By Patricia Lightfoot
A couple of weeks ago, when making food for brunch — shakshuka, if you must know — I started listening to songs that make me think of Nunavut. And now I’m back from an all-too-brief visit to Iqaluit, I thought I’d refine my Nunavut playlist and share it.
Qaumajuapik by Riit would be at the top of the list for her mesmerising blend of throat singing and electropop. I’ve seen Riit perform at the Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit; out on the sea ice in Koojesse Inlet at close to -20 C, and unlike Riit I was wearing snowpants; and at the NAC’s Fourth Stage in Ottawa. In all these places, she’s an engaging presence who is candid about the struggles she has known.
The Jerry Cans’ blend of throat singing and folk rock is always a great addition to any party. Their song Northern Lights is essentially its own kitchen party. I heard it and fell in love with its wild jigging tempo and Nancy Mike’s throat singing not long before I started working for an Arctic newspaper and my world was turned upside down.
Other musical genres are well represented in the North, including the Arctic soul performed by Iqaluit’s own Josh Q and the Trade-Offs, while two great examples of what might be described as Indie folk singers are Pangnirtung’s Aasiva and Igloolik’s Angela Amarualik, both of whom are talented songwriters and vocalists who accompany themselves on the ukelele.
There is a lot of musical talent in Nunavut, which is well worth listening to, but another song that makes me think of Iqaluit is by a band from Boston and was released in the early eighties.
Last April, I was leaving the Legion in Iqaluit after Friday steak night with friends. I went outside and called a cab. Some people were outside smoking by the entrance, while others were also waiting for cabs. An older gentleman beside me asked if I had called, and I assured him that I had. I should explain here that Iqaluit has no public transport, and the closest equivalent is the Caribou Cabs taxi company. For a fixed price of $7 last spring, now $8, they will take you anywhere, but until there was the threat of COVID-19 you’d normally share the cab with whoever else they pick up, which often provides an interesting insight into life in the city. The first time I took a cab here, a young man who seemed to just be riding along with the driver was telling him about how his brother had attempted a robbery at the post office a few years before.
On this particular evening, a cab drew up and the older man beside me and I started walking towards it, as did a youngish man and a young woman who was looking intently at her cellphone. The youngish man jumped into the passenger seat ahead of the older man and was rebuked by him for not respecting his elders, which is the local norm. The younger man, who was clearly quite drunk, responded in a loud and aggressive manner, saying, “I’m older than you,” which was clearly ridiculous.
So, the elder, who seemed quite hurt by this exchange and was quietly grumbling, the young woman who continued to stare at her phone and I all got into the back of the cab. I wondered whether this was a big mistake, as the atmosphere was tense. I expected that at some point there would be an unpleasant altercation starring the man in the passenger seat, but that was not what happened.
As we set off, the radio in the cab was playing, and the song “Drive” by The Cars came on. I hadn’t heard it in years, but felt as if I was hearing it properly for the first time. The sound is so gentle and wistful — “Who’s going to drive you home tonight?” As the cab driver set off towards the Four Corners intersection and then up the hill past the RBC building, the Arnaitok Complex and the Aquatic Centre, everyone in the taxi seemed to take a deep breath, relax their shoulders and listen to the soulful singing as we all headed home under the pale blue Arctic spring sky.
“Drive” is not a song made by anyone from Nunavut, nor is it about the North, but for me it’s evocative of that one spring evening in Iqaluit.