Four Nunavut musicians are up for Inuit Artist/Group of the Year honours at the 2023 Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards in Ottawa: Pangnirtung’s Joey Nowyuk, Baker Lake’s Shauna Seeteenak, Iglulik’s Angela Amarualik, and Rankin Inlet’s Brenda Montana.
The award ceremony is slated for June 6 in the capital city’s National Arts Centre.
It’s a big moment for all four Nunavummiut.
Amarualik, who writes folk and pop music in Inuktitut and English, says the nomination rekindled her creative fire, which fizzled out during the pandemic.
“Since after the pandemic it’s been really tough for me to write and do music as much as I did before,” she said. “I haven’t really been motivated much.”
“[This nomination] makes me want to publish more music because all the nominees are very talented and they really deserve to be recognized. To be recognized on that platform really makes me remember how much I love music.”
Amarualik, who now lives in Laval, Quebec, grew up surrounded by music. Her father played guitar and once wrote her a song about how much he loved her. When she was home alone, she would sing Hilary Duff songs on her sister’s karaoke machine. Initially, her shyness made it “difficult to sing on stage,” but eventually, after meeting other local musicians and practicing her craft, she got more confident.
“I’m lucky because back home in Iglulik, there’s a lot of musicians and bands,” she said. “I feel like they shaped me. I feel very lucky.”
“I’ve now learned to be less shy with all of these experiences connecting with people and traveling”
For Montana, childhood in Rankin Inlet was full of sports – gymnastics, hockey and soccer – and trips to the cabin with her family. She admits she “didn’t really fit in” with kids her age, but says she began to find her footing at 13, when she started playing the guitar, and writing songs in both Inuktitut in English.
“I started recording myself and practiced many times,” the pop artist said from Iqaluit, where she has lived for the last three years. “At first my singing wasn’t good but not too bad, I didn’t like how it sounded, so I practiced singing often when I was alone. Other instruments I learned are the violin, harmonica, ukulele, and piano.”
“In 2018 I wrote my first song called Pisuqatiginiaqpagit,” she added. “I used to work at the Simon Alaittuq School as a substitute teacher, and my favourite memory there was when I taught Pisuqatiginiaqpagit to the kids, it made me really happy that the kids sang the song and knew the words with out any help. I even cried.”
Montana and Amarualik – along with their fellow Nunavummiut Nowyuk and Seeteenak – will soon make their journeys to Ottawa, where they will learn if they have won this year’s award.
For Montana, a win would “mean a lot.”
“It would be a great accomplishment for me,” she said. “I never thought I would make it this far, and I’m very thankful that I had people there for me to cheer me on.”
Amarualik feels much the same way.
“If I win it, I’m going to use that to push myself even more,” she said. “I’m really going to use it to remind myself that I can do this.”
Yet for both artists, the impact of a win would extend beyond their own careers.
Montana says there is a message behind all of her songs, and an award win would give her a bigger platform to spread those messages.
“Love is All Around Us is a song I wrote for my family when we were going through a rough time,” she said as an example, adding that she wrote her song More at Ease “for women who are struggling in an abusive relationship,” and Qaujimagit to remind listeners “if you’re feeling sad, things are going to get better.”
For Amarualik, songwriting is an opportunity to protect and preserve her culture – and help put Nunavut on the music map.
“I’m very proud to talk about where I come from,” she said. “Our language is kind of going away slowly. I want to protect our language.”
“People ask me where I’m from, and I say I’m from Nunavut,” she added. “Sometimes people say ‘welcome to Canada.’ I really want to have Nunavut known as part of Canada.”