This weekend Canadian folkies will gather in Ottawa to celebrate the best in their part of the music business in the annual Folk Music Awards. Up for three awards connected to their album Signal Fire (Aboriginal Songwriter of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, World Group of the Year) is the local husband and wife musical duo Twin Flames. They’ll be performing at the Bronson Centre Saturday night along with MAZ, Beyond The Pale, BEYRIES, Kobo Town and Danny Michel. There is a second performance on Sunday which will feature O Susanna and Stephen Fearing. (Tickets: folkawards.ca). In advance of what could be a big weekend, Chelsey June who has Algonquin, Cree and Métis heritage and Jaaji, who is Inuk and Mohawk, talked to ARTSFILE about their musical journey.
Q. You two have travelled different paths to today. Can you describe each journey in music? Where does it begin? Why is music important to you?
Chelsey June: Music began for me in 2013 I released my first solo album Seize the Day. I leaned that the poetry I had written for years could also be used for songwriting. Once I began to write songs I finally stumbled upon my true passion. Music is my way of expressing myself, processing life and emotions.
Jaaji: When I was younger, I picked up the guitar but very briefly, I was too busy with kids and work.. I was a cop lol It wasn’t till I was 36, another musician friend of mine, he asked “Whatever happened to your music?” from there I started to write and 700 shows later here I am travelling with my wife all over.. Music to my ears and others I guess. Music is very subjective, but we’ve been lucky that people have gravitated towards our music. People seem to use our songs to help themselves and that is why Music is important for me.
Q. Do you have different musical styles? If so what are they. If the same or similar please describe that?
Twin Flames: Although we come from opposite backgrounds our musical styles are very similar. We have the same taste in music. We grew up listening to legends like Paul Simon, Carol King, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles. It was a time when music was real and songs had meaning. We both push each other in great ways. We question lyric choices, structure and really break things down on some songs and yet others we record without ever writing anything down which in the end really compliments what we try to do and makes our music truly unique.
Q. Your relationship is front and centre. Where did you meet?
Chelsey June: We met on a television set for a show called TAM which aired on APTN in 2014. Our voices met before we did, singing in accidental harmony around a camp fire. We were both intrigued but neither of us was looking for a life partner at that time. Jaaji came to visit in Ottawa, a few months later and we knew it was a love like no other. The rest is a story of love and shared passion for each other and our music. From writing award winning albums to travelling across Canada and playing more than 700 shows in less than three years and getting married. We feel so grateful for the journey we are on together. It’s an awesome ride.
Jaaji: Chelsey June thought I was a Colombian. She was told there was a team of people working on the set as crew and notably there was a man from Colombia in charge of lighting. Then apparently there was an Inuk man from the Arctic. Apparently, again, because the other person was short and stout, he was the Inuk. I was ‘exotic’ looking therefore I had to be Colombian. Not exactly in those words … we laugh about that part. That’s what makes us who we are. We have a lot of fun and goof around … dead sober too.
Q. Any kids or are you focused on the career for now?
Twin Flames: We have enough for a starter soccer team. Chelsey has two aged 7 and 10 and Jaaji has four from five to eight, 20 and 22 all from previous relationships. No more kids for us. Music is our love child. We live life in as balanced a way as we can while touring and raising our children.
Q. It’s not easy being a happily married working musical couple. How do you manage it?
Twin Flames: We are best friends. In many ways we have the same mind so we understand each other on every level. We do everything as a team. Sharing a passion really helps. Most people know musicians can be strange. Our minds tend to work differently. We both eat, sleep, breathe and even dream music, so it helps that we both understand that
Q. Tell me about Signal Fire, the album.
Twin Flames: It has 12 songs. With Signal Fire we wanted to push the boundaries of Contemporary Folk. Together we share an ability to wrap Indigenous stories in traditional styles. Signal Fire incorporates western and Indigenous instruments as well as traditional instruments from around the world. The Juno-nominated Inuit throat singer Charlotte Qamaniq of Silla and Rise joined us on two songs.
The album features songs in Inuttitut and English. Musicians on the album include: Chris Zimmerman (percussion); Francis Dupuis (bass); Ursula Schultz (fiddle); Karolyne LaFortune (violin); Graham Lindsey (bodhran, bouzouki and banjo); Mark Fraser (upright bass); Jonny Olsen (recycled percussion and didgeridoo); Jake Jones (piano). Chelsey June played traditional indigenous flute and hand drum and Jaaji played guitar. It was produced by Jake Jones and recorded at Raven Street Studios in Ottawa.
We hope to further introduce people to our beautiful cultures. We feel the album is a testament to the power of music and its ability to connect people through emotion. We visit the past and the present and look towards a brighter futures for our people, for all people.
Q. Do you write songs together?
Twin Flames: We write individually and together. It usually depends on the moment and where the song is coming from. It is always a natural fit.
Q. In performance is it just you two?
Twin Flames. We perform as a duet and with a band. Our band includes: Christopher Zimmerman, Francis Dupuis and Ursula Schultz.
Q. You sing in different languages. What are they?
Twin Flames: We sing in English, Inuttitut and French. Language is an important part of pride and identity for most listeners and at the same time we want to show that music doesn’t have to have a specific language. It’s a universal language to be loved and felt.
Q. Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years?
Twin Flames: Still doing what we love together. We would love to travel the world with our music. Australia and Europe are in the future plans. It was important to us to do Canada First so we will continue with that. We will continue to work with youth across the country. Release more Albums and Music Videos do some acting and make a documentary maybe win a Juno and a Grammy lol we wouldn’t refuse lol. All we can ever hope for is health and happiness for ourselves and our children and family. Breaking into mainstream music as Indigenous and Inuit artists would be very awesome! Live, Love, Laugh as much as possible and always leave a positive footprint everywhere we go.
There are other nominees with connections to Ottawa including: Jim Bryson (Producer of the Year ), Jenny Whiteley (Traditional Album of the Year), Kobo Town (World Group of the Year) and former Ottawa native Leif Vollebeck (Contemporary Album of the Year for Twin Solitude). Twin Flames will performing at the Bronson Centre Saturday night along with MAZ, Beyond The Pale, BEYRIES, Kobo Town and Danny Michel. There is a second performance on Sunday which will feature O Susannah and Steaphen Fearing. (Tickets: folkawards.ca).