Nunavut’s Susan Aglukark keeps dreaming of home
Arviat-raised singer releases second English-Inuktitut Christmas album
The Arviat-raised singer and songwriter Susan Aglukark may have now spent most of her life living outside Nunavut, but she says the homesickness has never left her.
And that feeling inspired the name of her newest album, Dreaming of Home, a collection of Christmas and family songs that make up the three-time Juno award-winner’s seventh album.
Dreaming of Home is a series of songs which aren’t all Christmas-themed, but they’re all linked to home, family and the holidays — three things Aglukark said she cherishes.
“I’m always homesick for home,” she said in an interview from her Toronto-area residence. “But Christmastime is when it’s that much more poignant.”
There are the Christmas standard carols: “Silent Night,” “Do you hear what I hear?” and “Oh come Emmanuel,” sung in both English and Inuktitut.
There’s a version of the “Huron Carol,” a Canadian carol originally written in the language of the Huron/Wendat nation, now translated and sung in Inuktitut.
But Aglukark also digs deeper into her family roots, covering the Scottish folk ballad “Caledonia,” written by Doug Maclean.
“They’re all songs that mean more to people than one day of the year, where we’re allowed to just be,” she said.
Aglukark gets home to Arviat and Rankin Inlet regularly, where Christmas is centred on a traditional feast.
She uses the word “traditional” carefully, though; it was only the generation of Aglukark’s parents who began to really celebrate Christmas, making it a relatively new holiday to most Inuit living in the community.
“But the thing we look forward to most, like anywhere in the world, is the family time together,” she said. “It’s a big day having everyone together.”
Dreaming of Home isn’t Aglukark’s first foray into holiday cheer; she put out an album called Christmas in 1993.
Aglukark even re-recorded some of the songs that appeared on that first Christmas album, but 20 years later, this newest album will likely sound different to long-time fans.
“I don’t know if the music has changed as much,” she said. “But your singing changes a lot in 20 years. As an artist, you’re more confident as a musician and a performer.”
Aglukark was launched almost unexpectedly into the business in the early 1990s, when she started performing as a singer — a side gig to a job she then held with Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.
Aglukark said she never learned to read or write music. She only began taking vocal lessons five years into her music career.
“I had a lot to learn,” she said. “While 20 years later, it’s really come together— it was what I was dreaming of my whole life.”
Aglukark supplements her music career with speaking engagements across the country. She talks to groups about how she navigated her rise to success, and also about the history of Canadian Inuit.
A newly-launched Christmas campaign through Aglukark’s Arctic Rose Fund sent its first box of non-perishable food to the Nuatsivik food bank in Iqaluit last week.
Aglukark plans to send a box each week from between now and Christmas. The Arctic Rose Fund, named after her popular album and song, Arctic Rose, is accepting food donations and paying to have them shipped north.
The goal is to encourage and assist all Nunavut’s food banks to become registered — only Iqaluit’s food bank is regitered currently — so the fund can help food banks feed families over the holidays, Aglukark said.
“The need is there all the time,” she acknowledged,” but we’re mailing and shipping these packages to guarantee they get there [for Christmas].”