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Canadian Music Class Challenge

The story behind 'Human,' the official anthem for the Year of Indigenous Languages

Ottawa's Twin Flames were chosen to create the UNESCO official theme.

Ottawa's Twin Flames were chosen to create the UNESCO official theme

Jaaji, left, and Chelsey June, right, make up Ottawa duo Twin Flames. The musicians received seven nominations at the 2018 Native American Music Association Awards and won best duo and best folk album. (Sean Sisk)

Earlier this year, Ottawa band Twin Flames received a distinct international honour: the folk duo was selected to write, record and perform the official UNESCO anthem for 2019. It's the International Year of Indigenous Languages, declared by the United Nations in an effort to raise awareness to the rapid decline of Indigenous languages around the world. 

The song they wrote became "Human."

Luckily for CBC Music and thousands of music students across Canada, the song is also included in our list for the Canadian Music Class Challenge. It's proving to be one of the most popular songs of this year's contest. 

The song was originally written from an Indigenous perspective, but in the spirit of inclusion and reconciliation, Twin Flames wrote a second set of lyrics that can be sung by non-Indigenous students. You can request the sheet music and both sets of lyrics for "Human" by sending us a note at musicclass@cbcmusic.ca. 

We reached out to Chelsey June, who is Métis, and Jaaji, who is Inuk, from Twin Flames to find out more about this amazing song.

How did your partnership with UNESCO come about?

We were approached by the president of Folk Alliance International, an annual music conference, and were asked to be the artists in residence. Each year, they choose an artist in residence to develop partnerships, foster cultural cross-pollination and nurture artistic growth. That's when we were paired up with UNESCO.

How does it feel to have your original song be the official anthem of the Year of Indigenous Languages? 

We feel extremely honoured and proud. With "Human" the goal was to write a song in which people from everywhere can relate. We got to visit UNESCO in Paris and perform at the official launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages! It was incredible.

When you sat down to write the song, what was the story that you wanted to tell, and the message you wanted to deliver?

We wanted to inform the listeners that Indigenous languages are disappearing. We wanted to remind our people to take pride in their culture and languages and remember that they are capable of learning them. We wanted an anthem which could make all people celebrate identity. The goal was to make people excited about learning more about our cultures and being open to hearing our challenges, and to build allies. We always hope for open conversations around who we are and where we come from.

What advice would you give music teachers who are attempting to teach their class "Human" right now?

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, after all that is how we learn. Don't be afraid to ask questions for that is where knowledge is gained. Many people are so worried about getting it wrong we see it as an honour that you are trying. Every class that takes on this song is doing their part to keep our languages alive. That is amazing!

What about advice for the kids, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous? 

Practice is so important. As musicians we practise all the time! Repetition is key especially when learning to pronounce new words. Listen to the song and write out the words the way you hear them and it will help you retain them.

What's next for Twin Flames?

"Human" has been nominated for two Native American Music Awards: best indie single and best music video concept. We will be attending the awards in Seneca, N.Y., Nov. 2. The awards are people's choice so we invite people to vote online if they like our song.

We are working on our third album with a release in winter 2020. We have also recently collaborated with three-time Juno Award nominees Sultans of String for their new track, titled "Power of the Land," due out later this month.

We will also be part of the Legacy: A Tribute to Gord Downie series on Oct. 16 and 17 in Ontario, where we will be sharing the stage with Peter Katz, Royal Wood, Dala and more. The concert raises money and awareness and continues the conversation that began with Chanie Wenjack's residential school story. Check our website for news on where you can catch our show.