If you’ve ever been to a party in Grenada, chances are you’ve heard the expression “Bonjay!” which comes from “bon Dieu!” in French or “good God!” in English. While this is a common exclamation in the country where her mother was born, Alanna Stuart found it to be quite well suited as a band name.
Bonjay, which consists of Stuart and Ian “Pho” Swain, have slowly “stumbled” their way onto the music scene since they paired up in the mid 2000s. At the time, Swain and some of his friends were throwing a monthly party in Ottawa they called Disorganized which, as Stuart described, “went on to become legendary.”
“We started out doing bass-heavy covers and re-edits of indie tunes. Our versions of TV On The Radio’s “Staring At The Sun” and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” caught the attention of people online, so we started getting asked to play shows out of town. It wasn’t until 2007 that we began making our own original tunes. That’s what I consider to be our real start,” Stuart explained.
The duo released their long-awaited first EP, Gimmee Gimmee in 2009 after having already built up a strong and faithful following. The release saw them featured in the Montreal Mirror, as well as NOW and Nightlife Magazine. In line with Bonjay’s Grenadian roots, Swain and Stuart decided to include a freestyle in the song “Gimmee Gimmee” that was done in Gypsy, a somewhat secret language spoken by adults in the Caribbean country.
When creating their music, the band draws in a wide range of influences which stretch across musical genres and cultures. This has made Bonjay’s sound difficult to describe or pin to a particular genre.
Stuart imagines their sound as being the middle ground where both her and Swain’s influences meet. “We have a shared appreciation for dancehall reggae, but otherwise my taste tends toward more indie or dark soul music. Pho brings in his appreciation for UK dance music and all sorts of weird hip-hop stuff,” she pointed out.
Well aware of the fact that their music has not yet been successfully pigeonholed, Swain said that he has started to tell people that it is “bass-heavy, futuristic soul music.”
Their latest release features half a dozen tunes and is entitled Broughtupsy – a name which means “raised with good manners” in Patois.
“In Jamaica, if you’re rude or out of order, someone might say: “Dem nuh have no broughtupsy,'” explained Stuart. Swain then added that the songs have to do with coming of age, fitting in and finding your place in the world. This is a common thread that Bonjay only realized existed when it came time to choose a title for the album.
Being a twosome, musicmaking is a collaborative process which acts as a co-dependency. Stuart and Swain each have their own areas of expertise, although they are hoping to become more proficient in each other’s strong points. In the studio, Stuart handles the engineering while Swain takes care of production, and onstage she works the loop pedal while he creates the live beats and effects. Stuart always heads up the vocals and both are equally involved in songwriting.
Bonjay is currently making its way west across Canada to show off the new album, but the duo is also kickstarting a more interactive way of putting on their live shows. “We’re really excited about this tour because it’s our first run of shows with our new format. We’ve tucked away the turntables to start making the beats live,” Stuart revealed.
Catch Bonjay with Glasser and Twin Shadow on Nov. 10 at Il Motore.