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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Backstage: Douglas McLean Chats With Zoe Ackah, A Toronto-Based Genre Defying Singer-Songwriter

By Douglas McLean. Photo Credit: Jen Squires.

Zoe Ackah is a genre defying and imaginative singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist based in Toronto, Canada. Known on the Toronto scene as a singing drummer and studio backup vocalist, Ackah is now forging a solo path with fierce determination and a trunk full of creative


You can listen to the entire interview and music HERE

"This album is about how we view our past," shares Zoe Ackah. "I dedicated it to my grandmothers to pay homage to my own Southern roots. Every song has a story to tell - literally. "I Miss You (But My Aim is Getting Better)" started with a collection of horrible jokes my mother found in my grandfather's personal effects after he passed away. "Just a Trickle, Just a Nickel" is a reflection of my own experiences with homelessness and a recent experience with a mentally ill friend who disappeared into the streets. "What’s a Little Fire?" is about me burning down the cabin in the woods I lived in as a child. But just as they did in my grandmothers’ time, I talk about many heavy subjects with the tenderness and lightheartedness still expected of women."

In late 2020, she released her debut album, The World Inside, and has now

released a second full-length, This Hen, a record steeped in classic country. “I wrote This Hen for my mother and grandmothers, true ladies of the South,” Zoe explains.

This Hen’s first song Gotta Stop Loving You (But I Can’t) is a catchy Country ditty. With its 70s harmonies and weeping guitar, it is as hopeful as it is resigned to love’s futility. “Initially written about one guy, I realized I was actually writing about the same emotionally unavailable guy I keep dating, over and over again.”

The album’s title track This Hen (Is Starting to Hate Men) is sure to draw the ire of the world’s roosters, Sung from the perspective of a chicken, this song is an interrogation of the patriarchy. A banger of a tune, with all the cluckin’ and pluckin’ you’d imagine from a song made inside the barnyard that is a mother’s daily life.

The A-list of Toronto musicians featured on This Hen includes Kevin Breit, Ian de

Souza, Rebecca Hennessy, Davide Di Renzo, and a duet with John Borra. Their presence confirms the peer respect Ackah enjoys.

Zoe’s work resists any attempt at genre pigeonholing. Stylistic eclecticism is rooted

deep in her musical soul and her unique and agile voice has many faces. “I have been in every type of singing situation you can imagine, and that has given me the flexibility to follow my imagination,” she explains.

While studying for a Master’s Degree at York University focusing on choral conducting

and classical composition, Zoe also sang her heart out. “I basically sang in every choir

in the school – chamber choir, concert choir, women’s choir,” she recalls. “Music was

my solace then, in one of the most intense times of my life, as a single mother raising

three kids, two of whom were diagnosed with autism.”

Her family situation precluded recording or performing, and meant that, in her words,

“for 11 years, I could only sing the songs I’d written into the kitchen sink!” This period

reinforced the importance of music in Ackah’s life, however, and helps explain her prolific musical output.

Prior to academic study and maternity, Zoe paid extensive dues on the Toronto scene,

working as a drummer and vocalist in bands ranging from noted all-female reggae

combos Women Ah Run Tings (Zoe was a co-founder) and The Sweet Sensation Band

to African bands. Her first collaborations in recent years was a power duo with reggae great Carl Harvey (Toots and The Maytals). She is a musician with a great breadth of knowledge and abundant musical chops.

Zoe’s focus is already directed to newer songs and recordings. “I have a fire,” she

declares. “My goal is to record 50 songs and put out three or four more records in the

next five or six years. Once I’ve made a record I don’t look back. My real joy in life is

creating songs and making a recording of them, and I now have a massive backlog.”


Gotta Stop Loving You (But I Can't)

Just a Trickle, Just a Nickel

What's a Little Fire?

I Wanna Be Your Fool

This Hen (Is Starting to Hate Men)

You can listen to the entire interview and music HERE


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