The Jerry Cans combine traditional and modern for diverse sound

The Jerry Cans is an Iqaluit-based band who find inspiration for their sound from their hometown. They are a self-described mix of Inuktitut, alt-country, throat singing, and reggae. But here's the catch — not all the members of the band are Inuit. Andrew Morrison is non-Inuit and as the lead singer of the Jerry Cans, he sings in the Inuktitut language. Unreserved caught up with them at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg.
Iqaluit band The Jerry Cans are releasing their new album Inuusiq/Life under their own record label, Aakuluk Music. (thejerrycans.com)

The Jerry Cans are a distinctly northern, one-of-a-kind mix of Inuktitut, throat singing, alt-country, folk and reggae band.

The Iqaluit-based band are Andrew Morrison, Nancy Mike, Gina Burgess, Brendan Doherty and Steve Rigby and finds inspiration for their distinct sound from the north, the language and the people.

But even though many of their songs are in Inuktitut, with the exception of Nancy Mike, the members of the band are all non-Inuit.

Language of love

"I used singing to become fluent," explains Morrison, who grew up in Iqaluit but didn't speak the language until he fell in love. His wife Nancy Mike, who is a throat singer and plays the accordion in The Jerry Cans, provided the inspiration and her father, who only spoke Inuktitut, provided the stern instruction.

"He was a full-time hunter and had lots of rifles and he was very clear that I was to learn Inuktitut if I was to date his queen."

He would take Morrison out on the land to hunt or fish for weeks at a time teaching him through total immersion.

"Either it was Inuktitut or it was silence."

He said Nancy's father Laivi knew they were falling in love and that they would someday have children so he wanted Morrison to be able to pass on the language and traditions of Inuit culture. After he passed away two years ago, Nancy gave birth to her second child and named the girl Laivi, after her father, in keeping with an Inuit custom.

Though Morrison admits there are some pitfalls to being a non-Inuk, speaking and singing Inuktitut passionately and challenging common misperceptions about life in the Arctic.

"It was complicated for us to start doing this," he said recalling a moment in the early days of the band, where they sang a well-known song by Uvagut, a famous Inuit band from the 1990's who were very politically involved.

"The lead singer of the band was out camping and somebody went out and said 'ah man, these three white dudes were singing your song at the legion last night' and she was like 'what?' This was her reaction, kind of aggressive and she said, 'I have to go see this!' So the next time we played she was there and she was like' Oh! It's Andrew," he laughed.

Multicultural band makes multicultural music

"There's no way to get around it, we're a bunch of white dudes. It is still a multicultural band, Nancy is Inuk from Pangnirtung and speaks Inuktitut but how we approach the idea of cultural appropriation is that we still see ourselves as very much part of Iqaluit community.

Inuusiq (Life) is The Jerry's Can's third full length album. (provided)
He said The Jerry Cans, who are touring their third album Inuusiq (Life), are a reflection of the diverse music found and combined in the north. With television came country music, which is very popular in Inuit communities. With the whalers, many from Celtic communities on the East coast, came the fiddle and accordion, which has been adopted in the north as traditional instruments. Then with modern technology like the Internet and iTunes, reggae and rock became popular with the young people.

"We are kind of just the product of that," said Morrison. "We've always wanted to try and find away to bring traditional sounds together with modern sound because that's what I think young people in Nunavut are struggling with and I think young people in a lot of places are struggling with, trying to figure out a way in life between those two worlds."