Janaya’s children keep surfacing in the room behind her while we speak. So the phone conversation ranges between the ebullient creative professional, in her 10th year of performance in the band she founded, and the teacher/mom who tells me I’m lucky my daughter has turned 16: “If she did okay through 14, you’re okay.” Unexpected emotional support before we dig into the history of Soujah Fyah.
“Our first show would have been in 2002; I started the band in 2001, so we passed our 10th anniversary in April! We’re very close, and everyone’s very level-headed, and we are all like family. We’ve only had one almost complete turnover.”
When Janaya put up audition notices in SEE Magazine (Edmonton’s alternative music magazine) Bongbiemi Nfor: percussionist, was the first person she met, and the quartet that developed was asked to back a singer named Dorant for their very first gig. He happens to be her husband now.
“And besides (the three of us), we’ve only had one turnover of musicians in all that time,” with ‘Tootall’
Paul and Stormin’ Norm helping to keep them moving ahead as she rediscovers new-mommy-brain (over-stretched and under-rested). Pretty impressive lifespan for any band in Alberta, let alone a reggae band. I’m surprised a northern Canadian city had enough buffalo soldiers to support a reggae circuit 10 years ago.
“Our show appeals to more than the reggae community. It took a long time for (them) to even take us seriously: our following was university/college radio.. . . . We went through the back door.
“We gathered a lot of momentum and listeners in 2005 at Blues on Whyte. We did Sundays there for eight months, and that was the greatest momentum and experience builder for us as bandmembers. That is a very eclectic group of people, and from there it really branched out. We have followers from Rwanda to Camrose, and with the CD that came out of that round of house-gigs (Truth Will Reveal, 2008, their second disc), we got our Juno nomination, and people started to go, ‘Oh, wait-a-minute, this isn’t just . . .’”
No, it’s not just . . . . With their singles reaching #1 on various charts nationally and wandering up and down the top ten charts internationally, their discs have garnered awards and nominations from the Junos, the Canadian Reggae Music Awards, and the Western Canadian Music Awards. There is something going on in Edmonton’s chilly jammin’ community. And you can thank Janaya’s mom for that.
(In the background, her own young daughter threatens to play with something breakable: ‘You go watch t.v. for 20 minutes.’‘Yay!’ Janaya laughs: ‘She’s got that all figured out!’)
“So I told my mom, ‘I’m going to start a reggae band, so I’ve got to move to Toronto, ‘cause that’s where all the reggae is; nobody will know it here, and I’m gonna get famous!’ And she says, ‘Hold on: why don’t you stay here?’ and I said ‘That’s Ridiculous!’ Well, Mom took me to a live gig. . . ” and the rest, as they say, is history.
Having said that, Souljah Fyah’s success is definitely not only her Mom’s responsibility: not only are some of the musicians classically trained, while others have played for nearly 20 years; also, their on-stage/off-stage mouthpiece is fascinated by ‘building connections’, which is always a good idea in the music industry. Combined with this pragmatism is an abiding commitment to the communities around them, whether it’s musical, or regional, or cultural.
“There are a few tracks on the new album which speak to the female experience, and one is about child abuse, one about domestic violence.. . . While it is an uplifting experience to be at a reggae show, no question, but there is a lot of thought that goes into our lyrics (and composition), and for people to listen past (the surface) is to examine certain social issues, and bring them to light. And hopefully as a team or a community we can do something. . . . There’s so many pockets that need light shone into them, and we can change. Change is totally possible.”
Now is that reggae, or what? See them for yourself at the Canadian Artiste Showcase on August 18th at The Republik, during this year’s Calgary ReggaeFest.