Inuit music

Inuit music

The Inuit live across the northern sections of Canada, especially in Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Northwest Territories, as well as in Alaska and Greenland. Traditional Inuit music has been based around drums used in dance music as far back as can be known, and a vocal style called "katajjaq" [ [ Interviewing Inuit Elders - Glossary from Nunavut Arctic College] ] (Inuit throat singing) has become of interest in Canada and abroad.

Traditionally Inuktitut did not have a word for what a European-influenced listener or ethnomusicologist's understanding of "music", "and ethnographic investigation seems to suggest that the "concept" of music as such is also absent from their culture." The closest word, "nipi",cite web|url= |title=nipi|work=Asuilaak Living Dictionary|accessdate=2007-11-17] includes music, the sound of speech, and noise. (Nattiez 1990:56)

Until the advent of commercial recording technology, Inuit music was usually used in spiritual ceremonies to ask the spirits (see Inuit mythology) for good luck in hunting or gambling, as well as simple lullabies. Inuit music has long been noted for a stoic lack of work or love songs. These musical beginnings were modified with the arrival of European sailors, especially from Scotland and Ireland. Instruments like the accordion were popularized, and dances like the jig or reel became common. Scots-Irish derived American country music has been especially popular among Inuit in the 20th century.

Nettl (1956, p.107) lists the following characteristics of Inuit music: recitative-like singing, complex rhythmic organization, relatively small melodic range averaging about a sixth, prominence of major thirds and minor seconds melodically, with undulating melodic movement.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been broadcasting music in Inuit communities since 1961, when CFFB was opened in Frobisher Bay, Northwest Territories. Charlie Panigoniak was the best-known of the early Inuit recording stars, and he remains a popular guitarist. The most famous Inuit performers, however, are Susan Aglukark and Tanya Tagaq Gillis. In Greenland, there is an Inuit hip hop crew called Nuuk Posse, which formed in 1985 and raps in the Kalaallisut language.


Katajjaq (also pirkusirtuk and nipaquhiit) is a type of traditional competitive song, considered a game, usually held between two women. It is one of the world's few examples of overtone singing, a unique method of producing sounds that is otherwise best-known in Tuvan throat-singing. When competing, two women stand face-to-face and sing using a complex method of following each other, thus that one voice hits a strong accent while the other hits a weak, melding the two voices into a nearly indistinguishable single sound. They repeat brief motifs at staggered intervals, often imitating the sounds of geese, caribou or other wildlife, until one runs out of breath, trips over her own tongue, or begins laughing, and the contest is then over. "The old woman who teaches the children corrects sloppy intonation of contours, poorly meshed phrase displacements, and vague rhythms exactly like a Western vocal coach." (Nattiez 1990:57)


*Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). "Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music" ("Musicologie générale et sémiologue", 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 0-691-02714-5.
*Nettl, Bruno (1956). "Music in Primitive Culture". Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-59000-7.


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