Jayda Guy. Photo: Farah Nosh
In 2018, Jayda Guy played dozens of shows from Detroit to Bali, Indonesia, and performed at some of the world’s most prestigious electronic music festivals.
Still, none of those gigs gave the Canadian DJ, producer, and label founder known as Jayda G pre-game jitters like those she experienced prior to completing her master’s degree in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver last year.
“Everyone in my lab couldn’t believe it, they were like, ‘You play in front of hundreds and thousands of people all the time; why would you be nervous to defend your thesis in front of a panel of a few people?’” she recalled over the phone with a laugh. “I was so nervous.”
Focusing on environmental toxicology, Guy looked at the effects of various chemicals on Salish Sea orcas, one of the West Coast’s most endangered species.
It wasn’t just her professors and classmates who were interested in her research. No matter where Guy went for her music career, she told me, fans and fellow artists would ask her about working with killer whales. Yet while she had a foot in both the scientific and musical world, she found there were “very few crossovers” between the two.
“Academia can be so daunting and intimidating,” said Guy. “I want to take that knottiness and intimidation out so that people can really feel like they understand something, and that they can ask the questions they want to ask, without feeling judged or silly for asking those questions.”
To bridge the communication gap, she started a London, UK-based series called JMG Talks this year, which features her in conversation with young scientists about their fields and personal journeys. At the first event last week, her guest was Lily Zeng, a PhD candidate at Yale who studies biodiversity conservation in forests in southwestern China that are traditionally protected by Indigenous groups.
Guy hopes JMG Talks can be a springboard for exchanging different ideas. “I thought it would be my close friends who would come, but people, fans, scientist and music-loving people came,” she said of the first edition. “I think everybody walked away learning something new.”
The next one will take place February 15 at Bar 91 in London with Dr. Lindsay Veazey, an oceanographic modeler who looks at how economic development affects marine life in Hawaii. All proceeds from the series will be donated to Free to Be Kids, a volunteer-led charity that uses outdoor experiences to help disadvantaged children in London.
Growing up in Grand Forks, British Columbia, a small town in the mountains six east of Vancouver, she developed a love of nature at an early age. The importance of positively contributing to society in “some shape or way” was a value impressed on her by a close-knit family. Guy recalled watching Canadian scientist David Suzuki’s TV shows and the children’s wildlife series Kratts’ Creatures, which showed her there were people with different backgrounds working in science education.
On Kratts’ Creatures, it wasn’t the program’s globetrotting brother-hosts who caught her attention, but their assistant Allison Baldwin (played by Shannon Duff).
“As a young Black girl growing up in a small community where you did not see yourself in your community, and also at a time where you did not see yourself represented in media a lot, that was huge,” said Guy. “I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s someone in this world who looks like me.”
Through her academic path and a variety of summer jobs, she had the opportunity to swim with endangered green sea turtles in Maui, Hawaii, research Massasauga rattlesnakes (one of Canada’s three rattlesnake species), and work with rescued sea lions and other marine mammals at Vancouver Aquarium.
Guy started DJing and making euphoric music at the same time she was doing her master’s degree, drawing on influences including disco, house, soul, and R&B. After acclaimed releases on labels including 1080p, Geography Records, and Freakout Cult (her label with frequent collaborator DJ Fett Burger), she started JMG Recordings in 2018. On last year’s Jaydaisms EP, “Sound of Fuca” references the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Vancouver, home to the killer whales she studied.
“I had always dreamed, ‘Wouldn’t it be so cool if I could find the perfect job where I could do both of these things at the same time?’” she said.
Her debut album Significant Changes, out March 22 via Ninja Tune, draws its title from the environmental changes facing the orcas in her research. The now Berlin-based producer was finishing her thesis while completing the record, which is evident on songs such as “Unifying the Center (Abstract)” and “Conclusion.” “Orca’s Reprise” is built around field recordings of mournful whale cries.
Another track, “Missy Knows Best,” samples the voice of Rainforest Conservation Foundation biologist Misty MacDuffee, who was involved in a 2010 Canadian court case about the protection of killer whales. In that case, nine environmental organizations banded together to sue the federal government for failing to uphold the Species at Risk Act, which led to the funding for Guy’s research, she said.
She told me her intention with these choices is to underscore the immediateness of these environmental issues.
“I wanted to really home in on the urgency and the importance of these things,” said Guy. “In the end we have to help as a society to connect with our environment; we’ve become so disconnected to a point where we don’t understand how negatively we’re impacting the world.”
Whether behind the decks or in a laboratory or lecture hall, the producer is determined to use her platform to encourage others to make an impact.
“I’ve had young girls of different ethnic backgrounds coming up to me being like, ‘Thank you, thank you for being that representation. Seeing what you do makes me believe in myself.’”
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