December/January 2024

by Jola Burns

Jola Burns: More Musical Family Goodness From Nelson

by Jola Burns

Jola Burns: More Musical Family Goodness From Nelson

The quirkily named Nelson duo Jola Burns placed second in the solo/duo section of 2023 Smokefree Rockquest, and there’s plenty to suggest the judges would’ve been torn in having to decide between them and the night’s other solo finalists Flynn Adamson and 14-year old winner, Salem Randell (Salem). Jola Burns’ impressive guitarist/producer Kahu Sanson-Burnett also performed with his indie pop/rock band, Parallel Park who featured as guest band between the solo/duo appetiser and band acts main course. Clearly a (current and) future force, NZM asked Kahu to introduce himself and his bands.

Our phones started beeping at 3pm with a string of messages! It was excitement, and relief, to learn Jola Burns had got through to the 2023 SFRQ national final after months of songwriting, practising, recording and honing our skills. To be chosen in the top three solo/duo acts nationwide, and to perform and compete at Q Theatre in Auckland, felt like a real honour and achievement! It’s fair to say that Rockquest has been pivotal in our musical journey – we wouldn’t be half as motivated, or experienced, as we are today without it.

We are Jola Burns, a pop/electronic duo from Whakatū Nelson – Alyahna Sanson-Rejouis and Kahu Sanson-Burnett. We’re cousins, which is pretty cool, and that’s reflected in our band name. Jola is Alyahna’s middle name and Burns comes from a combination of Kahu’s last name Burnett with Sanson, the family name we both share.

Our music is influenced by lots of artists, the likes of the mesmerising vocals of Jorja Smith and the innovative production of Flume. We combine pop and RnB – think Kali Uchis and Sade, infused with hints of jazz and soul. We also channel the creativity of artists like Skrillex and Alison Wonderland, pulling on a vast sonic palette to create a dynamic beat-driven, and often surprising, musical tapestry. On stage, our live performance, launching samples with live guitar, synths, vocals and drum pads combined with movement, dance, and bold outfits, creates a vibrant energy.

Our journey to the SFRQ National Final is probably less unique – but our story goes back many years. It weaves together our personal journeys with countless hours of songwriting and production, on stage performances, and most recently working out how to downsize all our electronic gear to make it easier to cart around the country, set up and perform on stage.

Introducing Kahu

I’m 18, and I joined my intermediate school rock band in 2017 to compete in Bandquest. We’ve since had a couple of member and name changes, but the core of my band, Parallel Park, has been together for seven years – writing songs and playing together weekly – and have competed in every Rockquest since our first! This year we won the Nelson Regionals, got to the top 30 acts, and were invited to be the guest band at the SFRQ National Final. Other highlights for Parallel Park have been opening for The Beths last year, and releasing our debut EP, ‘Parallel Park Vol. 1’.

We’re currently working on a new album and have the first single out on December 1. I’ve been playing guitar since age six, then discovered Ableton Live, picked up keys, drums, and bass, and produce under the name Kahu S-B. When I’m not composing and playing music, I produce other youth artists from my bedroom studio, run live sound tech for local gigs and shows, and work as crew for Gravity Events.

Introducing Alyahna

I’m 15 and part Kiwi, part Haitian and French. I started off as a singer/guitarist and songwriter in my primary school band, also doing Bandquest. When I was in Year 7, aged 12, Covid hit and my singing teacher Dayna suggested via zoom I write a song for Smokefree Tangata Beats. Growing up immersed in kapa haka at the bilingual primary school Kahu and I attended, I was happy to take up the challenge and wrote two songs in te reo Māori that we recorded at home and sent in. It was a huge shock to take out first place solo/duo nationwide, and I was the youngest ever national winner. I was flown to Auckland to work with a vocal coach and producer and have my song, Manawa Ora, recorded professionally.

That whole experience gave me a real confidence boost and opened doors to mentoring and releasing music. Since then, I’ve been songwriting on guitar and keys in te reo Māori, English and French. I’ve launched my solo project Imani-J, released three more singles through Play It Strange competitions, and taken every opportunity to perform locally that I can to get experience. A real highlight this year was opening as a solo artist for Hollie Smith‘s The Bones Tour at Le Cafe in Picton. I’ve also been lead vocalist/songwriter in my school band in the last couple of years, entering Rockquest, and placing as regional winners for Tangata Beats in 2022.

Introducing Jola Burns

Our cousin duo Jola Burns came about organically. We’d both grown up being encouraged to share our music at family gatherings. We did some local busking and performances, mainly Alyahna’s songs with Kahu on guitar, and adding a few covers. We enjoyed performing together and started dabbling in songwriting in 2019, blending Alyahna’s lyric and melodic ideas with Kahu’s composition and production. We had four songs on Soundcloud within a few months.

In 2022 we entered Rockquest together, and really developed our pop/electronic sound. We got to the top-30 national finalists. The positive feedback fuelled us to keep on with what we were doing. It’s easy and really fun writing music and performing together – we each bring different things to the mix and we never argue. It just works.

With the 2023 SFRQ National Final as our goal, we worked really hard this year to write new material, add complexity to our production and use of live instrumentation on stage, and push our comfort zone with performance movement to create a kind of hype and buzz onstage for ourselves. We developed our style, chose a duo name and launched as Jola Burns to be bold, energetic and Pazowa! (That’s our own word!)

Opening for Nelson’s Opera In The Park earlier this year for a crowd of 7000+ was a big highlight. We are really grateful to everyone who encouraged us along the way, family and friends, music teachers, mentors and all the Commotion artists/tutors. And for all the invitations to perform.