Bonjay is vocalist Alanna Stuart and producer Ian "Pho" Swain
Canadians are so nice.
That was our resounding impression of meeting Canadian leftfield dancehall duo Bonjay. Even when they kept us waiting hours (not their fault, some cheeky journo grabbed them during our slot), it was certainly the best interview we’ve ever done sitting on a park bench…
Vocalist Alanna Stuart and producer Ian “Pho” Swain dragged us to a spot out back of their Canadian Blast show at Relentless Garage to talk Lady Saw, fake patois and mid-2000s parties:
OhDearism: How does the name ‘Bonjay’ (meaning ‘Bon Dieu’/’Good God’ in Grenadian patois) express your music?
Alanna: In Grenada, whenever something unexpected or exciting would happen my mum and my aunt would be like “bonjay, watch de gyal!” – that’s what we want people to feel when they hear our music.
OD: You just got back from SXSW? How was it?
A: Great! It was our second year there. A highlight was performing on the street corner for CBC [Canada’s answer to the BBC], with a little speaker for a sound system.
Pho: It was like an acoustic set, which is what the opposite of what we usually do.
A: Yeah we were like “Fuck it!” We didn’t even have the drummer and the crowd kept building and building. It was a sea of cameras. There was this one old guy with white ankle socks dancing like crazy! We were like “Hey Grandpa!”
OD: You started out as a club act in Ottowa in an Italian restaurant. Tell us about the famed Disorganised parties.
P: I started it with a couple of buddies who’ve now gone on to become a techno duo called Jokers of the Scene, and the guy who ran the local record store in Ottowa in the mid-2000s. The era is so over now, but it was what we dreamed of when we were 16. Friends inviting friends. There were people literally falling out of the windows, and all these cute girls…It was like a beer commercial. But it was hard to keep the energy going. People start looking for fresh sounds.
A: I miss that mix-up party style. Different people bringing their own sounds from different scenes.
OD: Stumble is an ode to the mid-2000s party scene. What music do you hear when you think back to that era?
A: I hear The Rapture House of Jealous Lovers, Decepticon by Le Tigre. That’s one stream of those parties.
P: I remember the first time I heard Temperature by Sean Paul. He’s the best guy, he’s fucking hardcore! He was a big influence, I started running the hand claps from that song through my sets and that’s where dancehall started to come in.
OD: How did you two meet?
A: I was at one of the first parties and I rudely interrupted his mixing because I was so excited by what he was playing. I was like “I’m a singer…” and he totally brushed me off with “here’s my card.” But then we bumped into each other again and we decided to do something together. I introduced the dancehall riddims but also some indie stuff, and Bonjay was born.
OD: What part does dancehall play in your music?
P: It’s still the core of the direction we’re going in. But we’re kind of finding a new sound. Alanna does not have that standard dancehall swagger. The Bonjay sound is a mix of me being all about the beats and Alanna about vocalists like St Vincent and Kate Bush. Dancehall is our common thread.
A: It’s the dancehall attitude and openness to anything. The kick-drum and the bass.
P: If we ever meet again you have to see Alanna’s impression of a dancehall diva!
OD: Alanna, The Guardian has been calling you the new Lady Saw. What do you think of the comparison? It’s pretty lazy if you ask us.
A: I can’t do a Lady Saw chat! If people see the live show they’ll see me wining and think my stage presence comes from the dancehall but it comes more from my experience as a gospel singer, where it’s raw emotion. When I was singing in the church, sometimes I would be so overcome by the music I would black out. That’s where the attitude comes from. But I write from a vocalist perspective. I am way more concerned about how I sound than how I look. I can wine in between verses! I’m not a Lady Saw.
OD: You two once put together a collection of fake patois accents…
P: Yes! It was for a video we were making for Fraudulent. This guy we know at our local leftfield video store helped us collect all these movies where American actors do really bad West Indian accents. There’s a Steven Seagal movie called Marked for Death where the bad guys are this gang of yardies…
OD: Have you had a chance to pick up any London slang while you’ve been here?
P: Blud? Teach us some!
OD: I’m 25, not 16! Er…peng? Moving on…Would you like to collaborate with more artists?
A: I’d love to work with more female vocalists. Or Simon from The Black Ghosts [Simon William Lord, formally in Simian]. But mainly I love the idea of females collaborating. It’s frustrating that the dance music genre is such a boys’ club. We shouldn’t have to wait for a male DJ to champion us, we should work with each other.
P: We don’t really fit with any scene. We just want to work with people whose music we’re into. But I want to finish our full-length album first.
OD: Will it be out this year?
P: Early 2012, hopefully!
OD: Thanks guys! We loved the show
P: I wish we’d done this interview before the show. It was so energetic! Is this the first interview you’ve done sitting on the ground in a park?
OD: The first of many, hopefully!
Feature image by Rosie Cowling for OhDearism