Hip-hop in Baker Lake, Nunavut

Nunavut Manager and Facilitator Kathleen Merritt with Nelson Tagoona © Kathleen Merritt
Nelson Tagoona © Kathleen Merritt
Nunavut Manager and Facilitator Kathleen Merritt with Nelson Tagoona © Kathleen Merritt
Elders Winnie Tadja and Mary Iqqat. © Kathleen Merritt
Elders Winnie Tadja and Mary Iqqa © Kathleen Merritt
Mary Iqqa © Kathleen Merritt
Paula Rumbolt teaches throat singing © Kathleen Merritt
Nunavut Manager and Facilitator Kathleen Merritt with Winnie Tadja © Kathleen Merritt
Winnie Tadja running through the lyrics to Qiarvaaq © Kathleen Merritt

The Music Alive Program: Nunavut funded a hip-hop week in Baker Lake from March 9 to March 12.

Nelson Tagoona, who performed at the NAC’s Northern Scene a couple of years ago, taught eight workshops on a style he’s credited with inventing— an entirely new category of music called throat- boxing, melding hip-hop with traditional Inuit throat singing. “His workshops cover heavy topics but he does fantastic work in keeping the overall workshop fun and exciting.,” one fan wrote. “Well done Nelson - I learned a lot from his workshop.”

In addition, acclaimed Yellknife hip-hip artist Aaron “Godson” Hernandez gave two workshops on makinbg hip-hop videos. 

“Most of the youth have never had a chance to experience what it is like to write and record a rap song,” wrote Hernandez after the event. “I broke them out of their shell and they enjoyed trying to record. I had one girl say she’s always dreamed about recording on a real studio mic, and when she did she couldn’t stop smiling […] The great part of this was finding out there are hidden writing talents that some of them have. Many actually did have aspirations of recording a song, but would never admit to it until they had their one-on-one recording session with me. It’s a great feeling to know some may pursue a music career with the right guidance.”

The event was part of a campaign about addiction awareness, a coordinated effort by the RCMP and the local Alcohol Education Committee. Calling it “Alcohol Awareness Week,” the team used music to teach students about composing and performing, while delivering positive messages about drug awareness and healthy choices. Nelson Tagoona, for instance, used his workshops to bring attention to serious subjects such as addiction awareness, bullying and depression. He talked about how he had dealt with depression and anxiety in his own life, and by sharing his own experiences, he took some of the stigma away from these subjects. One of his main messages was for his audience to believe in themselves.

The RCMP were on hand for every workshop and at the final show on Thursday night, which drew over 400 enthusiastic audience members.

“ I have worked for nine years in Nunavut communities, and being able to see something like this develop and come to a small Northern Community and its immediate impact, has been a highlight of my career,” wrote Corporal Jonathan Saxby after the event.

 “I am very appreciative of the help and support of the NAC in this initiative and I hope that it has opened a very real possibility for future events in this and other communities.” He went on to note: “Hard topics like suicide, and losing loved ones, positive self- image and about not feeling comfortable in your own 'skin' were paired with the importance of drinking responsibly and staying away from drugs. Our ability to have such a platform and the ability to instantly reach so many people at the same time with our message falls directly back on the NAC.”

Music Alive: Nunavut Manager and Facilitator Kathleen Merritt, an acclaimed throat-singer, helped organize the event. With fellow artist Paula Rumbolt, she gave 13 workshops over three days in the schools to approximately 300 students.

“After the day workshops at the school, Paula and I spent time around the community – grocery shopping, or at the community complex setting up for Thursday – and no matter where we went, kids were excited to see us and tell us about how they enjoyed the workshops,” she said. “In a couple of occasions, when we passed by some kids unnoticed, we heard them practicing throat-singing with their friends. To me, this was the coolest thing ever, because before our school visits, some of these kids have never really even heard throat-singing in their community, and now they themselves are doing it. I am so happy we’ve been able to get them excited about a part of our Inuit culture.  One grade six student wrote to me yesterday [on Facebook]:

“Hi Kathleen! I remember you from when you went to the Grade 6 here in Baker. I just went on Youtube and looking to see if there is any throat-singing and I seen your name so I checked it out and it was awesome, I love the sound of throat-singing I wish to get better at it (which, I know I will) my aunt and mother and my grandparents want me to learn how, and one day I want to perform on stage! Just came to say "hi" and tell you this. Ohh, and I’m 12 years old.”


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