MORRISBURG – Music lovers are in for a rare and wonderful treat on Saturday, February 25, at 7 p.m., when the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage welcomes two outstanding artists to Upper Canada Playhouse. This concert will be an opportunity to hear two extraordinary Canadian performers, AHI and Graham Greer, who will cover the musical gamut from folk pop to alt rock.
Ahkinoah Habah Izarh is better known to his fans as AHI: and that fan base has been expanding in leaps and bounds since the release of his debut album, ‘We Made It Through the Wreckage’ in 2016. He was nominated twice for Juno awards, and won the 2017 Canadian Songwriting Competition in the folk category, as well as the Stingray Rising Star Award at the Folk Music Ontario conference. In 2021, to great acclaim, he released his latest album, ‘Prospect.’
I talked to AHI about his music and his career.
“There’s a lot of labels promoters use when they talk about music,” he explained when I asked how he would describe his music, “and I understand labels. The acoustic guitar is central to my sound. The guitar carries my songs. Some have called my music ‘folk pop’, but ultimately I think people should really just listen to the music, take it in, and decide for themselves. Frankly, I love music of all kinds.”
Growing up in Brampton, Ontario, he says that there was always music in his home, but “I was actually in my 20s before I got completely serious about performing.” Raised with a West Indian background, “well, you got your education and then you got a job like doctor or lawyer,” he laughed. “You did not become a music man. But in my 20s, I came to my own decision. Music was going to be my life.”
AHI went out and bought his first real guitar, and frankly, he never looked back. Almost immediately he began to write his own songs, “expressing myself through the music.” He played in some bands in college, but he admits that, with no formal training, it took time to develop his very unique vocal style. “ I had to learn how to use my voice as an instrument, and how to blend with the music.”
AHI is a performer who puts his soul into his music. “I often focus on relationships with others,” he said, “whether those relationships involve friends, lovers, even,” he laughed, “with a pet. But relationships truly are the basis of life, and what makes our lives continue forever. I explore what I call connection songs. I actually wrote and re-wrote the songs in ‘Prospect’ during COVID times, and they became songs about the value of life, about holding on hard to others during even the most challenging times. I sing of people being together and finding strength in connecting with each other.”
His songs possess a certain vulnerability because “I really do put my heart out there in the music.” Sometimes the melody comes first to him, when he writes, sometimes words, or a poem will inspire the song. He does not shy away from what some might call difficult themes. “‘Black people are worthless – because they are priceless’. That line became a lyric, and it gave me purpose. In the end, through that song and my music, I say you can’t measure a person’s real worth till you know them: you can’t judge them by society’s norms or by the past; instead, you have to judge people on their own.”
AHI loves that he is finally able, after all the shut downs, to be back out performing live on stage. “There is just nothing like standing out there before an audience. There’s a special vibration in the air when you perform live, and can look out and see faces smiling back. That live connection is intensely vital to me. Sure touring and always being on the road can be stressful, but sharing my songs, being out there on the stage, well, that is really what it is all about.”
He is eagerly looking forward to his concert at Upper Canada Playhouse. He will be bringing a drummer and guitarist with him to the event. He laughed that “I love to tell stories. I love to get the crowd involved. I will be performing a variety of music at the show, and I love it when people sing along.”
Singer/songwriter AHI will put on a concert that will thrill listeners. “I take pride in my shows. I want people to feel comfort, to feel joy, when I connect with them through my music.”
Cornwall based Graham Greer is also an artist who values making a connection with a live audience. An original member of the Bar Stool Prophets, and now a solo performer who opened in October, 2022, for the Cooper Brothers at Stone Crop Acres, and recently was at the Red Bird in Ottawa, he has a reputation for dynamic, full-out rocking when he takes to the stage with his acoustic guitar.
“I feed off the audience as a performer,” he laughed. “It was strange for a while being only able to work with on line machines, but it’s great to be back live. I love the interaction, love that people are listening when I play. I say it’s the honey in my ointment when I know that an audience is right there with me in spirit.”
He missed that deep relationship during the COVID months: unfortunately, he took sick himself and suffered some longer term effects, “but I’m coping with that, and I am eager and excited to be back on stage. It was a long, cold COVID winter.”
Graham has been performing most of his life. “From my earliest days, I can remember lying on the carpet listening to records ranging from Simon and Garfunkel to Cat Stevens and Johnny Cash, soaking in all kinds of music. At 17, I
found an old guitar of my dad’s in the attic, picked it up and taught myself how to play with a Chet Atkins song book. From then on, I was hooked and began writing my own songs literally out of the gate.”
He is a prolific writer. “I try not to duplicate ideas and themes in my work. When I turn a phrase, I try to flip it, change it into something completely new in the course of a song. A wide variety of ideas appeal to me when I write. Creating a new song may depend on the day, or the time. It may be sad, melancholy or happy. I would say my songs run the whole rainbow of themes, and, believe me, I want to explore that rainbow from end to end.”
And audiences have made it clear that they love to explore his music with him.
During his St. Lawrence Stage performance, Greer plans to sing some “familiar songs, but I also plan to spring some new songs on that unsuspecting audience,” he laughed. He has been described as a dynamic force on the stage. “I’ve always found it easier to talk to a crowd than to a few people in a room. It just feels natural for me to be on the live stage.”
Like AHI, for whom he is opening, Graham Greer is first and foremost a showman, “Music is, and always will be, a passion for me.” AHI, with Graham Greer opening, will be in concert at Upper Canada Playhouse, through the St. Lawrence Stage, on Saturday, February 25, at 7 p.m.