Dave Morris for AOL As word of Caribou's win in the Juno Awards first-ever…
- Posted on Mar 24th 2011 11:00AM by Dave Morris
Mysteries of Trade
Alanna Stuart and Pho Swain's first mixtape in 2007 found the two Toronto residents mashing up dancehall, R&B and indie rock; their first EP, 'Gimme Gimme,' came out two whole years later, which is a lifetime in blog-buzz terms (Vampire Weekend's first album came out in 2008, and today they're playing amphitheaters).
But even if the first sounds many people heard from them were through the Internet, Bonjay are no short-lived buzz band.
The duo like to defy expectations and explode preconceptions, whether about their career, their music or their heritage.
Take 'Frawdulent,' arguably the catchiest of the songs on their latest and most addictive EP, last fall's 'Broughtupsy'; both its taut rhythms and Stuart's patois have strong roots in the islands, but the lyric was inspired by, of all things, Steven Seagal's 1990 action hit 'Marked for Death,' which features a boilerplate Jamaican character ("a criminal or a musician or a layabout," according to Swain) that was ripe for parody.
"We're not about making statements, but 'Frawdulent' was a fun way to do a song about that kind of phenomenon," Swain tells Spinner.
"We did it to kind of make fun of the way Caribbeans are portrayed, and it resonated much more broadly."
It's clear that Stuart and Swain are indifferent to others' expectations of what they should do. After their initial spark of publicity cooled, their new manager enticed them with the promise of something greater than just buzz: doing music full-time.
"It's not just putting in all the work in making great music, you know," Swain says. By "doing lots of press and lots of live things," their manager explained, Bonjay could "not just play music as a hobby, but make a career out of it."
Connecting with an audience has never been a problem for the duo; from their earliest shows, their link with their fans has been immediate, suggesting Bonjay devotees see something of themselves up on stage.
"The people who come to a Bonjay show kind of look like they're proud of who they are but they also have interests beyond whatever you'd expect from their background. These people are building their own persona, they're not just falling in line with their background."
It's still funny to think that Bonjay ever wondered whether they could make a few bucks. Even with an aversion to hype, plus some natural Canadian modesty, how could they not realize that neck-snapping beats and snake-charming melodies like 'Want A Gang' heard on 'Broughtupsy' don't come along every day? Perhaps, not surprisingly, it was their confident frontwoman who suggested they ditch the day jobs.
"Alanna is more of the entrepreneur, the risk-taker, and I'm usually the one who, I don't know, is the conceptual thinker," Swain says. "She deserves the credit for saying, 'You know, this opportunity's not going to be there forever, and we're going to regret it if we lose it.'"
Bonjay perform alongside Holy F---, Egyptrixx, Poirier and Denise Benson at Spinner's JunoFest Dance Party March 26 at Wrongbar in Toronto.