Songwriter Inuk reflects on Aqpik Jam’s role in her career and on the Inuit music scene
After an elegant presentation of her band, singer Elisapie entered the stage to the applause of the audience of Aqpik Jam, the Kuujjuaq music festival near and dear to her heart.
The crowd was completely immersed in his Wednesday night performance at the Forum, the village’s hockey arena. She starred on the second night of the four-day festival that returned this year after a two-year COVID-19 postponement.
“We are celebrating this festival that has been going on for over 20 years,” he said.
The day after his show, just after leaving the Kuujjuaq Inn, he visited the hotel restaurant carrying a panic-bound coffee and bag of Honeycomb cereal.
In an interview, he explains his relationship with Aqpik Jam.
The festival was influential on his career early on. The earliest memory of him dates back to the 1990s, when his father traveled from Salluit to Kuujjuaq by boat to pick him up.
At the time, Kuujjuaq was considered a “big city, a bit like the south,” he recalls. The festival was happening.
Elisapie – full name Elisapie Isaac, but only performs under her first name – asked her mother if she could go, only to be told, “You’re too young, you’re a teenager and there’s a bar there.”
He said he “hated it all summer, because Blue Rodeo was playing and I was a huge Blue Rodeo fan!”
“I always tell this story, because two years ago Blue Rodeo invited me to sing with them at the Montreal Jazz Festival. It was such a beautiful moment ”.
Her first performance at Aqpik Jam dates back to her early years as a songwriter. It was a significant moment for her.
“Oh, my lord, I was probably between 18 and 19,” he says. “I was really shy, and I was in a really dark space at the time, and I wasn’t like that in my place.”
Even in the years of his formation, his identity as an artist was not yet well defined.
“I was almost apologizing on stage, I was still trying to find my art,” he says.
Even though his first performance was far from the best, playing Aqpik Jam was already a big deal.
“There were always local musicians in Nunavik,” he says, and “Aqpik Jam was an opportunity for them to be heard. It’s very important here, it’s like Northern Osheaga,” comparing it to the independent music festival in Montreal.
The festival is also a time to meet artists from all over the Nunangat Inuit.
“It gives us a chance to go out together,” Elisapie says.
“I may be a more established artist, but I’m still a kid when I see Tim and The Band playing” – one of his favorite childhood bands. “In the north you can’t be a star. There is familiarity here that will always keep you humble.
Yet that familiarity is where another kind of performance shines the most. It is about bringing the narrative that is meaningful to the audience.
The realities of Nunavimmiut may not resonate with a southern crowd as much as it does in the north.
Elisapie took her crowd from Kuujjuaq on a journey, trying to “give images to words they cannot express”.
As a storyteller, she says, “it becomes a responsibility to do exactly that”.
From his formative years to self-discovery, he wanted to “free himself” as a young artist. In 1999, she moved from Salluit to Montreal, a life-changing change that opened up her perspectives as an artist.
“I needed it. I wanted it,” he says. “I felt like at the age of 22 I already had a lot of experience in the north and I had to be where I could be free to do what I want to do.”
In Montreal, she found a place for artistic freedom, where she could be “free to do what I want, express strange ideas, a place where I could feel free to express whatever I wanted”.
Montreal proved to be more than just an artistic epiphany, but also the place where his career would skyrocket.
“I have to be in the right place at the right time,” he says. “Sometimes life will give you signals, and if you are careful enough, worry enough and are ready to risk enough, it will take you to places.”
In a small Montreal café, he met Alain Auger, who later became his counterpart in the duo Taima (the 2005 album won a Juno Award for Best Aboriginal Recording) and documentary director Hugo LaTulippe.
“Back then, there weren’t many indigenous artists in Quebec,” and after meeting his musical teammate, he soon toured Europe and America.
Later, after meeting director LaTulippe, he would direct a documentary for the National Film Board.
“My directorial career and my musical career, all in one place,” says Elisapie. “They were my signals and from that moment on he never stopped.”
This was a start to making his childhood dream come true.
“I just want to be the best of what I can be,” he says. “I was a very sensitive child and my way of dealing with it was to invent a world. And I really respect that little girl’s dream ”.
Again, a balance needs to be found because that artistic world has brought her artistic self, an artist, to enjoy the crowd and be on stage, “and I feel very comfortable in that environment”.
On the other hand, she is of course just the opposite ..
“Personally and emotionally, I’m a very private person,” says Elisapie.
He believes he has found that balance, “a beautiful fair-minded,Which helped her to push her limits.
“Having made peace between me and Elisapie the artist, now they go well together,” he says.
That solid internal foundation is your best defense against anxiety.
What makes it better, he says, is having a team that will listen to you, that will respect your conditions.
“When I ignore them for a few days, they know it, and eventually I’ll tell them it’s getting overwhelming, they pull back immediately.”
Balancing her identity and making sure she is well surrounded explains why she says “right now, I love my life”.
His 2019 album, The runaway girl balladwas nominated for a Juno for Indigenous Music Album of the Year.
The avant-garde of his art and innovations will be on display in his next album.
“It’s over, and next year, when the album comes out, we want to have screenings,” he says.
“I’m working with the directors at Salluit right now”, all to produce video content that will be symbiotic with his music.
“The images will allow me to really understand the music and further develop the narrative, a truly exciting project!”
And he adds: “I think it will move many people here, because it is not about me, but about the North”.