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Balancing family and the road

Jacob Okatsiak and Agaaqtoq talk life in the music industry
Abraham Eetak, who goes by Agaaqtoq, said he pulled back from music when it was taking too much time away from his family. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Hot off the release of his debut album Inuugapta, Arviat’s Jacob Okatsiak is vaulting ahead in his music career.

Okatsiak recently returned from performing at the Puvirnituq Snow Festival in Nunavik with fellow Arviat rapper Chrisjr Mikeeuneak, and with only a day at home, was headed back on the road to perform with Atti Angutiit’s men’s program in Taloyoak along with Arviat musician Abraham Eetak, who goes by Agaaqtoq.

That’s all on top of having a baby on the way this summer for 23-year-old Okatsiak, who is trying his best to balance his rising career and family needs.

“Everything was fun, especially opening for Northern Haze,” said Okatsiak about the festival in Puvirnituq, where he and Mikeeuneak performed three sets over four days.

On his first set, Okatsiak said he had been hanging out with the crowd beforehand and laying low, so when he came to the stage, the fans were surprised to realize who he was.

“I went to the stage and said, ‘I’m Jacob Okatsiak, I’m gonna sing Fly High,’” he recalled. “Everyone went crazy.”

Fly High, an ode to a lost friend, has become Okatsiak’s most well-known song. He said the crowd sang the Inuktitut chorus themselves after the second verse.

“That’s amazing for me,” said Okatsiak, adding he had a great time interacting with fans outside of the shows, giving away merch and connecting with people. “I felt right at home with all the fans.”

Mikeeuneak agreed.

“The snow festival was incredible,” he told Kivalliq News. “I thought I would go there, play a couple songs and play games, but I ended up connecting with the community. One of my highlights was the last night when we couldn’t stop signing autographs and taking pictures.”

And Agaaqtoq has noticed what an impact Fly High makes with people.

“Music is able to change the mind from one moment to another,” he said.

“All these people in these communities, they have a lot of things going on in their lives. A song like Fly High comes along and changes the way they thought about things in a positive way and has literal impact on a person’s life. Music has that ability.”

On the road, Agaaqtoq is helping Okatsiak navigate his success and family needs, having gone through it himself when his music took off nearly a decade ago.

“I had to live through it to learn from it, and I learned a lot from the first few years of having children and being out on the road or in the air,” said Agaaqtoq. “It was not balanced in the beginning at all. I travelled way too much and ended up missing a lot of time being with my family. That took a toll.”

Eventually, he reached a point where he had to make a decision between his music career and family.

“I had to decide which way I wanted to go and I chose to stay home with my family,” he said. “For a few years, I literally turned down every show, every opportunity that came to me.”

Performing on the road and travelling might sound like a rock star life, he said, but in the back of his head all he could think about was how much time he was spending away from his children. Agaaqtoq admitted he burned a lot of bridges when he cancelled everything.

“I woke up one day and just cancelled my show,” he said. “I had flights booked and everything.”

But he wouldn’t change that decision for anything.

“For the first bit, I was torn, but after a while, I realized I made a good choice by doing that,” he said. “It’s really important to be present as a parent, being there for all the firsts of a child’s life.”

He’s back to making music and performing now, saying his older children understand the lifestyle that comes with it and he has support from his family.

Okatsiak said he received a lot of support to balance his lifestyle too, but he expects to pull back on his career in the near term after the birth of his child.

Arviat’s Jacob Okatsiak is seeing his star rise in the music world, as he just released his debut album and performed at the Puvirnituq Snow Festival in Nunavik. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo