Local talent shares deep roots in music festivals this summer

Kaya holds a guitar as she poses for a photo next to an old shed.
Westboro Artist will take the Bluesfest stage on July 11. Photo by Charlie Senack. 

By Hannah Wanamaker

When Jeff Rogers’ parents found him playing the melody and bass line to Silent Night an hour after pounding piano keys as a young child, they promptly enrolled him in formal lessons. 

At age 10, Rogers began taking the music world by storm. His first band was with the Asselin twins – Jeff and Brian – who he still performs with decades later. 

Asselin created the band after finishing his tour with the Funk Brothers 10 years ago to pay homage to the Motown music he loved so much. 

The three, now among Ottawa’s top blues and soul musicians, are thrilled to be sharing the stage at Ottawa Jazz Fest with their band, The Commotions.

“It’s a great opportunity to play for an audience who might not necessarily know who we are but are there to check out the really cool music,” said Brian Asselin, leader and saxophonist of The Commotions.

The soul-pop group plans to have the audience dancing along to its groovy tunes about love, “the one thing that really connects people together,” he said. 

Special guest Matthew Chaffey will be jiving along onstage too. Fans can also look forward to hits from all three albums and some newer tunes in the works, Asselin teased. 

“Jazz Fest has been a staple in my life ever since I started playing jazz. I was an audience member back then, and my parents would bring my brother and I,” he said. “We would live at Jazz Fest back then, and the fact that I’m now performing here is such an honor.”

The next day, Rogers is looking forward to sharing his solo project at Confederation Park on June 27. Backed by a 10-piece band, the “Memphis-style blues” artist is pumped for the angelic power during his gospel-inspired tunes. 

“This will be my first time with my own band at Jazz Fest, so to have my own songs played at Confederation Park will be pretty sweet,” Rogers said. 

Rogers teased that fans can also look forward to hearing some of the deep-south Muscle Shoals tunes he’s been sharing on his Facebook page. 

A black and white album cover with a photo of JW Jones sitting on the ground.
Ottawa singer JW-Jones will be bringing contemporary blues to the festival held at LeBreton Flats. Provided Photo.

Later in July, another longtime friend of the three, JW-Jones, is bringing contemporary blues to Lebreton Flats as part of Bluesfest.

Jones began playing with the Asselin twins in the early 2000s, and later formed the award-winning Horojo trio with Rogers and drummer Jamie Holmes. 

“We had gone down to Memphis and won the international blues challenge over 200 bands, and then COVID hit a few weeks later,” said Jones. “We still released an album and did really well and toured for a bit.”

Since the band’s dismemberment during the pandemic, Jones has been working on his solo blues project. His rocking tunes pull from a mixture of “older, traditional blues” with lots of high-energy guitar. 

From his latest record, “Poppa’s in the Pen” is a reflection on his humble beginnings and one of his mom’s partners who ended up in the Kingston Penitentiary. 

Having been a festival-goer since he was 15, Jones said that he has seen some of the best blues artists perform there. Though it’s no longer a hardcore bluesfest, Jones said that it’s still a great platform to showcase blues talent and smaller local artists. 

“I’ve opened for a lot of these acts because it’s not a blues festival, but it still brings attention to blues too. If they changed the name to music fest, no one would be talking about the blues.”

Kimberley holds a guitar on stage while singing.
Queer artist Kimberly Naledi Sunstrum, better known by her stage name OK Naledi, will play at Bluesfest this year. Provided photo. 

Grooving at Lebreton Flats 

Afro house and Afro-music artist, Kimberly Naledi Sunstrum, better known by her stage name OK Naledi, will open Bluesfest with groove. 

“It feels pretty exciting to be performing on day one and get the initial excitement of it starting,” she said. “I also feel like the Ottawa music appreciators and those who come out to shows do an incredible job of uplifting and showing out local music.”

For Sanstrum, OK Naledi has been the creative process through which she merges her heritage with her own experiences as a non-binary, Black person. Though many of their songs reflect this, Sanstrum has recently experimented with songwriting outside their comfort zone. 

Fans can expect a niche and obscure new tune about Nannie Doss, a romance-obsessed serial killer from the 20s to 50s. 

Folk legacy, Kaya Fraser, takes the stage on July 11. Literature fanatic and daughter of Allan Fraser from Fraser & DeBolt, her lyrics are evocative and vocals as sweet as honey.

“A lot of it is just trying to convey a mood to people. It goes beyond the lyrics of the song, but includes them. It captures a vibe, or a sensation, or a moment, and that’s what I continue to do with the songs that I write,” the Westboro resident said.

Ebbing and flowing from the music scene since the 2000s, the solo artist has developed several new tunes which reflect some life changes from the past two decades. 

“I have a lot of material that was written in the interim of the release of my second album and now, but I also have some much newer songs that have been written in the last year or two that I’m eager to play and share more.”

Three people pose for a photograph on a state with a curtain begins. Nicole is in the front.
Westboro resident Kaya Fraser (centre) with music career coach Nicole Colbeck (left), and Red Bird concert organizer Chris White (right). File photo by Zenith Wolfe.

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