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Inuit artists gather for Alianait Festival in Iqaluit

The Alianait Arts Festival begins Thursday and runs through July 3 — four days packed full of concerts, workshops and exhibits showcasing Indigenous art and music.

Festival starts Thursday and runs through July 3

A woman sings and plays a drum she is holding aloft.
Nuka Alice Lund is performing drum dances during the Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit. (Dorthe Ivalo/Submitted by Nuka Alice Lund)

When Nuka Alice Lund drum dances, it's more than just a performance. There's a deeper meaning behind her drum songs that she wants listeners to understand.

"I spend all of my time and energy trying to explain it and also to give knowledge and a deep understanding of the drum songs I perform, so people don't just get entertained," she explained. "People are very interested, but they don't know how to use the drum and many of them don't know the stories behind the drum songs we are performing."

Lund, who is from Sisimiut in Greenland, will be drum dancing at the Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit this week, where she will be performing new drum songs she has created.

She said she is looking forward to being with other Inuit, listening to their music and looking at their artwork. She's especially keen to meet with other drum dancers, since the practice isn't widespread in Greenland yet.

"I hope there will be a good sharing experience, and I know with meeting other Inuit, sometimes you don't need words — you just look at each other and have a deep understanding of one another. That's a great feeling," she said.

The Alianait Arts Festival begins Thursday and runs through July 3 — four days packed full of concerts, workshops and exhibits. It's been over two years since the last festival took place, and executive director Alannah Johnston said the organizing team has high hopes for how it will go.

One major push this year for the organizers has been to promote Indigenous performers.

"I think we're doing a really good job on that part," she noted — nearly all the performers this year are Indigenous, and the majority are Inuit. They include a large group from Greenland, as well as from other Nordic countries.

Johnston said many of the artists have been working together for over a month on a collaboration, to be revealed on the second-last day of the festival — an Alianait tradition.

"We put the artists in a room, and they come up with something really beautiful. Then they put it on the stage," she said, adding even she doesn't know what it will be.

Opening the festival on Thursday, singer-songwriter Brenda Montana will play a pop-up show at the Black Heart Cafe.

A portrait of a woman next to a microphone.
Brenda Montana is performing at the Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit and is due to release her first album this summer. (Submitted by Brenda Montana)

Montana, who is from Rankin Inlet, told CBC she's due to release her very first album in mid-July, and will be playing songs from it during Alianait.

"I'm really excited, honestly," she said.

"My album is about hope and sending love and awareness for people who are struggling. [It] also includes English, Inuktitut, throat singing as well as an ayaya song."

It's been a special experience to put that together, she noted — her record label, Nunavut-based Hitmakerz, sent her to Ottawa where she was able to meet other Nunavut artists.

She said it's important for her to sing in both languages because it helps her improve her Inuktitut. Though she isn't fluent yet, her mother has been helping her to translate songs.

"I feel like it's really important to learn since it's kind of getting lost, and now we're trying to regain our language," she said.

Most of the events at the Alianait Arts Festival will take place in or near Nakasuk School. A full list of events can be found on the festival's website.

Written by April Hudson with files from Matisse Harvey

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