On a beautiful, crisp evening in March 2014, Thor Simonsen was sitting in his hotel room in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. He was visiting the community as a government photographer, and after witnessing the creativity that he experienced at Cape Dorset’s print-making workshops, Simonsen, a lifelong musician and music producer, suddenly had an epiphany.

In less than an hour, Simonsen had written the first draft of the proposal for funding for what would become Nunavut Hitmakerz.

Simonsen knew he needed support with the songwriting aspect of the tour, especially since it would be in Inuktitut, so he contacted his friend and fellow musician, Kelly Fraser.

A few months later, the funding was secure from the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture & Heritage and Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA).

In 2016, Simonsen and Fraser (the “Hitmakerz team”) travelled to Clyde River, Pond Inlet, and Qikiqtarjuak. The program was very well received and could boast 200+ workshop participants, as well as 1,250+ audience members in attendance at the community events. In 2017, the team travelled to Arctic Bay, Hall Beach, Igloolik, and Iqaluit. Cambridge Bay would have a workshop in 2018.

The goal of the initiative is always to give Nunavummiut youth new skills writing, recording, producing, marketing, and selling professional music in Inuktitut. The empowering three- day educational-and-entertainment program features workshops on songwriting, music production, and working in the arts. Participants usually range between 40 and 400 and ages vary from young children to elders (the median age is 14).

During the songwriting workshops, Kelly Fraser asks for song theme suggestions from the crowd, and together, they write a song about their community. An assistant helps to write down the lyrics on a big sheet of paper in syllabics. The local dialect is used to write the song, which often leads to meaningful discussions about language, since many words differ from Kelly’s own Sanikiluaq dialect. The songs also help attendees express their feelings about their lives, communities, and dreams. The songs are performed by the group at the closing ceremonies.

Music Production workshop participants in Igloolik learn to use the Hitmakerz Mobile Music Studio. © Hitmakerz

During the music production workshops, Thor Simonsen shows the crowd how to record and produce music. He begins by going through the process of recording, writing new songs on the spot, or using one of Kelly’s songs as a show­case. Thor then gets people from the crowd to come and record others, guiding them as they “learn-by-doing”. By the end of the workshop, four to six short songs have been recorded, and the students are ready to continue learning on their own.

The “Working in the Arts” workshops feature talks and motivational speeches by the instructors about their lives and careers. They highlight opportunities available to meaningful employment in the arts or otherwise. Talks are interactive and students are encouraged to ask questions. Brochures and other educational material are distributed, as well as helpful links to more information. The instructors emphasize the need for education, hard work, love and dedication, and accessible support. They also work with local community leaders to ensure students have access to further support.

The Nunavut Hitmakerz song-writing workshop participants perform their song at the closing ceremonies concert in Arctic Bay. © Hitmakerz

The project also features free community events such as concerts, movie nights, a talent show, and a community feast. A small, mobile, recording studio is also donated to every community on the tour.

Even though the training is focused on music creation, music production, and artistic expression, the underlying theme of the project is motivation to make life better, healing from trauma, cultural strengthening, career development, and general life skills.

To learn more, visit www.nuhitmakerz.ca. You can learn more about Kelly at her website www.kellyfrasermusic.com. You can learn more about Thor at his website www.thorsimonsen.com. Check out: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=YQzk1b0lKAQ