Bonjay, Grenadian slang for the terribly English expression “Good God!”, is not only a suggestive reaction to the band’s refreshing style; but a nod to its ability to seamlessly fuse all the sounds that excite them, from Timbaland to Talking Heads. After side-stepping a career as a commercial R&B starlet, vocalist Alanna Stuart hooked up with producer and DJ, Pho to form Bonjay. Rooted in dancehall and R&B culture, the end result is something vaguely reminiscent of Cocknbullkid’s exploratory electro R&B stylings; yet nonetheless a unique hybrid in itself.
How did you guys meet?
Pho: I used to throw a party with a couple of friends. Alana came and interrupted me while I was mixing. I pretty much ignored her but she was persistent. Then we got together and made a song.
Alanna: It was really bad. We’ve grown a lot since then.
Pho: When we started, I would do a re-edit of some interesting music, and Alanna would add vocals or sing a new song over it. We did a dancehall version of Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and we did a sort of 2-step version of Staring at the Sun by TV on the Radio. We started like that, but that was five years ago. It’s changed a lot; it started off as a DJish project, now it’s a live band.
Alanna: I wasn’t aware of the irony of putting “indie rock” with dancehall, or even the fact it was supposed to be clever to do a 2-step version of a TV on the Radio song. It was just the music that we liked and the resources we had.
Which influences would you cite?
Pho: The best way we can think of is that we’re trying to do a Talking Heads to all the urban music of the last twenty years. When you listen to Talking Heads you can see how they loved disco and Fela Kutti and all that stuff; but they wanted to write songs in the rock tradition.
Alanna: From my experience as an R&B singer, there’s a lot of music that I love but almost every song is a love song or a love-gone-wrong song, where as with Talking Heads, they’ll make you dance to a song about poverty or the government but you don’t realise because its so rhythmic and uplifting.
Pho: Our record doesn’t sound like Talking Heads at all, but it’s about applying that way of thinking to if you love Timbaland or Bangladesh or Dancehall.
Alanna, you started off as an R&B singer?
Alanna: It was a pretty clichéd story, where I started singing in church gospel competitions. When I was fifteen I started going into the studio; you work with a producer, they tell you what you sound like. During that time R&B in Canada was trying to follow the American commercial template, its very lowest common denominator pop.
Pho: Say the names of some of your songs..
Alanna: “Ring, ring call again”: you try and get in touch with this boyfriend, says he’s out with his boys obviously with another woman, there’s “Girlfriends House” where I needed a break from said boyfriend so went to chill at my girlfriend’s for the weekend. Another infidelity one, I don’t even think I had boyfriends at the time but I had three songs about infidelity and broken hearts. I never really felt comfortable, it’s not that I didn’t see myself in R&B, it’s more I saw pieces of myself in other genres.
How is the album coming along?
Alanna: We’re pretty far along.
Pho: We have over forty rough ideas; the hard part is picking them and turning them into complete songs. We’re studying 1950s songwriter styles and figuring out how to make real songs. We’re on the home stretch.
Words: Shannon Mahanty