With songs of hope in dark times, Twin Flames performs in Couchiching First Nation

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Monday September 5, multi-award winning Indigenous-Canadian duo, Twin Flames, performed at the Duke Arena in Couchiching First Nation. The concert was originally scheduled for Canada Day but postponed until Labour Day after lead singer Chelsey June contracted COVID-19 and was unable to perform.

June and husband Jaaji received an outpour of support from fans after June shared a heartfelt message earlier this year. She had been in and out of hospitals battling the effects of long-COVID and was informed by doctors that contracting another variant could be life threatening. Now that they are back on tour, precautions are being taken.

“I don’t take my mask off at all on the airplane. I’ll just wait till we land and then I’ll eat when I’m by myself or I won’t go into a very crowded restaurant. It’s just about making those choices. … I’m just so happy to be doing what I love again, and I’m definitely more out of breath on stage than I used to be, but I’m hoping that that too will slowly continue to get better,” June says.

Area residents enjoyed the music of Twin Flames at The Duke arena on Couchiching First Nation, Monday afternoon. The concert, hosted by the Fun in The Sun Committee, was originally scheduled for Canada Day but had to be pushed to Labour Day due to COVID-19. –Allan Bradbury photo

Jaaji (Inuk from Nunavik and Mohawk Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake) and June (Métis, Algonquin, Cree and settler heritage) write songs that are not confined to one language. Oftentimes, one song will switch between English, French, and Inuk.

“Music does not have a language. And the melody itself is what we want people to transcend and be transported through just that emotion,” Jaaji says.

They also write from a place of total honesty hoping to connect with listeners who may be facing dark times. The eclectic mix of styles ranging from folk, rock, pop, and indie demonstrate that music does not need to be confined to one genre, and similarly, that people don’t need to conform to one label. The duo are passionate advocates for issues surrounding mental health, suicide prevention, sobriety, and healthy lifestyles.

“When we go through things in life, there is always a better outcome at the end if we push through,” Jaaji says. “And I think that’s always been sort of our goal to begin with, where one album may have a sad song, and the next one will be happy.”

“I think listeners can really feel that like when a song is real and it’s true, then they resonate with that,” June adds. “Songwriting has always been a way for me to let out the things that I wouldn’t necessarily say out loud. And I think in doing so, other people find themselves, in those songs, reflected.”

In April 2022, Jaaji and June were awarded ‘vocal group of the year’ and ‘Indigneous songwriters of the year’ at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in Prince Edward Island. Their latest album ‘Omen’ was nominated in four categories at the 2022 Native American Music Awards in categories such as ‘best pop video’ and ‘best contemporary vocal video’.

To stay grounded regardless of the recognition they get, Jaaji says they refocus on their goal of writing songs that reflect what people go through in life.

“Everybody takes each song differently. It’s never the same. Somebody else is gonna translate it into their own life or their own experience in their own way. And I find that truly amazing that people can do that to help them heal,” he says.

The two songwriters have different favorite songs from their latest album ‘Omen’, which was released amidst the pandemic on August 28, 2020, and recorded with a full band.

“It’s really hard to choose. But I think song writing wise, I really like for myself the song ‘Shadows’,” June says. “I had to kind of dig really deep into my past and things that I had lived in moments that I had been in. People in the world of recovery from addictions have really gravitated towards that song, because it does talk a little bit about my personal journey, but also the flip side of someone who’s living with someone in an active addiction. I really love the power in that song. And I loved the way that I was able to just go back in time into a darker time, but also find resolve through the song.”

“And for myself, I think there was a song that never ever made it on any of the albums. And it was a song that didn’t make it even on my solo album. And it was a song called ‘Without Tears’,” Jaaji says. “It was actually the first demo we got to receive back from our producer and we were touring Manitoba at the time and we were in a truck in a blizzard. Same exact truck as what we’re in right now.”

“And our sound guy was in the back as he is right now listening to this conversation. And we got the demo back and just the amount of creation that got put into the production in that one song, it was amazing. It’s one of the longer songs, just about seven seven minutes long, and there’s just so much instrumentation that is pretty cool. I was pretty happy about it and that for me, for my musical brain, I love.”

Over the summer, Twin Flames performed at festivals and corporate events across the country such as St. John’s Folk Fest in Newfoundland, Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Nova Scotia, and HOPE Volleyball SummerFest in Ottawa, to name a few.

June describes being on stage as an exchange of energy which empowers her to give the best performance possible even on difficult days. Before shows, the band spends time in silence and gratitude with a ritual of ‘touching tip fingers’ or ‘all hands in’.

“They took time out of their lives to come see us. And that’s a huge honor. So we always want to make sure that we give every show all that we’ve got,” June says.

Jaaji and June celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary this weekend on the road to Couchiching First Nation.

“It was a beautiful place to celebrate our anniversary. Thanks to everyone who came to our show and everyone who worked so hard to bring us here. We truly feel at home. Your hospitality is incredible,” Twin Flames shared on Facebook.