Some of the members of Arctic Song
    Some of the members of Arctic Song from left: Jerry Laisa, Nataq Ungalaq, Leanna Wilson, Tooma Laisa, Keenan Carpenter, and Kurri Panika. © Tristan Omik

    Using new technology to teach traditional songs

    Nataq Ungalaq of Igloolik (famous for his lead role in the iconic film Atanarjuaq: The Fast Runner) bends over his drum and quietly plays a beat to the harmony of Leanna Wilson and Tooma Laisa, two young singers from Iqaluit. They walk forward smiling and welcome Jerry Laisa from Pangnirtung and then Kurri Panika, Rankin Inlet, and Keenan Carpenter, Ulukhaktok, to the ancient song. It is the Arctic Song show performed on a Saturday night in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and these musicians from communities across Canada’s Arctic, come together to revitalize the ancient songs of Inuit and to celebrate through music the land they love. The song they are singing has not been heard in public for at least 50 years.

    Arctic Song is a music production formed in 2019 by Qaggiavuut, a non-profit society dedicated to strengthening Inuit performing arts. The project brings together musicians from all Inuit regions of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to collaborate and collectively weave together traditional Inuit songs of the land, throat songs, spoken word and contemporary music. It is a process of reclaiming songs once banned during colonization, songs that are complex and poetic. But the way they learn these songs is the compelling story. Qaggiavuut has designed an app that features elders teaching and sharing Pisiit (traditional Inuit songs) and through this technology teaches young musicians in the traditional way. To date, over 20 young musicians have used the app to learn songs and then come together through Qaggiavuut programming to perform as part of Arctic Song. Qaggiavuut will publicly release the app for free download this winter.

    Elders, from left: Francis Qaput, Rankin Inlet; Bernadette Uttaq, Taloyoak; Sidonie Nirlungayuk, Kugaaruk; Theresa Sikkuark, Kugluktuk; Madeline Ivalu, Igloolik; Miriam Aglukkaq, Gjoa Haven; and Susan Avingaq, Igloolik. © Nataq Ungalaq

    Qaggiavuut has worked for years to document and share Inuit performing arts that are at risk of being lost. In August of 2018, they brought seven elders, from all three regions of Nunavut and representing more than 550 combined years of wisdom and skill, to Iqaluit to teach in Qaggiavuut’s first Pisiit course. For one week, the elders told stories about the metaphors buried in the songs they had learned as youth, and taught them line by line, to 30 rapt musicians from communities across Nunavut, including renowned performer Susan Aglukark. Assembled in Iqaluit’s soup kitchen, the Qajuqturvik Food Centre, because it is the only space big enough — you could hear a pin drop as the elders recited the ancient poetry depicting the connection Inuit have to their environment.

    It is this collaborative and connected way of learning and creating that Qaggiavuut envisions will one day be carried out in the Qaggiq Hub, a space for the Inuit performing arts to be strengthened, created and, of course, performed. Qaggiavuut, led by Project Manager Kathleen Merritt, is wrapping up a comprehensive feasibility study into building the Qaggiq Hub and is seeking partners to support their efforts to create space for Inuit performing artists in Nunavut.

    Arctic Song
    Arctic Song from left: Nataq Ungalaq, Jerry Laisa, Leanna Wilson, Tooma Laisa. © Tristan Omik

    They coin the phrase ‘Let’s Build a Qaggiq’ to refer to the beautiful iglu Inuit traditionally built to celebrate life in song and story.

    For a video of Arctic Song, check out: