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Live Performance Series ~ Joanna Majoko
For many Canadian music fans, the name Joanna Majoko is a familiar one: the Toronto-based vocalist, composer, and bandleader has established a reputation as one of Canada’s most exciting young singers. Majoko has been a regular presence on the bandstand with some of the country’s top musicians, including Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, David Clayton-Thomas, of Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Larnell Lewis, of Snarky Puppy. She has performed at some of the world’s biggest festivals, such as the Montreal Jazz Festival, France’s Jazz sur son 31 Festival, and Switzerland’s Internationales Jazz festival Bern, where she participated in a week-long residency with Maqueque. Majoko has also been the recipient of a number of notable accolades, including Jazz Artist of the Year at the 2019 ByBlacks People’s Choice Awards, major grants from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council, and FACTOR, and has been a master class artist at Humber College and the University of Toronto.
Born in Germany to German and Zimbabwean parents, Majoko spent the majority of her childhood in Zimbabwe, where she grew up speaking Shona and German and participating in choirs, musicals, drum ensembles, and traditional Zimbabwean dance groups. From Zimbabwe, Majoko moved briefly to South Africa; then, at the age of fourteen, she and her family moved to Manitoba. It was at the University of Manitoba that Majoko would become immersed in jazz, and would hone her skills as a vocalist, composer, and bandleader. Later, a move to Toronto would prove to be the catalyst for the next stage of her career. In Toronto’s rich, multi-faceted musical community, Majoko found a steady stream of festivals, radio stations, and club programmers who were eager to hear her voice, both as a guest vocalist and with her own successful group. Majoko has been a fixture at the Toronto Jazz Festival, on Jazz FM, at clubs such as The Rex and Poetry, and at major venues, including the Harbourfront Centre and the Canadian Opera Company’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. In addition to her talents as a vocalist, composer, and arranger, Majoko has expanded her skills as a multi-instrumentalist, developing a sense of advanced rhythmic independence by incorporating the caxixi and claves into her performance practice. This year, she adds another important entry to her list of accomplishments: the release of her debut EP, No Holding Back.
No Holding Back is an astonishing, powerful statement on Majoko’s personal history, the fruitful collaborative relationships of her musical present, and her vision for the future to come. Each of the EP’s four songs comes directly from Majoko’s lived experiences: “Where You Are” is an acknowledgement of the need to accept oneself, and to take responsibility for personal growth; “Bound,” about the rewards and sacrifices inherent in family commitments; “The Way Back Home,” the EP’s third piece, is about the ever-shifting meaning of home, and features lyrics in both English and Shona; and “Bold,” the closer, is about the extraordinary acts of courage that we all undertake in our ordinary lives. Ultimately, for Majoko, No Holding Back is about one simple thing: honesty. Honesty about her passions, her fears, her past, her hopes for the future, and, above all else, honesty about pushing through fear to share intimate parts of experiences and personality with the world through her music.