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Jayda G Rolls Back The Tape

The DJ, singer, environmentalist, and activist finds inspiration in her late father’s tumultuous life story and his resilience in the face of it all. 

by Ben Boddez

Photos by Nabil Elderkin

A globe-trotting DJ who also has a masters’ degree in environmental toxicology, Jayda G can often be found combining her two greatest loves: music and activism.

Spreading awareness and important messages through disco-inflected grooves, that messaging has often manifested itself in the form of her knowledge on climate. Her 2019 project Significant Changes, named after the most common phrase in her masters’ thesis, contained sounds of orca whales, melting glaciers, and talks from environmentalist Misty MacDuffee, but inspiration for her latest batch of meaningful mixes strikes a lot closer to home.

Titled Guy, after her familial last name, the ideas started taking shape when Jayda found herself sitting down to gradually watch an 11-hour series of tapes left behind by her late father, William Richard Guy. Having passed away when Jayda was 10 years old, her father recorded the tapes after a terminal cancer diagnosis, wanting to leave behind some advice on his life and legacy for his family. With reports of the Black Lives Matter movement dominating the news cycle at the time, Jayda was captivated by her dad’s stories of resilience in the face of the 1968 Washington race riots and his own confrontations with bullies and police.

After being born into a poor family in Kansas City and serving in the Vietnam War, William’s story also covered the work he put in to relocate to Grand Forks, British Columbia, land a job as a social worker, and start a family – plus, he showed the young Jayda a lot of soulful music that reminded him of home and kickstarted her own interests.

“He was such a charismatic guy,” she says. “It’s the 60s and 70s, and he’s a Black man in America, and there are so many stories he has that I’m like ‘If that happened to me, I don’t know how I’d feel.’ He put himself into everything he did – like into his 40s he ended up going back to school, and that was a big change for him. He really just kept going, and I always felt like he chose to look at the best of people, which is pretty impressive when you’re faced with a lot of hardships.”

Jayda’s father speaks on nearly every track on Guy, and tracks like “Blue Lights,” which focuses on the 1968 riot, find Jayda singing from his perspective and offering her own interpretations of his stories. As Jayda’s profile has grown rapidly in recent years – being tapped by megastars Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift for remixes, picking up her first Grammy nomination alongside Fred Again.. and playing her first Coachella – his voice will be blaring out over bigger crowds. Of course, however, the person most pleased to hear it is Jayda’s mother, who wasn’t let in on the idea until the project was finished.

“It was something I wanted to process by myself,” Jayda says. “I think this goes for everyone – I didn’t want a lot of people’s opinions, and whenever you’re making music, there’s always this insecurity where you don’t show anything to anyone until you’re really sure that it’s good. It wasn’t until the end that I shared it with her, explained what every song meant, and I think she was quite impressed. It was moving for her.”

As far as favourite quotes from William that made it onto the record, a family-wide favourite touches on a highly emotional note. It’s a final dedication of love for any family members listening, something that Jayda says hits even harder due to the crackle in his voice as he signs off on his final project. The recording appears at the end of the bittersweet closing track, “15 Foot,” which finds Jayda learning to live with grief.

“I can’t remember who said it, but they said that grief is just when you have love for someone and you have nowhere to put it,” she says. “It never really leaves you. It’s more that you end up having to develop this relationship with grief, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, because it comes from love.”

Another standout track, “Your Thoughts,” seems to find Jayda speaking directly to her father, affirming their intergenerational connection and assuring him that she’ll carry on his spirit of resilience despite the fact that the world hasn’t changed all that much since his time. “I feel like he’s there watching, and the song is almost like a release and a transition in the sense of understanding his life, how that affects my life, and how I’m such a product of him and the choices that he made,” she adds.

For all of the meaning Jayda’s latest collection of tracks are imbued with, it might go over the head of the more casual listener catching one of her sets at an Ibiza club more than some of her previous work. Previously rather direct, Jayda’s messaging is much more poetic than before when touching on the specifics of these stories and sociopolitical issues, an intentional choice to let her listeners engage with the music on whatever level they’d like to. She’s previously spoken about feeling the need to adapt to playing to bigger crowds lately, not being able to catch the reactions and engagement level of the whole crowd in real time.

“I’m always trying to push myself and have more tools in my toolbox, so a big part of the approach to this album was working with lyricists who write songs in the sense of verse, chorus, pre-chorus, whatever, and learn from that,” she says. “When you’re playing to bigger crowds, the people in the back, it’s almost like a delayed effect because they’re so far away. And with that comes a different way of tapping into the energy. It keeps you on your toes.”

Although one of the central themes of the album is resilience in the face of a lack of real societal progress, Jayda is excited to see a surge in one area in recent years. Feeling underrepresented in dance music five years ago, she marvels at how many of her opening acts have been women of colour lately – including all of them prior to her recent Boiler Room set. She hopes that catering her message towards marginalized communities on Guy can continue to open doors.

This doesn’t mean that her passion for the environment has fallen by the wayside, either. Jayda has additionally been at work filming an upcoming documentary called Blue Carbon, created by Emmy-winning Nicolas Brown and featuring original music from the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA. She serves as the host, travelling to saltwater marshes, mangrove forests and seagrass meadows that excel at pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and speaking to indigenous stewards of the land about utilizing these ecosystems’ full potential.

“Really quickly you see that the people who are causing climate change are not the people who are going to be impacted by it, and how the system has been built for only one type of person,” she says. “That type of person gets to emit as much carbon as they want and still be able to live their life and not be as impacted, and it’s deeply unfair.”

Much like her father, Jayda’s outlook on this topic isn’t so bleak. She finds hope in seeing young people increasingly demand answers and accountability, and she hopes that the film will continue to inspire. Drawing on a quote from one of her favourite academics, Brené Brown, she says “hope isn’t actually an emotion, it’s a combination of goals, pathways to those goals, and agency. This film gives people agency.”

When asked what her father would think if he were still around to see the world today, Jayda once again returns to his unrelentingly positive spirit. “I think about how he would deal with technology, the pandemic, the BLM Movement, and I think it would have furthered him,” she says. “Both my parents are real community people, and I think it would have propelled him to further give to his community. I think that’s the thing we’re missing so much in our lives.”