Dancehall meets soul duo Bonjay are back after a 5+ year hiatus and ready to win our hearts all over again. Alanna Stuart and Ian "Pho" Swain first released music as Bonjay in 2010 and made their mark with their debut album Broughtupsy, featuring hit tracks Stumble and Creepin'. The Toronto pair were also behind this excellent cover of Caribou's Jamelia. Now, they've shared their latest single 'Ingenue' from their forthcoming album, have returned to the stage and are ready for the next chapter.
Can you tell us more about the woman on the cover of your single Ingenue? Is there a connection between her and the friend you wrote the song about?
The cover photo is Renelyn Quincot. She’s an old soul we met a few years ago, when she was a 17-year-old mentee running with Maylee Todd’s crew. Even as a teen she seemed to have things figured out, a real city kid. She grew up in Parkdale and spent her teen years throwing art parties in makeshift galleries and sneaking into shows with fake ID.
We ran into Ren when she was carrying Women Who Run With the Wolves as her bible, and saw herself as a ‘mistaken zygote’, “this woman in the family who feels wild. She can't connect with how the family lives.”
Renelyn’s still quite young, but was carving out her own path, and it was beautiful to witness. It’s inspiring to meet someone who trusts in themselves, but also embraces exploration.
Since then, she’s grown into a curator, putting on events from community art shows to healing circles. She told me: “I’m searching for something, a firmness. I’m finding it. I’m still finding it.”
The friend I originally wrote the song about? They will forever remain a secret. . .
From what we know so far, you talk a lot about your fascination with cities on your forthcoming album Lush Life. Can you tell us more about what brought on these reflections? Where do you think you each would be if it weren't for cities existing?
Cities are probably humankind’s greatest creation. Why else would we put up with all the bullshit it takes to live in them? It’s because they make new ideas become real. Not just in music and the arts, but in science, entrepreneurship –everything. Cities are where we draw inspiration from people and things we’ve never encountered before. That serendipity leads to new ways of thinking, new ways of being.
We were influenced a bit by the other side of my life. To earn a living and make this record, I started working as an economist, working on things like how cities evolve. “Where do new things come from?” – questions like that. So some of it inevitably spills over onto the creative side.
Where would we be if cities didn’t exist?
Well, our parents and grandparents were immigrants, and cities and ambition were what drew them here. So, without cities, my Eastern European grandparents and Alanna’s Caribbean grandparents would be farming in Polish fields and Jamaican mountains, imagining what could be.
What would you say was the biggest revelation in coming back after a 5+ year pause? How has Bonjay evolved or stayed the same since then?
I recently read a quote by James Baldwin on change:
"Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety."
That’s how I’d describe the last 5 years. Breaking routines and trusting others and ourselves with pushing us through a creative growth spurt. I studied movement in Montréal with Dana Michel to unlock mental blocks on stage. Ian agonized over music theory to help make our songs more emotionally moving. I went to Jamaica and played our bastardized dancehall music to Jamaicans for the first time. Those were some petrifying experiences.
I felt the results on stage when I could feel the ground beneath my feet and my voice rang louder. And when Beenie Man’s producer said to me, “You’re not human. Nobody that makes music like this is from this planet. Your music takes me to another dimension!” my imposter syndrome left me.
So, the changes appeared as incremental realizations, not revelations. But, if anything, the greatest revelation is how dedicated we are to music. Even after fighting to be better and wading through uncertainty, we still experience moments of joy making music. In those moments, we realize we can do this and we can do it well. So we’re doing it.
Catch them in a high-energy sound system at Bar Le Ritz PDB on May 25th with Too Attached and TiKA. Tickets on sale here.