Savannah Ré has taken the music world by storm. The young Toronto artist has captured the attention of 11-time Grammy winner Kenny ‘Babyface Edmonds’ and was the first artist Boi-1da signed to his label. She also wowed audiences when she opened for Jessie Reyez during her sold-out “Being Human On Tour” tour. She was nominated for two JUNOs this year in the Contemporary R&B Recording Of The Year and Traditional R&B/Soul Recording Of The Year categories. She is the first artist to ever be nominated for both awards.
For as long as Ré can remember, she’s been making music—and if you ask anyone in the industry about the R&B singer, you’ll hear nothing but praise for her talent and ability to show raw, authentic emotion. Kehlani, Alessia Cara and Keshia Chanté have all sung her praises, and she says she’s ready to take the music world by storm. “After grinding for years, this is the first book in the series,” she says, excitement in her voice is indicative of what’s to come next.
For Ré, being an artist comes with much more responsibility than creating and releasing music. The Scarborough, Ont. native is motivated by uplifting Black female creators, giving back to her community and enabling her audience to feel and think deeper through her music.
Before releasing her EP, Ré came across filmmaker John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a dictionary for feelings we all have, but aren’t named. The definition for “opia” in this dictionary is, “the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.”
“When I stumbled across the word, I knew this was it,” Ré says, adding that she’d been working on a nameless project for quite some time. “I was working on this for three years, and had most of the songs done before the title.”
The word inspired a powerful experience video for the EP’s title track. The video takes real couples and puts them across from each other, asking them to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Ré participated in the experiment with her husband. “You could be married or dating and never actually have to stare at your partner,” she says. Because of COVID-19, Ré was not able to attend the whole shoot, and didn’t see the other experiences until she sat down to watch the first cut. “The first cut made me cry,” she says. “I really wanted the audience to experience raw emotion.”
Savannah and her team achieved their goal. The video that was released just before the holidays has seen tens of thousands of views, and viewers are sharing their experiences in the comments.
JSP wrote on YouTube, “This is such a beautiful project you’ve made and this is the vibe we need for the times that we are in right now.”
While Calvin Henderson said, “this song hit me so hard, I’m in tears over here right now, I want love like that.”
Praising her team for bringing her vision to life, Ré says, “all of my videos are directed by Black women, it’s so important for me to have Black people and people of colour on my team.” Opia was directed by Yasmin Evering-Kerr, and Ré laughs as she praises her director for working with unreasonable deadlines.
“The best way to empower youth and other Black people is for us to see ourselves in these roles,” the musician says. While she says she’s seen change in the music industry over the past year, she acknowledges: “There is still a long way to go.”
The best way to empower youth and other Black people is for us to see ourselves in these roles.
Drawing from her own experiences, she is thankful for the mentors she’s had in her life. The musician entered a songwriting competition a few years ago and had no idea that it would chart her path. The competition was sponsored by Kenny ‘Babyface Edmonds,’ the 11-time Grammy winner behind some of the greatest hits of all time. For those that need a refresher, Edmonds wrote and produced classics like Boyz II Men’s End of The Road and I’ll Make Love To You. He’s also worked with Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Whitney Houston.
After submitting songs to the competition, she was invited to a writing camp in LA. During the week-long camp, she was put into a group of her peers to create music. Her group ended up winning. Edmonds was so impressed with her talent, he personally requested that she attend a similar camp in Toronto to see if she’d improved. By that time, another one of her dreams had come true.
Ré had dreamt of working with Boi-1da, the Grammy-award winning producer behind so many of Drake’s hits. She was writing over his beats and sending tracks to him, not knowing if he’d ever listened. Fast-forward years later, Boi-1da launches his own music label, 1Music, an imprint through Universal Music Canada. It turns out he was listening because the first person he called to sign as an artist was Ré.
“He’s honestly the nicest person in the world,” Ré says of her mentor who also serves as executive producer on her EP. But Ré says she’s just getting started.
“It took a lot to get where I am,” she says, adding that she hopes that she’ll be able to use her influence to change the lives of young artists from her community so that they can follow in her footsteps. “The best is yet to come.”