Good things can come from bad.

This is something 13-year-old Caelyn Johnstone has come to realize after using her down time during the pandemic to pursue her dream of becoming a professional disc jockey.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the community we live in – Patuanak or English River First Nation – saw everything shut down, including the local school,” explained, Johnstone’s father, Cory Johnstone. “As a result, we started doing remote learning much like other communities were doing at the time. Soon, however, we started running out of things to do during the day. So, after the kids would do the homework packages provided by the school, we would do our own home schooling and home learning.”

Because there were no extracurricular or community activities, as a substitute, Johnstone said his daughter began to turn her attention more so toward music.

“She started listening to a lot more music, so we capitalized on that,” he said. “We saw she was starting to have a strong connection to the arts, so we started to incorporate that into her home schooling… We ended up watching a lot of YouTube and a video about DJing came on. Nobody in our family knew anything about DJing, but YouTube brought that into our home during a learning assignment.”

This, he added, led to the family watching several related videos, which peaked both interest and excitement in the younger Johnstone.

“We matched her energy on it, and, for Christmas that year, we bought her a DJ deck,” Johnstone added. “We didn’t know how to use it, she didn’t know how to use it, but YouTube, again, helped her a lot. She’s self-taught and, through this hobby, has become very passionate about all genres of music. The learning journey just from listening to music, DJing and trying to put all these genres together has expanded her passion for music even more.”

When her school eventually reopened, Caelyn Johnstone, who now also goes by the moniker DJ NyLa, considered DJing during lunch hour in the school gymnasium.

“We felt it would be a great way to lift people’s spirits,” Cory Johnstone said. “But, at the time, she was only 11 years old and was intimidated to perform in front of everybody, but we continued to support her and to plant that seed she has a skill she can really offer people… She had a real opportunity because she was developing a skill people could really relate to.”

As more time passed, however, Caelyn Johnstone became more aware of the positive impact music can have on people’s lives. That’s when she decided to take her hobby to the next level.

“We made a promotional video at our home which we could show locally to create some buy-in from local groups in our community,” her father explained. “Within a week, she was booked for a dance at Patuanak’s winter festival celebration. Since then, we have done youth conferences, family conferences, fashion shows in Edmonton and more. We’re also booked for an MMA event in Saskatoon, a wedding, you name it. It’s just snowballing.”

Earlier this month, DJ NyLa was hired to work the Meadow Lake Fall Festival.

“I really love being a DJ and spreading positivity throughout the communities I have been able to travel to,” Caelyn Johnston told Northern Pride. “I feel fortunate to be able to travel to various communities and participate events for youth and for people of all ages.”

Johnstone also said she enjoys sharing her passion for music and skills as a DJ with others.

“I love sharing and teaching the little ones, and the older youth as well, how to work a DJ controller,” she said. “At every event, I always pull some youth from the crowd to come and watch and learn, and to most of all feel what it is like to play for people. I feel so happy when I see others dancing to the music I play, it makes me feel content.  I can’t wait to visit more communities and spread more positivity around.”

As for what the future holds, Cory Johnstone said time will tell.

“The intention here was for her to learn and to have fun,” he said. “If it gets to the point where she’s not learning, it feels like work and she’s not having fun, I won’t support it. But, I’m behind her 100 per cent, if she’s having fun and if she’s learning.”

Caelyn Johnstone understands this, stressing just how much fun she has been having.

“I have come very far, farther than I expected,” she said. “From playing music alone in my room, to playing at fashion shows and events in other communities. Sometimes there is small crowd and sometimes the room is filled with hundreds of people. My goal is always the same, to get their feet tapping, then their head nodding, and eventually get people on the dance floor smiling.”

While not a member of ERFN, the Johnstone family has been living in Patuanak because of Cory Johnstone’s role with the RCMP. They will soon be relocating to the Shellbrook area, but Caelyn Johnstone plans to continue DJing as much as possible. She also plans to use the money she earns from it to help others.  

“I often perform random acts of kindness and pay it forward moments,” she noted. “I also sometimes volunteer my services for fundraisers to help others reach their goals. I am also planning on using the money to pay for university where I plan on getting at least three degrees. I really hope this business takes off far enough to help other communities and to share the positivity music can bring into our day. DJing is my passion, I love music, all thanks to my family supporting me and being there for me. Maybe one day this will take me all over the country, or all over the world.”

by Phil Ambroziak