It was a special thrill for us at Adventure Canada to see the nominations this week for the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards. Among the nominees are the inspiring husband & wife duo, Twin Flames (Jaaji Okpik and Chelsey June). We had recently invited Twin Flames aboard our expedition to Greenland & Wild Labrador 2018. What better time to introduce them to our audience than on the heels of an IMA nomination!
Congratulations on your recent nomination best folk album in the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards. How does it feel to be named along with the likes of Buffy Ste. Marie?
We are super honoured every time we are nominated alongside legends in Indigenous music. Buffy is a legend and also a woman which means so much to me (Chelsey). Buffy is an Indigenous woman who has made it in the industry in a time when women and Indigenous peoples were still secondary. It is awesome that our music is gaining recognition and is being considered in a category with her. It is a testament to how far we have come in so little time.
You both had worked independently as musical artists. What brought you together?
We met on a TV Show for upcoming Aboriginal Artists (TAM on APTN) which was being filmed in Quebec Cit. Jaaji was representing Inuit and Mohawk from the North, and Chelsey, Metis from the South.
Now you’re a couple, working together, travelling together, performing together, and making a life together. How do you do it?
We are best friends as well as a couple. We are very grateful for the life we lead, and that we get to share so many amazing adventures together. We have the same view on our dreams and goals, and each time we accomplish them together is a celebration.
Together, you’re presenting a mosaic of identities. What moves you to make your music? Is there a core message you’re hoping to share?
Yes: our key message is “we are all human”. No matter our race or where we come from, we are all able to relate through music. Music is our international language. We can gently educate people about our cultures and where we come from and the journeys that we have lived. We hope one day our people will be treated as equals. We also try to remind people that there is hope and that good things can happen. We are living proof that with dedication and hard work dreams are possible.
You sing in English, French, and Inuktitut. As you travel and perform across the country, what kind of reactions do you see from your varied audience ?
We are storytellers and sharing our languages through music helps us to share our stories. People are generally intrigued, and many audience members have expressed how amazing they feel to listen to music in a language they do not understand while still feeling the emotion of the song. For those that do understand, they feel a great sense of pride that their languages are being shared and preserved. Again, music is an international language.
You put out your first album together in 2015, and since then you’ve won Aboriginal Songwriters of the Year twice at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, earned multiple other award nominations, and hit #1 on the National Aboriginal Countdown for your single “Porchlight”. How does it feel to have your work honoured like this?
We feel extremely privileged an honoured receiving recognition for our work. We love what we do and work really hard putting one hundred per cent into it all. As Indigenous, Inuit, Metis artists we are proud to share our music nationally and Internationally. Our main objective is to give voices to our people in our communities that don’t always have one, to bring to the forefront issues that are communities and youth are facing and to break stereotypes.
The biggest reward we receive is the love from our fans and the youth we get to work with through music. Our fans are the reason we have made it to where we are. Inspiring one person to live a good life and to believe in themselves is why we do what we do. We want to bring happiness everywhere we go one song at a time.
The single, Porchlight, highlights the plight of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. What’s been the reaction to that song among your audience?
We wrote this song with no intention to ever publicly release it. We met a man at the Indigenous music awards in 2015 who asked if he could take a photograph with us and his little sister. He handed us a picture frame and explained that she went missing years ago and that he and his family never received any closure or any answers in her disappearance.
In that moment both of us were shot with a deep pain in our hearts. This was the first story of many that were to follow. The man we met urged us to release this song once we sent it to him. He used it in his National campaign for MMIWG which went on to become a comfort song to those living the movement and searching for answers. This song has become a way for people to release their pain for a moment to remember the loved ones no longer with us and know that we remember them.
How does making music help address the issues, including MMIWG, that confront Indigenous people in Canada today?
We are given a voice through our music, one which we are very humbled to receive. We share our stories and the stories of our people. The truth is that many Canadians have no clue as to what has happened throughout our history and the trauma which it has caused many of our people. Music gives us the platform to gently educate and maybe shine a bit of light on the issues—as well as the beauty that exists among the resilience, and the strength to still be here today.
We are doing what we love. The energy that we receive from the audience every time we play refuels us. When we receive the messages of how we have impacted someone’s life in a positive way, helped them find hope, even changed their mind to not take their own life in a moment when they felt they had nothing left… These are all reasons for us to keep going. A hug from a fan or a child that looks at us with awe and inspiration.
We may not be mainstream music but we are reaching people writing songs with deep meaning and living our dream.
You’ve come so far, so fast—what do you think is next for Twin Flames?
We would love to further break into mainstream music, and see Indigenous artists represented equally, at the same level as Canadian artists. We also love to travel so the more places we get to play the better. We are hoping to branch into Europe and Australia and venture more into the U.S. market.
Our third album is currently in the works which will be very interesting as we come more into ourselves as artists. The best part of what we are living is that real life has surpassed our most crazy dreams, so we will keep on dreaming and when those dreams come true we will make new ones. One song at a time.
What do you look forward to most about visiting Greenland, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland & Labrador with Adventure Canada this fall?
We love that our music brings us to all different places. We are really looking forward to Greenand! We have not had the chance to visit Greenland yet and it has been on our bucket list of places to go and see. As for Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland & Labrador: those locations we never get tied of seeing and visiting. The spirits there have come to know us and it feels like a homecoming each time we return. Always new things to discover and beauty that surpasses imagination!
Join Jaaji and Chelsey June aboard Adventure Canada’s expedition cruise to Greenland and Wild Labrador, September 18 – October 2, 2018.