  • Reyez shared personal stories and offered advice, winning over her audience not only with her music but by making us feel like she was our friend. Photo Caitlin Yardley Photo Caitlin Yardley

  • She was so expressive during songs, performing with her whole body. Photo Caitlin Yardley

“The #metoo movement is not fucking new!”

The #metoo movement is not fucking new!

Jessie Reyez began the chant after performing her song “Gatekeeper” on the TD stage at Places des Arts. With heavy intonation on her words the audience echoed her rising anger and frustration.

“Gatekeeper” was written after a producer she met while she was young and “naive” took advantage of her. “He told me: ‘if you want to succeed, you have to suck dick for a deal’,” she confessed in a strong, angry voice, presenting her strength.

“Fuck the gatekeeper!” she yelled. The audience roared with support. Reyez led us into catharsis, urging us all to raise our middle fingers collectively.

People from all walks of life flocked to see the rising-artist perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 3. Reyez, whose career is rapidly evolving, described it was a pivotal night for her. A sign of success⎯it was the first time she performed with her own band.

Reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, the 28 year-old singer-songwriter from Toronto has a raspy undertone to her voice. Her music is unique, a mix of bubble gum pop with R&B and hip-hop inflections.

She was so expressive during songs, performing with her whole body. Her hands rubbed her face when she got into the emotion of her music, and her facial expressions were raw and transparent. In upbeat songs she jumped around and used the whole stage. Reyez was electric⎯her movements bold and unexpected, like a lightning strike.

Reyez started off as a songwriter, writing songs for other artists, like Calvin Harris’ “Hard to Love”, which she featured in for one version. Before diving into performing “One Kiss,” which positioned seven in the Canadian Hot 100, she expressed pride and gratitude for having had the opportunity to collaboratively write it with Harris and Dua Lupa.

With a lot of hard work and struggle, busking, and performing on beaches, Instagram and YouTube, she made it, Reyez said on stage. Her set included inspirational speeches that advocated for hard work and chasing one’s dreams.

“I felt that she speaks the truth,” said concert-goer Madeline Harvey. “It was really nice to hear someone who was super adamant about so many issues, and actually used that as a platform to express some amazing things. I respect her a lot. She seems like she knows who she is.”

“Another real question. And don’t be shy, cos I’m in it. Is anyone here dealing with depression?”⎯ Jessie Reyez

Reyez debuted several new unreleased songs which varied on the map of vocals and tone. She also performed a song in Spanish for the first time in front of a live audience. For this performance, she sat on the ground next to her guitarist, and dipped honey into the night with her voice, which sounded smoother in her native tongue.

“Love over war. Love over hatred. Love, Love, Love,” said Reyez, speaking her truth, which resonated with the audience. She wore her iconic casual outfit: jean shorts, an oversized t-shirt, converse, and string bracelets. It made her look approachable and down to earth.

She shared personal stories and offered advice, winning over her audience not only with her music but by making us feel like she was our friend.

Reyez captivated the audience with her performance, from beginning to end.

Reyez sang her hit song “Figures” as one of the ending songs, released in 2016, with grace and vulnerability.

“Another real question,” she began, before performing the song. “And don’t be shy, cos I’m in it. Is anyone here dealing with depression?”

The crowd cheered softly, with seeming apprehension. “You hear how real that is?,” she asked. “It’s like a normal thing, people die all the time, people kill themselves all the time, because of that , because we go through those demons by ourselves. So if you’re here going through that, I’d like to share a story, the meaning behind “Figures”.

“This song, I wrote at the bottom. At the bottom of my heart, at the bottom. And I was so fucked. If it wasn’t for this song, I wouldn’t be here with you guys. If you’re going through depression, please know that it’s a lesson-it’s a lesson, and you’re gonna be okay.”

She urged the audience to put up their phones, because there were no stars visible that night. “This looks like heaven, it’s like heaven fell,” Reyez said.

All together, the crowd sang the lyrics to “Figures” with her. With the manmade stars swaying in the night, the performance was a magical experience.

Reyez captivated the audience with her performance, from beginning to end, and added a realness and vulnerability that is so needed in performative art.

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