Dancehall duo Bonjay returns to hometown Ottawa for Bon-Fire


When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Bon-Fire 2018: Aug. 17-18, Rideau Pines Farm, 5714 Fourth Line Rd., North Gower

Also performing: Wolf Parade, Casper Skulls, Jennifer Castle, Ansley Simpson, Shadowhand and extra.

Passes: $59.99 basic admission, $49.99 for youths age 25 and below, contains free shuttle bus from Ottawa. Children 10 and below free.

Schedule info and ticket purchases:


It’s a generally accepted nugget of dance-floor etiquette that you just don’t interrupt the DJ when she or he is mixing the music that’s making everybody dance.

But singer-songwriter Alanna Stuart, who’s one half of the duo Bonjay, couldn’t assist herself when she joined mates at a celebration in Ottawa’s Chinatown neighbourhood greater than a decade in the past. Though raised in Orléans, she had simply moved again to Ottawa to attend college, she remembers, and was “hungry for one thing extra, musically and culturally.

“I bear in mind strolling up the slender staircase to the attic, and listening to this remix of Fela Kuti’s Zombie. I used to be mesmerized by the polyrhythms, the freshness of it. I noticed the group sweating profusely and virtually convulsing to the music,” she says.

It was one of many legendary Disorganized events — a month-to-month residency hosted by an Ottawa DJ collective — and Stuart acknowledged individuals she knew from the punk, hip hop and soul scenes. She had a revelation.

“I realized, ‘This is who I am,’” she says. “‘This is where I need to be.’ And playing that song in this tiny little DJ booth was Ian (Swain). I didn’t know whether he was a producer or not but I ran up to him and explained that I was a pop/R&B singer wanting to do something different. He was in the middle of mixing and I broke a cardinal rule of interrupting a DJ mix. He was like, ‘Uh, okay, here’s my card.’ I just trusted his instinct and that has not wavered.”

In the studio, Swain, aka DJ Pho, forgave her transgression.

“If I hadn’t met Alanna, I don’t think I would be making music in the same way,” he says. “Basically I come from DJing and whatever nexus of music I’m playing. Alanna comes from singing in the church, and the 2000 indie scene is where she found her voice. Where we meet in the middle is dancehall, so it really is unique.”

The soul singer and the DJ made an EP, Broughtupsy, that got here out in 2010 and earned them a cult following.

Bonjay, consisting of Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain. (Credit: May Truong)

May Truong /


Then got here a protracted interval of creative improvement that lastly ended earlier this 12 months after they launched Lush Life, an album that Exclaim! journal describes as “one of the very best R&B albums of 2018.” A refined mixture of R&B, techno and dancehall, with a songwriter’s sensibility, it was additionally longlisted for the Polaris Prize.

For Stuart, the creative improvement concerned learning theatre in London and dance in Montreal, whereas Swain delved into music idea, and discovered to play all of the devices.

The songs on Lush Life discover how we dwell in cities, a theme that emerged thanks partially to Swain’s day job as an economist researching the expansion of cities. He and musician/guide Andrew Vincent co-authored the 2015 report Connecting Ottawa Music: A Profile of Ottawa’s Music Industries, which analyzed the state of Ottawa’s music scene and really useful methods for it to broaden. The report sparked the creation of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition and led to the town implementing a music technique.

“Visiting Ian at his work place, I’d be privy to certain conversations about urban planning or music in cities so I feel like those ideas had set in my subconscious,” Stuart says. “And also just being a black woman in Canada, it’s no surprise that ideas of identity and diversity would be expressed lyrically.”

Although Bonjay is now primarily based in Toronto, they’ll see how being from Ottawa led to their distinctive musical type.

“Sometimes people don’t see Ottawa as being a place where the unexpected can happen,” says Stuart. “Being a government town and a university town, it can be a bit conservative and we have to work so much harder to create something different. We don’t necessarily have this template for how to do that so we have to create our own way, unencumbered by industry standards and trends and things like that.”

“Merging dancehall with the indie songwriter side of music doesn’t always make sense and isn’t always easy,” provides Swain. “The idea that we took these influences and we built on them and took them in our own unique direction, that is the greatest fulfillment I could ever get.”

The duo hints at some massive issues to come over the following few months, they usually promise it received’t take one other eight years to create extra music. In the meantime, they’re thrilled to return to hometown Ottawa to play Arboretum’s Bon-Fire competition.

“Bonjay is from Ottawa’s Chinatown, and Bonjay is from the Clocktower Pub in the Glebe, and to come back to play in Ottawa always feels like a homecoming,” says Stuart. “It will be nice to play outdoors because it’s home, and also because it reminds me of Jamaica, where I’ve never been to an indoor party or show. Ever. It’s always under the open sky, and there’s this feeling of freedom and expanse. I just want to open my arms wide and sing.”


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