by Shelbey Savoie
pic by by Lilly McCallum Photography
*Jay & Jo at a summer jam on the Trudel family farm
Jay & Jo, a Saskatchewan-based sister-duo, have debuted an entire set of Christmas classics just in time for the holiday season. Following the release of their sophomore album, Ahatonhia is the duo’s Christmas album endeavor, available as of Friday, November 26th. Filled with reflective songwriting and an overall jovial mood, the two chose songs they both genuinely loved lyrically and musically. This latest release was created with a clear-cut goal to craft a Christmas album that is buoyant and full of life, which also gave Jay & Jo the freedom to put their own spin on things. In this particular case that includes original music, recording classics from Indigenous translations, and using synth for the very first time.
While this may have been Janaya McCallum’s first self-produced album, her and her sister are no strangers to holiday songs. The two grew up in a family band and would put on Christmas concerts almost yearly as part of their holiday traditions. McCallum explained how all of their traditions revolve around music when it comes to Christmas and their family. When asked why the two felt 2021 was the year to release a holiday compilation, McCallum explained, “People have been requesting it a lot and maybe it’s because we have done a lot of Christmas shows.” Furthermore, the effect that Covid-19 had on dampening last year’s holiday spirit for many people was also a contributing factor. “We were just both feeling the heaviness of it all. The whole world has been a really muddy ,trudge-through-the-deep-snow couple of years for everybody, and we were more exhausted by it than we realized.” Ahatonhia is Jay & Jo’s response to repelling those pessimistic feelings in the form of a simple and inherently joyful album.
One of the singles released prior to the album was “Long Winter'', an original song written by McCallum that features vocals by Manitoba folk artist Noah Derksen. When asked about the meaning behind the song, Jay told us, “I wrote it with Noah’s voice in mind and he sounds amazing on it. It ended up happening pretty quickly. It was one of those written-in-ten minutes sort of songs.” As McCallum described the particular feeling behind the writing, it becomes a song that encompasses the contrasting ideas of excitement and sadness that come with change. “That sentiment kind of wrote itself for me. I wanted it to be a song that whatever, or whoever, you were feeling the ache for, that you could feel it in that song.” “Long Winter” serves as a blank canvas for anyone who listens.
Ahatonhia comes from the album’s title track, ‘Jesous Ahatonhia’, which is the Huron Carol rewritten from the original translation of Wyandot to English. It is also one of McCallum’s favorites off of the album and it was clear it holds a special place in her heart as she elaborated on the entire process behind the track. “The Anglicized version is ‘Twas In The Moon Of Wintertime’. It’s one of the first ones that popped into my head when we were creating this album. I sat down with this one and I started to look up the lyrics when I found the classic English version. I started to wonder how close it was to the original Huron Carol.”
The Huron Carol was written in the 1600’s to tell the nativity story in the original Wendat language. Canadian scholar Dr. John Steckley, one of the last known speakers of the language, translated the entire narration very thoroughly. “He had these beautiful explanations with real meanings behind the Indigenous words and showed how much was actually lost in translation. I fell in love with his word for word transcript of what was originally written. I poured over these and kept referring back to the English version that we know and it just kind of lost its luster for me. I was sitting with the original words and wrote this new version using this direct Huron translation. I was very careful to not take away anything that was significant and very careful to not add or embellish things that weren’t already there. I tried to keep it intact, just trying to put it to music. So it is in English but it is the direct translation of the original song written in the 1600’s.”
‘Better Luck’, the second original song of the album is more geared towards New Year’s Eve, written by Trudel. “I loved it immediately,” McCallum said of her sister’s tune. “It’s basically wishing people better luck this time around the sun. A message of hope at the end of the album.” Strategically placed as the final track, it leaves the listener with a fun and upbeat ending of this festive listening.
For Jay & Jo, Ahatonhia was created to deal with the current state of the world in the true fashion that artists do, by taking what is happening around them and using their creative medium as an outlet to express themselves. They effectively used this holiday set list as a way for them to ease back into the creative process. Ahatonhia is a great way to kick off your holiday season and is available on all streaming services as well as through Jay & Jo’s website.