Twin Flames hope to use music to revitalize Indigenous languages, storytelling

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Jaaji, left, and Chelsey June, right, make up Ottawa duo Twin Flames. The musicians recorded their song Human for the UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages. (Sean Sisk)
When Chelsey June and Jaaji take the stage as the band Twin Flames, they want to break down barriers and help people connect with each other — no matter what background they come from.

That’s their message in their new single Human, which is a song for UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages. June, who is Métis, and Jaaji, who is Inuk and Mohawk, say they want to reach people who do not speak their languages

The band, which has won several Canadian music awards for their work, blends contemporary folk music with Indigenous storytelling. Their songs are in English, Inuktitut and French.

“Music has this way of conveying such great emotion, even when we don’t necessarily understand what it’s saying,” June said. “I don’t understand Inuktitut, but I love singing the language, I love the way that it sounds.”

Watch the music video for Human by Twin Flames

Human is an upbeat folk song with a hopeful vision for the future of Indigenous languages. In February, they premiered the song in Paris as part of UNESCO’s launch of the Year of Indigenous Languages.

The first verse begins like this:

I have a language that was born with time

Passed on through generations

One of a kind.

Keep it close to me, close to my heart

Share for all to hear, I will do my part.

Music used to revitalize language

Even with this hopeful outlook, they say there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure that Indigenous languages continue to survive.

The opportunity to sing their song at the conference came through a friend with the organization Folk Alliance, who asked them to come to Paris to represent Indigenous people in Canada. At the same time, another friend who works with UNESCO also invited them to perform and commissioned a new piece.

“We were over the moon with the opportunity,” June said. “We ended up getting two invitations from separate parties, and our two worlds collided. I think we were meant to be there.”

Through their time in Paris, June and Jaaji saw common threads between Indigenous-language speakers across the world. Four other acts played 15-minute sets, showcasing their language through music.

“We got to discover all of this amazing Indigenous music, but from all over the world,” June said. “Music has a way to bring that back, to revitalize these languages.”

Written by Alex Brockman, based off an interview by Allan Neil

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: A problem of popularity: How Canada’s northern musicians are hurt by lack of access, CBC News

Finland: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway sends song with Sami joik to Eurovision Song Contest, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Indian Agent, the Alaska band reclaiming Indigenous voices, Alaska Dispatch News

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