I have to admit that, on the first hearing (or the first couple of hearings!) Kaataq sounds like another hip-hop record. It might well have been recorded in New York were it not for the strange multi-lingual vocals which range from the sharp consonants of Danish, American hip-hop English, to the otherworldly cadences of Greenland Inuit. After a few hearings, however, the Arctic flavour begins to seep out. Oqariartuut, for example, sounds like a mad Inuit dog sled ride across the snowy wastes in the deep of winter, and is complete with frigid wind effects and shimmering, Aurora Borealis style sound effects. The vocal delivery is anarchic, remarkable -- a defiant assertion of Greenlandic identity, but at the same time a manly welcome to the exotic Polar World. Though sung in the Inuit tongue, the English translation reads:
He has a true story to tell you
Our rage is growing
They pass you by with white faces
Watch out they don't catch you
To them you are nothing
Together they incarcerate me
Considering me a beast...
I have long been a lover of Scandinavian music and the "Scandinavian sound", including Iceland even though technically it is not a "Scandinavian" country. Recently I discovered a new world of Scandinavian music -- the huge Danish colony of Greenland, one of the world's largest ice blocks. It is hard to believe that tiny Iceland, with a population of only 300,000 souls, has turned out such a distinctive range of musical geniuses including Bjork and Sigur Ros. Greenland has an even smaller population (only 60,000 souls), but it seems it has a musical scene just as lively. In fact, according to journalist Karsten Sommer, "the world's most successful record label is based in Sisimiut, Greenland, just north of the Arctic Circle." A music industry in the Arctic, Sommer goes on to ponder. "Is there such a thing? Do they have electicity (in the igloos...)? Are there any record players? I more or less asked the same questions when I became involved with Greenlandic music in 1973. I soon learned that Greenland is an area where music is of great importance to almost every person living there."
Two other adventurers of the Far North, milkycat secret agents Kamio and Pippilina, had this to say about the amazing Inuit Greenland sound: "Greenland is the biggest island in the world, hellof north in the middle of the Atlantic surrounded by icebergs, populated by polar bears, Inuits and a few Danes, where reindeer meat and seal fat are staple foods. Who would think that a country of about 50,000 people stuck smack in the middle of the arctic north would also be the home of this most insanely, ultimately chill hip hop-band? Nuuk Posse is the real thing.. old school Greenlandic hip-hop!" Before I describe any further the musical genius which is Nukk Posse, let's backtrack a little, and see where this shit came from. I will quote Sommer again, on the importance of the drum in traditional Greenland Iniut society (and of course, the drum forms of the backbone of the electronic/hip-hop movement of the early 21st Century): "The traditional Greenlandic music is the drum dance. It is played by one or two persons with a small oval drum that is built on a wooden frame, covered with ice-bear bladder, and struck with a small stick. It is closely connected to the Inuit drum in Canada, Alaska and Siberia, but much smaller and not played by big ensembles, as in other Inuit areas. The functions of the drum down through history were many: it was the instrument of the angakkogs, the shamen, who could call upon hunting luck, make duelling songs to fight an enemy, etc. The drum was also used as entertainment - it was even used as a kind of weapon, when two opponents confronted each other in a drum dance, trying to ridicule the other with their songs. The one who made the audience laugh the most had won.
"But as the missionaries came to Greenland in the 17th century, the drum dance was forbidden, the angakkogs were baptized, and the tradition slowly died out - except in northern and eastern Greenland. In those regions there still are people who have inherited the basics of drum dance from their parents, but apart from that, the traditional drum dance was replaced by church choirs, and the whalers from Europe brought instruments like accordion and violin and dance rhythms like polka to Greenland. Today, European polka music is still played with a distinct Greenlandic flavour. Some decades after the whalers, radio and TV brought jazz and rock to Greenland, finally giving the Inuit a musical framework similar to that of the rest of the world.
"In the 60s weekly music contest were held in the high school of Nuuk, Greenland's capital. Lots of groups shared the few instruments available and played cover versions of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Doors. This scene changed dramatically in 1973, when the first Greenlandic record ever made was released. It was by a rock group, four young Greenlanders singing in their native tongue. The excellent lyrics struck Greenland as a cultural bomb. The name of the group was Sume ("where?") and their LP was called "Sumut" ("where to?"). They sang songs about their culture and their people, and they expressed what many people felt but would not put into words: the wish to "be master in your own house" - to live a life based on their own culture."
Sume's LP was an overwhelming success. In a very short time it was sold nearly 10,000 times to Greenland's 50,000 inhabitants. However, while Sume was the face of the old Greenlandic Renaissance, the people's rediscovery of their own culture and the grafting of that culture on to the wild beast of Rock'n'Roll, Nuuk Posse represents the new Greenland. Modern (and hyper-modern) as Nuuk Posse sound, they carry the traditional Inuit culture to a new generation -- for example old Greenlandic drum dance recordings have been sampled on their latest CD. Along with Nuuk Posse, other artists like Ole Kristiansen, Iisaavaraq Petrussen and the rock band Inneeruulat are experimenting to combine tradition with modern music. But from limited knowledge, it would seem that Nuuk Posse is leading the pack at present.
c a n a d i a n + c o n c e r t
HERE IS ONE PARTY I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO HAVE ATTENDED: (This story lifted from The Nunatsiaq News): "There was a special buzz this week about an ABBA tribute band traveling all the way from Calgary for the annual Aqpik Jam music festival, which got underway in Kuujjuaq this past Tuesday.
"Claude Mackenzie, formerly of Kashtin, was also on the guest list.
"Among the list of other musicians scheduled to play were: Kaina Nowdlak and Looee and Josee Arreak of Iqaluit; Tim Evic and the Band from Pangnirtung; Charlie Paniguniaq from Ranking Inlet; Innu Band from Sept Isle; and Tanya Tagaq Gillis of Cambridge Bay.
"Several Iqalummiut got a sneak preview of another musical guest when Johnny Olsen of Greenland's Nuuk Posse rap group, took the mic at karaoke night at the Storehouse Bar this past Tuesday, singing his own music in Greenlandic to the sounds of Young MC's Bust a Move and great applause. Nuuk Posse will appear with another Greenlandic act, Nuutit.
"Festival-goers can also expect bingo, golfing, cribbage tournaments and fireworks. This past Tuesday, a hypnotist provided the late night entertainment."