It was on a five-hour drive from the Quebec-Ontario border that Twin Flames really listened, deeply, to The Tragically Hip’s “Grace Too.”
It’s a song that had been “in the background” in their lives before, but during that drive to prepare and perform during an event honouring the life and legacy of Gord Downie the duo, Chelsey June and Jaaji, thought about how they would make it their own.
The result of that performance, and the desire to honour Downie and their own cultures, is a stunning cover of a well-known song that incorporates Indigenous languages and musical elements. The song is available today on the band’s website and all streaming platforms.
Jaaji adds his version of throat singing — or throat boxing, like beatboxing — toward the end, to a haunting effect, a way to show respect to an artform typically performed by Inuit women. Drumming and chanting in Inuktitut, his “mother tongue,” honours his Mohawk traditions from his biological father’s family, along with all First Nations people.
June takes lead vocals on the song, representing the importance of remembering missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls along with the great power that comes with lifting women up and listening to their voices.
“It was really important to both of us to honour Gord in the right way, not just because we want to get publicity out of it,” June says. “We wanted to do this to honour Gord and his legacy and all he worked so hard to achieve. We did so by getting Mike Downie’s blessing to do this song.”
The first performance of this song, during a Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund event in Burlington a few years ago, resonated with the audience.
“We got to realize right off the bat how powerful and dedicated the Hip community is,” Jaaji says. “We never do cover songs. We have a hard enough time remembering all of our songs, let alone someone else’s. When we were told by numerous people who came up to us after, crying after the show, I hope you’re going to record this, when are you going to record this, after the third or fourth person, that sparked the opportunity to do so. All kinds of people reached out from across Ontario and some of the northern states where the Hip were big.”
They’re both inspired and proud to see so many younger Canadians learning about residential schools, a painful and shameful part of the country’s legacy that Downie brought back into the light following the Hip’s final tour with his Secret Path project. Schools across Canada are incorporating the history of residential schools into their curriculum, teaching children about how First Nations kids were ripped away from their families and forced into educational slums, stripped of their culture and languages, for more than 100 years.
“Schools are making an effort to educate more young Canadians to learn more about this history that was hidden for so long,” Jaaji says. “Some of their parents, they grew up with different stories and different versions of what we had to deal with, not out of racism or judgment but their ways of explaining things compared to kids hearing the version we’re living now, that’s what’s going to impact our world more positively.”
Twin Flames hope their version of Grace Too will continue to shed light on residential schools, efforts towards reconciliation and to further carry on Downie’s legacy of urging Canadians to do something to make amends and learn from the past.
The song can be heard on their website and all streaming services and will be included on their new album, Omen, due out August 28. The album’s first single, Battlefields, was released on June 26 — the song deals with issues of mental health and the battles people face within their minds, and happened to be released on a day that people marched in recognition and awareness of mental health illnesses.
The artwork for Grace Too, designed by Charlie Orellana, features photos of Jaaji, June and Downie taken by photographer Sean Sisk.