Both Chelsey June (métis, Algonquin Cree) and Jaaji (Inuk and Mohawk from Nunavik) grew up surrounded by music. While both come from musical families, and Chelsey began singing at the age of 4, it wasn’t until age 20 that Jaaji picked up a guitar. The pair would trade places in their ascension to becoming the artists they are today: it would be Jaaji who would go on to carve a career in music before Chelsey. When the pair met in 2014, the connection was instant, and Chelsey eventually left her government job to accompany Jaaji on his tour in Nunavik. Though their relationship began as artists, it quickly developed into a romantic one as well. The pair are now happily married, and are known as the musical duo Twin Flames.
They’ve gone on to be two of Ottawa’s most awarded Indigenous artists, making music that bridges culture, styles, and continents. They’ve toured across Canada and the Arctic, honouring their ancestors through song in English, Inuttitut, and French. They are 2x Canadian Folk Music Award recipients for Aboriginal Songwriters of the Year, and 3x Native American Music Award winners. In total, they have over 29 music award nominations and have played over 1000 shows across Canada, Greenland, the US, Australia, and France.
The pair are proud to call The Capital region home, and have continued to share their love for music with fans around the world, despite COVID shutdowns. Their first in-person events are now
being scheduled, with a tour in the late fall (COVID permitting). Despite a more quiet year in the music industry, the pair have taken home three awards at the Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards this year. Their album Omen won Pop/Rock/Alternative Album of the Year, their single Battlefields won Single of the Year, and their song Grace Too won for Music in the Arts.
Outside of music, the pair work with school boards across Canada to further education in the arts and reconciliation with MASC. We caught up with the duo to discuss the early stages of their relationship as both artists and lovers, some of their career highlights, and what’s next for them.
Tell me about your childhoods. When did you know that you wanted to get into music?
Chelsey: I grew up surrounded by music-loving parents. I was introduced to so many different genres. I figured out that I loved to sing really young, around the age of 4. I liked the way singing made me feel. I was obsessed with all the Shirley Temple movies and the Wizard of Oz. I remember wishing I could be in movies and sing like them.
Jaaiji: Music has always been in my heart and blood. I was surrounded by it on both sides of the family. I was a great listener, and grew up with the Folk and Rock of the 70s. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I picked up the guitar. Because I was a cop back then, with 2 small children, the guitar playing was short-lived. In my mid 30s, I picked up that guitar again and started writing right away. I was inspired by other artists around me, and had deep urges to go up on stage one day!
Since then, your music has gone on to receive multiple nominations and awards. Tell me about the moment your music reached #1 on IMC. What was that like for you?
Chelsey: It was just near both of our birthdays in June when Porchlight hit number one. It was such an incredible feeling. We were finally being recognized for our music and all our hard work was paying off. It is for sure a moment when you reflect on life. I remember being filled with gratitude and awe that it was actually happening. I was also so happy that our song was serving as a way for people to heal, according to all the incredible messages we received.
Jaaji: It was pretty neat. We love playing music and to know that our music is loved somewhere is always cherished. We also know that charting always helps us run into other opportunities in the industry. It helped solidify our goals for grants and invites. We did a radio takeover this past winter on Sirius XM of channel 165 on the Multicultural Channel.
Tell me about the opportunity to write the official UNESCO song to celebrate 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. What was the creative process like for “Human”?
Chelsey: It was really scary at first! We were worried we wouldn’t have enough time, but the song ended up coming very naturally. Jaaji got to work on his amazing melodies and catchy hooks, and when I came upstairs to where he was playing the chorus, I started on other lyrics and spoken word. Our producer helped us narrow it down and come up with a cool structure. It really feels like sometimes the songs we write come from the stars. It was a great honour to be able to represent Canada on an international scale and for our thoughts to be shared through this song.
Jaiiji: When we were invited to have a phone call with Angus Finnaen, Executive Director of Folk Alliance International, we were pretty stoked. He asked us if we’d like to be involved with the 2019 FAI as artists in residents and paired with UNESCO. We would be writing a song to help commemorate 2019 being the Official Year of Indigenous Languages. UNESCO sent us to France for the official launch and that was pretty amazing. Hashtag “honoured”.
Tell me about your recent video for Giants. What was the inspiration behind the song, and the video?
Chelsey: The song took on so many forms, but the lyrics and chorus stayed the same. The chorus “You are bigger than mountains, taller than giants, braver than lions you are, you are” was a really important message for both of us to share. So many people are hurting and trying hard to hang on. (I myself have been there) Our hope was that if someone was feeling like life was getting too difficult, they could put on this song and remember to continue on.
What do you miss most about touring?
Jaaji: Human contact. Stage feeling and energy from the crowd. Seeing the world. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve seen places like Paris, Australia, Greenland, some US cities (namely Florida and NY) and every province and territory. We’ve even played some gigs in Cuba (impromptu, mind you).
How has COVID affected your work as artists? Do you find it challenging to connect with fans virtually?
Chelsey: In the beginning it was really hard, and very scary with all the unknowns. I am grateful that with technology, we are able to continue working. It is weird performing only to a camera, but when we see photos posted after our shows or engage in Q&As, it’s so cool to see how many people are watching right there with us.
Jaaji: We definitely had to get creative. Thanks to Canada Council for the Arts, we built a home stage and bought equipment to have the best sound and video possible. These past 2 weeks are the first time we haven’t had any virtual shows… and therefore have had some much needed rest. As the days go by, it does get easier to perform to a camera. We are grateful to be able to continue to live off of music.
You’ve said before that your greatest achievement has been your fanbase. Tell me about the support you’ve received from your fans.
Chelsey: Our second album Signal Fire was almost completely funded by our fans. At the time, we did not have much knowledge of grants, so we started a Gofundme and the support we received was phenomenal. When COVID first hit, our fans donated to keep us afloat. We still feel that our fans are the reason why we have achieved the success we have; we are forever grateful for all who believe in us and support our music. They help us live our dream.
Jaaji: Our fans are the greatest. We have grown gradually since we started 6 years ago. Now we have fans from all over the world who message us on a daily basis and give us words of encouragement. They have supported us by purchasing physical copies of our albums along with other items in our virtual store found on our website. Sometimes we get the occasional troll and our fans are right there to stick up for us. That part is pretty funny, because it’s pretty juvenile of trollers, but we have too much love from our fans to let trolls cramp our style. #Love.
Finally, what’s next for you?
Chelsey: We are still actively working with school boards across Canada to further education in the arts and reconciliation thanks to MASC. We are also planning another album that we will record in our new home studio. We are writing a series of children’s books and will continue our acting and modeling pursuits. We can’t wait to start touring again in Fall 2021 on the East Coast. We have a few in-person shows this summer, if all goes well.
Jaaji: We have a French EP that we have to release like, yesterday, but that is ongoing. We’ve had to make some changes in our studio that have caused a little delay, so we are currently fixing up a new space to record. We are also constantly writing and thinking of new ideas to prepare for the next release. We have some live in-person shows, COVID permitting, in July, and we have a Sept/Oct East Coast tour for a total of about 22 days presented by the Atlantic Presenters Association. We’re planning to tag in a Northern Labrador Healthy Living Tour that is in the planning stages, again COVID and W.H.O. protocols permitting.
Photography by Sean Sisk