December 7 is the last First Thursday of 2017 and baby, it may be cold outside, but things are about to heat up at the AGO. Mixing emotive vocals, bass-y synths and dancehall sounds, beloved local duo Bonjay is our headliner for December’s First Thursday—and they are here to make you move and groove.
The duo that makes up Bonjay—Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain—are on the brink of releasing their debut full-length LP, Lush Life, in 2018, after giving us a dreamy taste of what’s to come with their first single, Ingenue (which recently premiered on The FADER). We last heard from Bonjay in 2010 with their EP Broughtupsy, which received widespread acclaim, so we can’t wait to hear more from this dynamic duo. The AGO sat down with Bonjay to get the lowdown on Lush Life and their upcoming Toronto performance at First Thursday, check it out below:
AGO: Bonjay recently released the single Ingenue in the lead up to the release of your LP Lush Life which you’ve said is about “the way we live in cities today.” Can you tell us about any particular cities you’re inspired by living in and why?
Alanna: Kingston, Jamaica. I’m half Jamaican, but I travelled there for the first time this year. What I love about Kingston is that it’s so much more than just the beaches and ghettos you see in the media. There’s a growing constellation of thinkers and creators flourishing across all the creative fields. Many of them left for school and lived in the usual big cities. But they chose to come back because Kingston is a place that fiercely values originality and makes way for new ideas. Plus, the Jamaican music work ethic is contagious. “Music is life!”
Ian: Hamilton has that unique quality of being near a big city, but remaining a world unto itself. We mixed most of our upcoming record there, which inspired Alanna to write a piece for Spacing Magazine about how places like it have given birth to the most exciting music. Like Bristol, England for Portishead and Massive Attack, and Virginia Beach for Timbaland and Missy Elliott.
AGO: You have a #LushLife Tumblr devoted to “ambitious outsiders” (like Jane Jacobs) can you tell us about some other local Torontonians that would fall into that category for you?
Ian: Well there are so many… I’d never heard of this guy (Dr. Philip Berger) until this weekend but he has dedicated his entire life to making the city welcoming to everyone. What a lovely person. Also Steve Mann, the University of Toronto professor who has lived as a “cyborg” for decades, from back when the gear was so big and bizarrely clunky that he cut an Elephant Man figure walking the streets. Living your life for something so far outside the mainstream is inherently noble, I think.
Alanna: Carmen Elle from DIANA and Less Bar. Carmen created the bar with the idea of making a true community space, from the sound system to group therapy sessions to hosting a baby shower. Less Bar lived up to its mandate of “celebrate you.” It felt like the spot. And Anupa Mistry, the journalist from The FADER and VEVO. She’s not afraid to hold people accountable and doesn’t fall victim to Canadian politeness. Stubborn, loud voices often get hushed, but they’re the ones that instigate changes that benefit everyone. New York stole her for now but we’d be lucky to win her back.
AGO: For the people that haven’t seen you perform live before can you tell them what to expect from this upcoming First Thursday performance?
Alanna: It’s so hard trying to describe your own work but I like this The FADER quote: “It sounds like the explosiveness of fighting to make a life for yourself, and succeeding.”
I’m also excited about the conversation before the performance! This First Thursday explores the notion of home, which is a tricky idea for most Canadians. I was born here, but I’m constantly asked where I’m from. And, until recently, I’d never visited the Caribbean, so that didn’t feel like home either. But when I went to Jamaica for the first time this year, strangers greeted me with “Welcome home!” I realised my luck in being both Canadian and Jamaican. And the longer I spent in Kingston, the more I noticed a parallel between Jamaica and Canada: the immense importance of diversity to each culture.
Inspired by Jamaican innovation, I wanted to host a conversation to highlight the immense potential that lies across my two homes. I’ll be in conversation with Sharine Taylor—founder of Bashy Magazine, a love letter to dancehall culture worldwide, and Bee Quammie, who wrote the perfect piece on how Jamaica’s national dish is the creative outcome of ingredients from Canada and Ghana. We’ll swap stories and think out loud about Jamaica’s strengths, the creativity of its diaspora, and what Canada can learn from it. We’ll also be sharing gorgeous visuals captured by the photographer May Truong during my trip this year, plus a new collaboration with Esther Bogorov with light and visual effects.
Want Bonjay to DJ the soundtrack to your day? Check out their custom Spotify playlist below!
Tickets for December’s First Thursday are on sale now for more information you can check the First Thursday webpage and follow #AGO1st for updates on more artists, projects, and highlights you can expect at the next event. See you there!
Are you an AGOinsider yet? If not, sign up to have stories like these delivered straight to your inbox every week.