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Go with the floe: inside the ice-cool Inuit pop scene - The Guardian

Posted by Maria Pavon on May 24, 2019
Go with the floe: inside the ice-cool Inuit pop scene - The Guardian

On a windy Sunday afternoon pecked with freezing rain, residents of Iqaluit, Nunavut, northern Canada, head by foot, car and snow machine to a small plywood stage erected in icy Frobisher Bay. Two tents provide shelter from the merciless Arctic wind. Behind the stage, the flat, bleak expanse of the snow-covered bay extends as far as the eye can see. Where snow has been cleared, the ice beneath is a brilliant, pure turquoise. The crowd swells to about 50. Locals and organisers have brought extra outerwear for the uninitiated: parkas trimmed with wolverine fur, sealskin mittens, polar-bear-fur pants. Inuit musicians, including drummer and singer Kelly Fraser, rapper Mister, electropop vocalist Riit, and throat singers Cynthia Pitsiulak and Charlotte Qamaniq perform sets to appreciative cheers and the muffled clap of thick-mitted hands. Perhaps at the ultimate point on the “I was there before it was cool” credibility spectrum, the show has earned a nickname from locals: Floe-chella.

The event, hosted in Canada’s youngest and largest Arctic territory, is part of the second Nunavut music week. It aims to stimulate the music industry in the territory, but it is also a rallying call for the Inuit artists to come together and face down the fallout from colonialism that threatens not just their music scene, but their whole existence.

Nunavut’s music scene is the result of generations of knowledge, and helps the Inuit arts industry generate more than C$87m (£50m) a year for the Canadian economy. But their traditions – from throat singing to face tattoos to oral histories – have long been threatened by Canadian colonisation, which, along with Christianity, outlawed critical parts of Inuit culture throughout the 20th century. Inuit families were forcibly relocated to unfamiliar, desolate parts of the high Arctic in government bids for northern sovereignty. They were given identification tags and forced into permanent settlements formed around military outposts. English was installed and Inuit languages were suppressed.