Husband-and-wife duo Chelsey June and Jaaji (pronounced Yaah-yee) bring their unique sound to audiences across Saskatchewan with an OSAC-sponsored tour that arrives in Moose Jaw on Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Mae Wilson Theatre.
“It’s our first time coming to Moose Jaw, we’re pretty excited,” said Chelsey June in an interview with MooseJawToday.com. “This whole tour has been something we’ve really looked forward to for a long time. We showcased for OSAC in 2019, and because of the pandemic the tour got pushed twice, so it’s nice that it’s finally happening.
“We’re here for 28 days, 17 shows, all in Saskatchewan, so we get to see every part of it.”
The Organization of Performing Arts Councils (OSAC) is a non-profit that enables arts performances in communities that otherwise might not be able to bring in high-profile acts.
Twin Flames recently won Vocal Group of the Year and Indigenous Songwriters of the Year at the 2022 Canadian Folk Music Awards in PEI, where Chelsey June also co-hosted.
Their awards now include four Canadian Folk Music awards, three Native American Music awards, three Summer Solstice Indigenous Music awards, and the Capital Music Group of the Year award for 2022.
Twin Flames’ latest album Omen (2020) received significant attention and acclaim, with songs featured on the CBC Television series TallBoyz and the Amazon Prime Video series The Lake.
“As an artist, you’re constantly evolving, and so is your music,” Chelsey June said. “We had a lot of fun with that album, just making it huge.
“Anytime we’re recognized for the work that we do, it’s an honour. As independent musicians, it helps our career go forward … so we don’t mind receiving them, because it helps us continue to do what we love.”
Since combining forces seven years ago — a moment they describe as “instant harmony” — Jaaji and Chelsey June have played thousands of shows together, including working with school boards across the country to educate children on the Indigenous history of Canada.
Recognizing cultural trauma
Part of their performances is the recognition of trauma and shared trauma, as Indigenous peoples in Canada continue coming to terms with the legacies of colonialism.
In Jaaji’s first career, he spent 12 years as a police officer in northern Quebec, where he grew up. Police officers tend to see the worst of people, and risk developing dark worldviews — Jaaji uses his music to help heal himself and others.
“My thing has always been writing about real experiences, to try and help the next person,” he explained. “But it actually helps me as well.”
Jaaji is open on stage about his past use of alcohol to cope with his experiences as a police officer and the resulting PTSD. Chelsey June is also an advocate for mental health, healthy relationships, and sober living.
“Hopefully, as we continue to see success, we’re also getting into Canadian homes to change the narratives,” Jaaji said, “so that people understand a little better what Indigenous plights were, and still are. And PTSD, and just generally being a man in society, how that works.”
“Alcohol is accepted and normalized in most cultures, everywhere really,” Chelsey June noted. “In Canada, alcohol is accepted and normalized, and when someone is hurting, it makes a great band-aid, or so we’re made to think.”
In the early days of their relationship, Chelsey June said, she didn’t fully understand the effects a policing career has on a person — especially in small communities where officers end up knowing most or all the people they must regularly interact with.
“It’s lifelong, you know, what police officers have to carry after seeing the things they see.
“And many of the tragedies are a direct result of colonialism and residential schools and all of the things that were forced on (Indigenous communities). If tragedy plagues a place, it’s because there was something that happened to break the original way of life, and people are just doing their best to cope.”
Healing power of music and humour
“In our stage performances, we do dive into some of those realities,” Jaaji agreed. “But in the end, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s about exchange and the happy balance of, yes, making sure the stories are being told, but also humour and storytelling. … It ends up being a really fun night.”
“We love laughing and joking and being general goofballs,” Chelsey June laughed. “You have to take people to darker places, but you also have to be able to take them away as well.”
Twin Flames emphasizes human connections by recognizing that everyone hurts, and everyone struggles, and everyone is in it together.
“It’s a sharing opportunity.”
Jaaji’s cultural heritage is Inuk and Mohawk. He speaks Inuttitut, incorporating it into his music, and is passionate about language revitalization and preservation.
Chelsey June comes from settler, Métis, Algonquin, and Cree heritage. She speaks fluent French, and so the couple’s music combines the English, French, and Inuttitut languages.
“We always feel it’s a privilege to be able to talk in three languages, let alone singing in them,” Jaaji said. “Obviously, in a community or city that doesn’t understand the language, there’s a lot of storytelling involved so that the song is understood in translation, and then in the emotion of the performance.
“We feel honoured every time we get to do that, because it is always, always well received.”
Chelsey June said that their Saskatchewan shows have all been wonderful so far.
“The audiences have been extremely kind and loving, and we can feel the energy from the crowd. … It ends up feeling like we’re just sitting in a living room with people, sharing some stories and singing some tunes.”
Tickets to Twin Flames’ show at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m. are available from Sasktix.ca.