Kuujjuaq youth get a taste of fame during this year’s Aqpik Jam
"They just kept asking for more!”
There was more than just music going on during the Aqpik Jam music festival, which took place Aug. 14 to Aug.17 in Kuujjuaq.
This year, the festival’s organizing committee decided to offer workshops to promote young artists’ talents and self-confidence through teaching and learning traditional songs and games, throat singing, beat box techniques and hip-hop dance moves.
When the festival’s logistics coordinator, Sarah Berthe, approached throat singers Evie Mark from Ivujivik and Akinisie Sivuarapik from Puvirnituq to perform at the Aqpik Jam this year, “they offered to give a workshop during the festival to teach young girls, like they had done in the past.”
Mark and Sivuarapik, who regularly perform around the world, both learned throat singing from elders when they were younger.
As Mark, who learned many traditional songs and legends at school from elders, says, “we have to keep it alive, otherwise it’s just going to disappear.”
“It feels good to pass on our traditions,” said Sivuarapik, who was taught to throat sing at age six by her grandmother and master throat singer Mary Sivuarapik. “My mother’s generation lost it when they went to school, where the missionaries were telling them throat singing was evil.”
But the extraordinary sounds of throat singing could not be kept in the dark long.
“[Now] as performers, we use throat singing to teach foreigners who we are as Inuit, and it also works with kids,” said Mark.
She and Sivuarapik found that the kids who attended their workshops during the Aqpik Jam were all “very hungry to learn, even language.”
“They just kept asking for more!” Sivuarapik said.
And they might just get their wish next year.
“We’d like to have them back again next year, maybe even before Aqpik Jam starts, as we feel it’s something very positive for our community, for our youth,” said Johnny Adams, who is an Aqpik Jam coordinator and spokesperson.
The Kuujjuaq Youth Group also performed at the festival’s opening, after practice sessions with throat singers as young as four years old.
Founded in 1999 by Kuujjuaq resident Mary Aitchison, this cultural group is now lead by her daughter Ann-Marie along with Alacie Suppa, who both learned throat singing when they were younger.
Now a mother herself, Aitchison, 23, wants to pass on this tradition.
“I like teaching throat singing to young girls because it’s part of who we are, it is our culture. They all want to learn and that makes me want to teach even more,” she said.
The feeling seems to be contagious because the girls joining the group seem to be getting younger and younger each year.
“Even my nine-month-old niece Annaliah is trying it,” Aitchison adds, “from hearing her older sisters Maria and Eliana practicing for this year’s Aqpik Jam.”
The Kuujjuaq Youth Group, which incorporates Inuit drum dancing into its program as well, had drummers Aloupa Airo-Watt and Felix Tukkiapik put on a shuffling dance show to the beat box rhythms of two-year-old Felix Suppa-Walsh.
Performing at the festival’s opening, the Kuujjuaq Youth Group also taught throat singers as young as four years old all summer long to prepare them for this.
“Once they see others perform, they want to do it too,” Aitchison said.
That’s also what the Aqpik Jam organizing committee had in mind when its members decided to invite the Blueprint for Life hip hop and beat box instructors to conduct workshops.
“For teenagers, to get to play and dance to music they like and perform in front of a big crowd, with the spotlights on them and cameras flashing, is a big thing,” said Shatterstar, one of the breakdance instructors. “They were very proud, very happy, walking on a cloud.”
“It made me feel awesome to dance and, even though I was nervous, it was a lot of fun,” said Nyomi Gordon Berthe, who join in the crew to perform at the Aqpik Jam.
“I like to think of it as something else to do, better than any drug or alcohol,” said Tommy Sequaluk, a leader-in-training for Blueprint for Life.
Buddha, the social worker founder of Blueprint for Life, hopes to get parents involved as well, by giving them their own workshops where they can learn to let go, dancing and singing, when his crew comes back to Kuujjuaq next month as part of Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau’s Pivallianiq community improvement program.
Buddha’s idea is that “if adults start to have fun, they won’t be so scared and [they will] understand hip-hop and why their kids like it.”
Whether it was seeing their kids throat sing, drum, dance or sing traditional or beat box songs throughout the festival, parents in Kuujuaq were proud of their kids and thankful for the volunteer committee that made it all happen.