By Andréa Rojas
How many musicians can say they’ve opened for both B.B. King and Bad Religion? Better yet, how many former University of Calgary students can say that?
Jory Kinjo is one of those people. The classically-trained jazz musician makes up the unusual combination of bassist and lead singer that fronts local Jamaican rock ‘n’ roll band J.k. & The Relays.
This weekend, J.k. & The Relays will bring their distinct brand of ska and reggae to the Den stage accompanied by legendary New York ska group The Slackers, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band by visiting Calgary for the very first time after tour stops in Japan and Seattle. Not bad for a band that’s mentioned by name on Rancid’s track “Wrongful Suspicion.”
Kinjo, a past undergraduate in the U of C’s now-defunct jazz program, left school in the early 2000s to tour with Mocking Shadows, a Calgary music scene archetype for 11 years and running. It was on the tour with the Shadows that “J.k.” shared the stage with blues guitarist Buddy Guy, ZZ Top and B.B. King.
“[The tour] was all on the blues scene, so this is a whole new scene for me, a new genre,” says Kinjo of breaking into ska.
His transition from R&B to ska was brought about by way of a European tour opportunity to play bass for well-known Montreal band The Planet Smashers, who enjoyed the apex of their ska-punk success in the gritty 1990s.
“Once I got that opportunity, we were touring with Bad Religion [and] Bedouin [Soundclash],” recalls Kinjo. “So then I really got into . . . that scene and I saw potential there, especially by being a ska band out of Calgary, because the whole scene in Canada is really out east. But I’m hoping with this tour that I can kind of see what’s going on in Western Canada.”
In this way, trying to establish a ska band in Calgary in particular has presented Jory with its own challenges.
“There’s not a big ska scene in Calgary. There are about two other bands that I know of, and so what I’m trying to do with this is unify it a little bit.
“All the people out there who like this kind of music, hopefully they’ll be at the show and we can start to create some sort of community, or at least be aware of a community that’s already existing.”
For Kinjo, the jazz-to-ska switch also ended up rekindling the proverbial romance in his relationship with every musician’s first love — notes and bars.
“It’s really refreshing, because I kind of feel like I did when I started playing music. After years of kind of slogging it out, a lot of musicians . . . just get burnt out, and I know why. But this has totally rejuvenated my spirit, and I have energy again.
“I’ve been in the business so long that sometimes I forget where my passion started. I remember when I was three or four years old, I got Michael Jackson’s Thriller on an LP. And it was the rhythm of it, and I just fell in love with music in general. It moves me and I hear and feel emotion and everything in music. That’s what drives me. I think I was meant to do it, and it just makes me happy.”
Kinjo’s love of music may have been cemented from a young age by the legendary M.J., but his upbringing facilitated his ability to transgress different genres in his adult musical life.
“My father is from Okinawa, Japan, and my mother is Canadian. I think this has afforded me the luxury of being open-minded to anything.
“I never felt like I was really in one box, so I think that I can play this music, and even if I’m not from Jamaica, it doesn’t matter . . . you identify with it rhythmically.”
Although grizzled ska-punks may be stoked on all of this, one might doubt whether university students will agree. Jory offers up his own interpretation.
“People can just relate to just music that has been around that long. I think it’s just a genuine style, a genuine genre, and people can identify with that.
“When you boil it down, it’s all soul music. Maybe not ‘soul’ in the traditional sense, but ‘soul’ in the sense that this was the music of the people from Jamaica and from those islands. This was their soul music, you know?”
Regardless, according to Jory, the reasons are obvious why even the most wide-eyed and alcohol-happy of frosh will have a rad time of epic pseudo-Jamaican proportions this Saturday at the Den.
“It’s not too often that students get to see a band from New York City come and play at the university bar.
“It’s just really good party music. If you’re drinking and there’s really happy, positive vibes, it’s just going to make for a really great night.”