Janel Antoneshia has the capability to captivate anywhere. On a warm, but overcast morning she lights up Café Artum — filled with orderly business people. Peacefully she hums the melody to her latest song on the Chesterfield sofa.
Knowing Birmingham’s soul-led live music circuit well, Janel capitalises on the city’s offerings and is in her element networking on the streets and through communities.
Many artists are a product of their environment and Janel is no anomaly; “I’ve been inspired by what I’ve heard growing up and I think it all plays a part in the long run.” She recalls her mom playing Kenny Rodgers, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Jennifer Rush at a young age while growing up in Jamaica. “All these ballads used to play in the background, and then had my uncle playing Pato Banton, Sizzla and Bob Marley.”
After 15 years, this summer Janel will make the trip from BHX to her birthplace in Jamaica. Comparing the two places, Janel describes them both as underdogs, she says “Birmingham and Jamaica are similar. I appreciate that because Handsworth and those sort of places reminds me of Jamaica because of the tight-knit communities that are about. Going to school in Smethwick, I was friends with Jamaicans and Asians, though the culture is a bit different, it’s still the same. In school we used to laugh about the same things, we complained about the same things. We understood our parents were the same, just different colours.”
“It’s a not return to my roots, I never left. Jamaica is the most vibrant place.”
As well as reconnecting with family and the Caribbean lifestyle, Janel also plans to use the visit to work on her art. While not giving too much away about Planet Ivory, a song written for black woman and to celebrate woman as a whole – what they have overcome and what is still to be fought, Janel tells BABMAG excitedly: “The way I picture Planet Ivory, the cinematography, will be captured perfectly in Jamaica.”
“Birmingham has influenced me so much, especially in terms of music. This is where everything has happened to me” she continues, “I feel for now I have to be in Birmingham, and push music. Go to Jamaica, enhance it, come back to the UK, and distribute it.”
Taking her busking machine out on regular excursions around the city and further afield, she shares her music and infectious outlook on life. Whilst busking isn’t everyone’s chosen means of promotion – it takes guts, determination and a little rejection to make it on the streets, it’s testament to Janel’s attitude to thrive on the reception she receives. “You know, people are so open and though I may not feel it all the time or see it all the time, I get that sense that you’re actually contributing to someone’s day just by being out there singing. I can see people appreciating it based on the £1 or 50p here and there. People come up to me and say ‘Oh! You’ve made my day’, or ‘I was listening to the song you were just singing and I really needed to hear that’ – especially the homeless.”
The vibe in the room changes and a kind of rigorous honesty shines through; “They hype me up the most. They say to me, ‘I don’t listen to a lot of music these days’. I feel like I have a duty to come out here and do what I do best and to serve other people through my music.”
As well as putting her soul into everything she does, her head is there too as there’s money to be made. “The place I enjoy performing the most is the strip by New St, coming along to Lloyds Bank. That’s where I want to hit the corporate people! You have to be logical and geographical with busking.”
The path of an artist is perpetual and unpredictable and the worries about disrupting the direction are ever present. However, for now she’s happy lightly skipping along this one; “I’m in a good space, in my mind and my music, and my craft. I’m very confident in how I present my craft to the world, and I think a lot of that has to do with my new journey. It goes back to the main principles: Love God, love people and everything else falls into that category. Each day, I’m blessed to wake up and pursue music some more. Not just for myself, but for other people too.”
It’s the music on the streets of Birmingham that keeps the youthful city alive. Yet a city as big as Birmingham keeps its creativity subdued and hidden away. Janel echos Bromsgrove producer Joe Corfield’s thoughts; “I do believe we have a lot of talent in Birmingham, I don’t want to offend anyone but I feel like the talent in Birmingham is a lot more spectacular than certain places like London for example. The only problem is that Birmingham doesn’t necessarily have the resources to really push the talent that’s already here. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know how to access the resources properly.”
One thing Janel praises however, is how resourceful the music scene in Birmingham is; “You’ll always meet someone that you need. You’ll meet someone to help you get to the right place and the next level. My producer, my best friend my favourite photographer I’ve met here. Birmingham has given me direction to where I want to go with my music.”
There’s a burgeoning spoken word scene here, alongside an impressive dance scene, however when it comes to musical footings we fall short on record labels. It appears to not bother Janel; “I’m not bitter because I haven’t been here for 20 years. I find I’m in a good place right now because I came to Birmingham at a time where things actually started to pop and I’m grateful for that. I think now that some of the infrastructure is here — the open mic nights — it’s a matter now of who you know to connect you to these events.”
Stage 3 at Café Artum was where we first discovered Janel, her sparkling teeth, beaming smile and extraordinary, contemporary flow. Another night that making positive imprints in the scene is Neighbourhd, a jam night dedicated to creating and promoting a melting pot of artists and musicians across the urban to jazz scenes. Janel also frequents Shanty Town, a reggae-come-hip-hop collective that promotes a diverse range of acts throughout Birmingham.
To present Janel in her rawest, most pure form BABMAG set up at Cannon Hill Park’s bandstand. A serene back drop to perform her latest track Too Much accapella. Produced by Casey Orange, with the help of Lowpass Luke at BayTen Studios in Digbeth Janel comments “Reece [Casey Orange] and I, set a date and went out to his studio for a whole night shift. We created the beat from scratch, wrote the song, recorded it. It’s about realising that we put ourselves through too much, and you don’t have to do too much to succeed. Some people are out here going overboard for no reason.”
She pauses. “I find it funny. I don’t think there is any shame in working smart. I don’t believe that I should be out here stressing myself and breaking my mind and worrying my days away thinking, ‘when will my music happen?’ I’d rather just do what I need to do to make my music happen.”
“So the song is called Too Much because we do too much, we carry way too much, and sometimes we think we’re not enough. I’m just gonna let you know that you are enough. And that’s the basis of the song. Nothing more, nothing less. We are enough.”