Ottawa’s Bonjay will bewitch you with their dancefloor voodoo

By in Culture

Arts Editor

The word “bonjay” doesn’t really welcome our North American understanding of what makes words sound like words. It betrays the sounds we’re used to hearing and replaces them with something else, something intriguingly different and curious.

The Spice Island slang for “Good God” is also the origin of the name for the Ottawa electro duo heading to Saskatoon this week.

“This is our first proper big tour but we actually played Saskatoon in May. It was really cool; we were really surprised. We didn’t know much about Saskatoon but we were really impressed by the sense of community.”

What struck them most about playing Scratch in Saskatoon was the niche community that exists in the city. It reminded them of their own hometown.

“The owner there is really trying to build something,” said Pho Swains. “We are originally from Ottawa; Saskatoon feels like Ottawa. We got our start at a monthly party that I would throw with some friends in a loft above a restaurant in Chinatown. And then it moved to a basement of a pub. It was basically the same kind of thing in Saskatoon; there’s that kind of critical mass of people doing cool things.”

The duo has been touring their EP release Broughtupsy and hopes that this tour will help inspire material for a full-length debut to be released within the next year or so.

“We have an army of CDs to keep us uplifted,” said Alanna Stuart, whose vocal stylings are responsible for the group’s more soulful side. “There’s going to be a lot of note-taking since we’ll be working on writing notes for our full-length production. It’s going to be part driving and part study group.”

Releasing a full-length album will allow the group to tour on more than just a weekend-by-weekend basis, added the band.

“We are originally from Ottawa; Saskatoon feels like Ottawa.”

-Pho Swains

In terms of the reception they’ve had in countries like the U.S., the duo says that there is sometimes a bit of a barrier between the people and the music but that it usually works out to their advantage in the end.

“One of our big influences is dancehall reggae and I don’t think they’re as familiar with stuff like that in the States,” said Swains. “So we’ll play places like New York and Philly; where there’s more of a connection to that. We did a bunch of shows in Texas and it was really cool because people connected more to the soul side of our music.

“The Caribbean church in Canada is similar to the black church in the States. People would always come up to us afterwards and ask us where we were from. They wanted to understand where music like this could come from because I guess we sounded kind of alien to them.”

This reaction is not just exclusive to the U.S. either.

“All of our shows where the audience is not as familiar with us the reaction seems to be the same, in that for the first song or two their faces portray their bewilderment,” said Stuart. “Either they’re dancing or they’re just standing there into it. And by the end they have so many questions about Canada and so many lovely things to say about the music. It tells us that people are actually listening, which is still new to us because we started out as a party act.”

Naturally, you can expect a high energy show with a lot of dancing, but also something beyond that.

“The direction that we’re going is moving away from just dance-floor bangers and toward something more of a complete body of work. So we’re doing different kinds of songs. The audience should be ready for a few ”˜stand-there-and-be-impressed’ tunes.”

Bonjay plays Scratch on Nov. 26.