'Natural high:' Twin Flames on love and sobriety in the music scene

The award-winning duo want to debunk the myth that music goes hand in hand with alcohol and drugs.

Music duo kicks off Alianait's Mental Health Awareness Tour in Iqaluit Saturday

Twin Flame's Jaaji and Chelsey June in Pangnirtung. 'It’s been a journey for him and I’ve been so proud and so pleased to be by his side,' says June. (Francis Dupuis)

You won't see Twin Flames' Chelsey June and Jaaji with a drink in their hand at a late-night after party.

The award-winning duo, who released their first self-titled album in 2015, want to debunk the myth that music goes hand in hand with alcohol and drugs.

"A lot of musicians feel like they need to have this alter ego or they need to have these nerves of steel," says June, an Algonquin Cree Métis from Ottawa.

"Alcohol tends to numb it or drugs tend to numb it so that they're able to get on stage."

Twin Flames will perform on Alianait's Mental Health Awareness Tour which kicks off in Iqaluit on Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day. The tour will travel to Cape Dorset, Igloolik, Rankin Inlet, Arviat and Baker Lake and include workshops and concerts geared to open dialogue about mental health including suicide and substance abuse.

For Jaaji and June, the tour's message of mental wellbeing hits close to home. June struggled with depression and addiction in her youth. She has been sober for 10 years, and says it's now her way of life. Her choices have inspired her partner on and off stage, Jaaji, an Inuk Mohawk from Nunavik, to also quit drinking.

The couple is celebrating their second anniversary in October, a date which also marks Jaaji’s second year of sobriety. (Francis Dupuis)

Jaaji grew up in Quaqtaq, Nunavik, a town of 200-250 people. For 12 years he was a police officer, a job that took a toll on him. Using music as a coping mechanism is a tactic that Jaaji picked up in his 20s.

"It was a way for me at the time to de-stress," says Jaaji, "I needed an outlet."

But the demands of family life got in the way and it wasn't until almost 15 years later that Jaaji was able to pursue his love of music on a professional level. The singer-songwriter says that at different points in his life, instead of turning to music, he turned to alcohol for comfort.

"I've lost many friends, I've lost teammates, and family members to suicide," says Jaaji.

But his greatest trial came In 2010 when his 16-year-old son was in a serious motorcycle accident that left him with severe third degree burns.

"I fell into drinking," Jaaji says.

He says it was easy to drink because it's so socially acceptable.

"Everybody goes through life experiences that are not always easy," he says, but adds that alcohol is not the answer.

"It shouldn't be a coping mechanism."

The couple is celebrating their second anniversary in October, a date which also marks Jaaji's second year of sobriety.

June says the turning point for Jaaji was at Puvirnituq's Snow Fest in 2014, the first time he had gone on stage sober.

"He said 'Oh my God, I actually really, really like this. I'm able to just feel it — it's like a natural high,'" recounts June.

Together the couple has turned their life around, June has healed from the scars of a bad divorce and Jaaji has been able to stay sober.

"It's been a journey for him and I've been so proud and so pleased to be by his side," says June.

Both Jaaji and June stress that deciding to quit can't be preached, it's a personal choice that has to come from within.

But Jajii says he also recognizes that as a musician, in the public eye, his personal choices can serve as an example.

"I see the look on the children's faces — their look of awe — that's what makes our job the most fulfilling — because we put a little bit of hope in children's lives."

He says he hopes his music and life can inspire young people to reconnect with their culture and the inner strengths of their ancestors.

"We got to get back to our roots, we got to get our feet on the ground and take a stand and start from home — if you have problems tell somebody."

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.