While working on her 2019 debut album Significant Changes, Jayda G heard the biologist Misty MacDuffee speak on a radio show about the plight of orca whales.
It was a topic she was intimately familiar with — she was writing a graduate thesis on the same topic — and decided to weave the soundbite into her music.
“[The clip] was just living on my desktop and I was just writing songs on the side, and I just kind of plopped it into a song,” Jayda G, whose full name is Jayda Guy, told Global Citizen.
Guy said she was inspired by other house artists who often drop profound reflections into songs as a sort of deep-breath, body-stretch interlude.
“It showcases the layers you can have,” she said. “For me, it’s not random. I try to use elements of things that I have a link to in some capacity.”
The eight-minute track, “Missy Knows What’s Up,” loops the rhetorical question, “So, why are these whales threatened, and what are we gonna do about it?” Set against a deep bass and jittering drums and keys, the words are less an indictment of the global marine economy and more an invitation to imagine a better world.
The next track on the album, “Orca’s Reprise,” follows up this abstract reflection with the sounds of orca whales, reminding listeners that these animals are real and need help now.
This sort of synergistic activism is emblematic of Jayda G’s music. She said she brings her full self to all that she does. Watch any clip of her performing live and you’ll see her dancing with joyful abandon, suffusing the room with an irresistible energy.
Guy is using her growing platform to spread awareness of the climate crisis and how people can take action. She started the JMG Talks in 2019 to bring together climate activists and scientists to break down complex environmental topics, and she signed the Music Declares Emergency open letter to call for immediate climate action.
But it’s being invited to host National Geographic’s first TikTok Live on April 21, part of Nat Geo’s Earth Day Eve 2021 event, that brings her life full circle, she said. Other artists performing at the event include Rostam, Maggie Rogers, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Growing up in Grand Forks, British Columbia, Guy developed an early love for the planet.
“I was surrounded by trees and lakes and lots of mountains,” she said. “I was just always curious about the natural world, going into our backyard that was literally just a forest and finding critters and stuff.”
Eventually, her grandma got her a subscription to National Geographic for her birthday.
“It was a real highlight each month getting the National Geographic,” she said. “We would also have these coffee table books from Nat Geo, so it really was a huge part of my upbringing.”
Guy carried this passion into the academic realm. She pursued a master’s degree in natural resources management at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and spent a lot of time on the ocean, studying turtles, seals, and other animals.
“The ocean always amazes me,” she said. “Just the vastness of it, and how you’re out there and it’s nothing and then when you go below, you feel like you’re on the moon. It’s such a wild experience and it’s such a wild place.”
Her thesis looked into the effects of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) contaminants on orca whales. PBTs are a vast class of mostly banned substances such as lead and mercury. When they enter the ocean, PBTs are absorbed by small creatures and travel up the food chain, eventually accumulating in large quantities in apex predators like orcas.
Nat Geo reports that half of the world’s orcas could disappear in the years ahead because of PBTs.
The ocean as a whole is being poisoned and depleted of life. Overfishing is driving marine animals to extinction, ocean water is both heating up and acidifying, and industrial pollution continues unabated.
Despite its grim outlook, efforts are underway to reverse the ocean's decline. Activists like MacDuffee have spurred the Canadian government to enforce stronger marine regulations and clean up marine habitats.
International marine conservation efforts are reclaiming global waters for the public good. The United Nations is urging countries to protect at least 30% of marine spaces by 2030, while also sharply curbing illegal fishing and overfishing.
Guy is optimistic that people will rally together to save the ocean. She finds evidence for this solidarity every time she looks out across a dance floor — whether in-person or, more recently, online — and sees people moving to the same beat.
“Music connects people from various backgrounds, ages, and walks of life,” she said. “Nature is similar. It’s a connector across backgrounds and minds. You’re out there experiencing a similar moment with other living things. There’s this idea of oneness.”