Alanna Stuart
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Alanna Stuart

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"Bonjay Rock the Party"

Alana Stuart's parents immigrated to Canada as part of the country's Caribbean influx of the 1970s. When Stuart was a toddler, her Grenadian mother and Jamaican father threw parties that swelled to the early morning with plenty of music, food, liquor, and language from the many isles of the West Indies. "I actually have a picture of me in just a diaper and you can see people's legs hanging off the couch, a bottle of brandy, and my mom serving breakfast," Stuart recalls. "It was a time when all the islands mixed. It was this cool, warm vibe where partying was about getting together, meeting different people, and a sense of community."

Despite her roots, Stuart started off making "bubblegum R&B." "I started writing really shitty songs about boyfriends who were calling other girls on the cell phones I got them," she admits. "By age 17 or 18 I hooked up with some producers and got some songs on the urban station in Toronto. But it was really clean, sweet pop, and I just got sick of it."

Around that time she happened upon one of Ian Swain's Disorganized parties–an "open concept" affair (Swain's words) in a modest space above an Italian restaurant in Ottawa's Chinatown. "Ian played Bugz in the Attic's remix of 'Hold It Down,' and I was like, 'Oh my God! What is this music?' I had never heard anything that was in that vein. I told him that I had to work with him."

"Ian came up with the idea of us doing a live soundsystem but I never ever thought I would really do it," continues Stuart, who started off singing patois reinterpretations of indie rock hits (Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps," TV on the Radio's "Staring at the Sun") at the club. "I had never spoken patois growing up, much less sang it, but [Ian] really pushed hard for it and had this vision."

"At soundclashes, they'll do patois versions of Michael Jackson songs because it's a big crowd-pleaser," explains Swain, a.k.a. DJ Pho. "If people hear something that they recognize, but it's flipped differently, then that's always gonna make them go crazy. And we go in this weird direction that's sort of dancehall-meets-soul-vocals-meets-this London-y kind of sound."

That mongrel ethos shines through on Bonjay's first release, the mixtape Bangarang Business. Intended to recreate the feel of a live Bonjay/Disorganized gig, it features covers and original Bonjay material spliced with hip-hop, R&B, and reggae hits, and breakbeat instrumentals. Swain samples underground jams by Madlib and Seiji on the tape, but the inclusion of Jill Scott's "Be Happy" and TLC's "Creep" are clearly Stuart's influence.

"We had an idea of what we felt represented us," says Stuart. "I grew up singing gospel music but lived in a middle-class white suburb in Ottawa, so all the dances I had in my basement were to Aerosmith and Ace of Base."

"You love Ace of Base," interrupts Swain, laughing hard. "I've never seen someone love Ace of Base that much." - XLR8R Magazine


"Anti-diva"

Alanna Stuart is not a delusional diva

It's no secret that the entertainment industry can create prima donnas and spotlight seekers that in the end don't really have much talent. If you can sing, people expect you to be able to front a band. If you are a woman who sings, people expect you to be a diva. It's a trap that's common to many in the entertainment biz try to avoid - everyone from the legendary Sharon Jones to Digable Planets' Ladybug.
"They want you to seek the glamour and the spotlight, and I'm just not like that," Ottawa's own Alanna Stuart explained recently in her groovy downtown apartment. "I know that I can sing, and I do it because I enjoy it. I don't need lights and smoke for it to work."

The down to earth and grounded vocalist has lent her voice to several musical projects in Ottawa over the past few years. Through word of mouth and personal connections she has appeared on stage before K-Os, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Fiest, Diplo and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

"If I can open, it says a lot," she stated. "I don't even have an album out yet, but it is definitely great to have the opportunity to learn from people who are doing it," she says of her recent opportunities to open for artists like Jones.

It also shows that Ottawa's music community supports its home girl and her skills. "People have supported me even when I was doing bubblegum pop R & B," she joked. A few years later she was asked by Bluesfest organizers to perform on their main stage. "I knew that if I kept at it, it could lead to a career, but I never thought that it would lead to this."

According to Stuart, her success so far has been organic rather than a quest or a goal. Near the end of summer, she will be relocating to Toronto to work with Don Kerr of The Rheostatics to finish her debut album that will consist of both live recordings and studio production.

"I have no expectations, but I promised myself I would get it done," she said. As far as leaving Ottawa goes, and her rising career, Stuart remains humble. "I am so fortunate and blessed to have had so much support, it will be hard to leave," she stated. "But I am a nomad, and soon it will be time for me to go. I hope that Ottawa doesn't take it personally." Her show at Bluesfest will be one of her last major performances in the City before Toronto tries to claim her as their own. - Ottawa XPress


"When The Angels Make Contact in Ottawa"

"While coloured lights strobed with the ferocity of an intergalactic battle, Mays and his extended band (including a DJ and a soulful backing vocalist) dug into a track-by-track rundown of the trippy music from the album. Although the unfamiliar fare was a challenge for the crowd, at least the soulful vocalist was in her element. The spine-tingling vocals came from Alanna Stuart, the Ottawa singer who opened for Etta James at Bluesfest last summer. She lives in Toronto now, but landed the gig as Mays's backup singer -- the only woman among a busload of guys touring across the country." - Ottawa Citizen


"Night of dreams for soul singers"

The young Ottawa singer Alanna Stuart, in an eye-catching canary-yellow hot-pants outfit, demonstrated a natural instinct for old-school soul during her opening slot, with a song selection that blended classic material by the likes of Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin with her own original songs. Accompanied by a full band, including horns and backup singers, she appeared a little nervous at first, clearly thrilled to be opening for the great Etta James, but at one point confessed that she was on the verge of tears to see her family next to the stage witnessing her big moment. Despite the emotions, her multi-octave voice remained strong and confident, and Stuart couldn't restrain her enthusiasm once she warmed to the spotlight, finishing with a full-out strut through Bill Withers' Saturday Night in Harlem. It was a glorious moment for an up-and-coming talent.

The Ottawa Citizen Friday, July 14, 2006 Page: D3 Section: Arts Byline: Lynn Saxberg Column: Lynn Saxberg Source: The Ottawa Citizen - Ottawa Citizen


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Alanna Stuart is sings with a voice that's rooted in Gospel, but writes with an openness to all things music. As the frontwoman of Bonjay and Everything All The Time, she's established herself as a seasoned vocalist, applying her soulful vocals to genre-bending sounds. As a solo artist she's graced the stage with musical icons and icons-in-the making including Etta James, Feist, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. But it's in her solo production and songwriting that Alanna's unique talent displays her growth as an artist.

Her upcoming Disruptive Technologies album sees her tastefully combining the sounds she heard while working her university's radio station in Ottawa - the fine-tuned songcrafting of The Local Rabbits, the nuanced vocal delivery of Feist and the spiritual percussion of Eddie Gale - and siffening them through her years of singing classic soul and Church hymns.

It's a far departure from high school days as a sugary sweet pop R&B singer, when she had heavy play on Flow 93.5 Toronto's urban station. But even then, Alanna still maintained a natural affinity to sounds that were slightly off-kilter. It was her that added Danzig's 'Mother' to the setlist of her weekly gig as a resto-lounge singer in a classic soul cover band. They would cover it after Aretha Franklin's 'Respect'.

The notion of being different has never strayed her . In fact, her album concept is based on the concept of a disruptive technology - the idea that new ways of thinking can challenge the established way of working, even overtaking it. Every disruptive technology is doubted in the beginning. But, every disruptive technology persuades in the end.

Alanna's approach to R&B is her own Disruptive Technology.