Nunavut pop star’s new album is heavy on beats, rhymes and life
"I want young people to really take it in"
Kelly Fraser is a woman with a lot to say.
In an hour-long phone conversation, Fraser packs a punch, telling stories about her island hometown of Sanikiluaq, reindeer hunting, suicide, abusive relationships, songwriting, colonialism, bullying and life as an artist.
She’s managed to pack all of that, and much more, into her second album, Sedna, due out April 25.
The 11-track, English and Inuktitut-language album is filled to the brim with Fraser’s ideas, her fears and her hopes for Nunavut and her fellow Inuit.
Fraser, just 23, says its goal is to empower Inuit. And she chose the Inuit legend of the sea goddess Sedna, or Nuliayuk, as her guide and title track.
“I grew up hearing that story told by elders in my community,” Fraser said. “So I’m taking it upon myself to re-tell that story. It’s important for revitalization, and I need to honour her.”
It’s a sad, even graphic tale that varies from one region to the next, but the story revolves around a key moment, when a father and daughter are in a boat together. To protect himself from capsizing, the father throws his daughter overboard. She sinks to the ocean floor and becomes a powerful spirit.
Fraser draws parallels from the legend to her own life; a young woman who appreciates her comfort and beauty, losing her father to suicide at age 16 and giving away a child.
The song itself sounds anything but sad; it’s the kind of pop song with pulsing beats you’d hear coming out of car stereo in the summertime, or blaring on the dance floor at the Legion.
The rest of the album offers the same type of upbeat, modern pop with electronic flourishes, throat song and elements of hip hop—Fraser even raps on a few tracks.
In “Looking For A Seal,” Fraser offers a message to animal rights activists and those behind the European Union’s seal ban: leave us alone.
“We’re looking for a seal for our family’s meal, so we can stay warm. We can’t afford food at the store, what are we supposed to do?” she sings.
Pond Inlet throat boxer Paul Muckpah performs on the song, which was recorded in the Baffin community while Fraser was visiting as part of music workshops she facilitates across Nunavut.
In fact, the singer and songwriter recorded Sedna in communities across the country, from Clyde River to Iqaluit, Toronto, Vancouver and Merritt, British Columbia.
The latter town is where Fraser, a graduate of Nunavut Sivuniksavut, just completed a two-year First Nations studies program at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology—arming her with knowledge Fraser said factored greatly into her album’s themes.
Another track, “Fight For The Rights,” was actually released as a single in 2016, urging Nunavummiut to vote no in last May’s land referendum. That’s when the territorial government asked Nunavummiut if they wanted their hamlets to be able to sell municipal lands, to which Nunavut gave a resounding no.
The song, with its steady Inuit drum beat, could easily become a protest anthem for Inuit.
“I guess I’m an activist,” Fraser said, when asked. “I didn’t try to be though. I just feel we need to fight for our rights.”
That can feel heavy at times, she adds: “It feels like I’m fighting this invisible monster that’s sucking the life out of Inuit.”
But music has always been political, she said, and hers will be no different. Fraser said music has also proven to be a powerful tool for healing and communication.
Though she wrote every song on her newest album, Fraser said she hears criticism on her decision to cover other artists’ songs; Fraser first gained fame in the North in 2013 with her Inuktitut version of Rihanna’s song Diamonds.
But that’s the least of her worries; Fraser said she receives hateful messages on social media from people who disagree with her ideas or her style of music.
“It’s unfair,” she said. “I’m trying to break out of the genre. Artists already live precariously, we have to chase grants and compete for venues.”
That’s what Fraser plans to do over the coming months; she’s moving from Sanikiluaq to Ottawa where she’ll head out on the road to promote her album and pick up gigs where she can. She’s also scheduled to play this summer’s Alianait arts festival in Iqaluit.
“I want Sedna to be played in clubs, at the Legion, in bars. I want it everywhere,” she said of her new album. “I want young people to really take it in.”
Sedna will be released April 25 on Nunavut’s Hitmakerz record label. You can listen to the title track and find out how to buy the album at http://www.kellyfrasermusic.com.