Expressing Identity

Inuk in the City: Musical Identity-Work Among Nunatsiavut's Urban Inuit


Jeff van den Scott



This research examines the lives and meaning of music for Inuit living in city spaces, particularly in light of how Inuit identity is so often thought of as being tied to the land. This project considers the role and transformation of Inuit music in the Western/Southern context of the city, and the meaning music affords for Nunatsiavut Inuit who live far from their homeland. The project aims to unlock key points of difference in the understanding of the city, and therefore of life projects, between the Inuit and non-Inuit residents of St. John’s.

There is no dedicated Inuit space in St. John’s. Without such a space, publicly heard Inuit-made music tends to be limited to ceremonial or honourary presentations. Some examples of this in the past few years include the First Light-based drum group opening the “In Her Name” vigil on the steps of the Colonial Building in October, Sophie Angnatok and Tabitha Blake throat singing as part of the events surrounding the Opera on the Avalon’s production of Shawnadithit in June, and most recently, high-profile presentations by Inuit at the First Light tent at the NL Folk Festival in August. Each of these is an exciting opportunity for the public to hear Inuit musicians as they connect with the musical aspects of Inuit identity.

What is not heard very often is music-making on more intimate levels, sharing among smaller groups, and new music created by Inuit in St. John’s. This project aims to make urban Inuit music heard, and one of the goals of this research is a recording project focused on Inuit music-making. Through recording the music of St. John’s’ Inuit, I hope to bring light to Inuit musical experiences that are shaped not only through traditional forms like throat singing and drum dancing, but that are influenced by life in the city and away from Nunatsiavut.

While the music of St. John’s’ Inuit is varied, many Inuit feel connections to traditional music, and feel the loss of connections that comes with living away from Nunatsiavut. Josephine Anastasiadi, one of the Blake Sisters from Rigolet now living in St. John’s, describes her reaction to thinking about Inuit music as follows:

“It brings to mind my ancestors. What I should be and I don’t feel like I have it in me. I don’t know how to explain it. When you’ve taken something away from somebody, part of their identity is gone. And then, when you’re shoved that identity as an adult, to be that person, it’s really hard to comprehend. So, to me, it represents who I should have been, but, I’m trying to get to that place now.”

While the music is the focus of this project, this research is also concerned with learning more about the struggles and benefits of Inuit living in St. John’s. The lack of a gathering space for Inuit contributes to feelings of isolation from each other and from the greater community. Inuit also highlight difficulties and lack of resources required to travel to Nunatsiavut, and the inaccessibility of opportunities to learn Nunatsiavut Inuttut, as challenges in the city. Music, then, becomes an opportunity to engage in learning Inuit culture, expressing Inuit identity, and forging new ideas about what it means to be “Inuk in the City.”

The recordings represent a variety of Inuit-made music, including traditional song, fiddle tunes and songs found in Tim Borlase’s Songs of Labrador, originally created songs, and throat singing. They are available to listen to free via SoundCloud.

Traditional Music

“Qiujaviit”, sung by Sophie Angnatok with Clarence Andersen (Nain)
“Sikkinik”, sung by Sophie Agnatok with Clarence Andersen (Nain)

Fiddle Tunes

“Auntie Mary”, played by Kendra Jacques (Makkovik)
“Road to the Isles”, played by Kendra Jacques (Makkovik)
“Tishialuk Girls”, played by Kendra Jacques (Makkovik)

Labrador Songs

“Heavenly Home” sung by Sherry Blake, written by Dick and Kathy Blake (Rigolet)
“Labradorimiut/Sons of Labrador”, sung by Sophie Angnatok with Clarence Andersen (Nain)
“Woman of Labrador”, sung by Sophie Angnatok with Clarence Andersen (Nain)
“My Dad”, sung by the Blake Sisters (Rigolet)
“These Days”, sung by the Blake Sisters (Rigolet)

Original Songs

“Breathtaking Views”, by Sherry Blake (Rigolet)
“Peace Song”, by Tabitha Blake (Rigolet)
“Water Song”, by Tabitha Blake (Rigolet)
“Who I Am”, by Sherry Blake (Rigolet)

A Collection of Throat Songs performed by the Blake Sisters (Rigolet).