Alianait festival promises Inuit culture with international flavour

With more than 60 performers in just six days, this year's Alianait Arts festival hopes to bring together Northern and Southern acts in a series of fresh collaborations.

This year's theme is Unikkausivut, or sharing stories, says festival director Heather Daley

Matuto, a brazilian bluegrass band based in New York City, will be part of tonight's opening night concert at Iqaluit's Alianait Arts Festival. While they're in Nunavut's capital, the musicians are also holding workshops and taking in some of the region's traditional Inuit culture. (Submitted by Vincent Soyez)

An arts festival that mixes traditional Inuit culture with diverse, international performances kicks off Friday evening in Iqaluit, and visiting and local artists say they're ready to put on amazing shows.

The 11th edition of the Alianait Arts Festival will run six days and feature more than 60 performers, with big nightly events and days packed with free workshops and jam sessions.

"To be here, it's pretty interesting," said Ze Mauricio, a native of Brazil who is visiting Canada's North for the first time.

"It is a big cultural shock."

Mauricio is part of Matuto, a Brazilian bluegrass band based in New York city that draws inspiration from rural music from the South American country.
Popular events like KidsFest will be back again this year. (Submitted by Ellen Skura)

This past week, members of the group have been running a percussion workshop, teaching kids in Iqaluit how to make drums.

When the group takes the stage at tonight's opening concert, those young Nunavut artists will join them. And singer and guitarist Clay Ross says Matuto's trip doesn't end there.

"We're going to be at the main festival all week long."

The group received funding from the US Embassy in Ottawa to extend the trip.

It's welcome news to Ross, who says he's been itching to return to the territorial capital since he performed in Iqaluit several years ago.

"I loved it up here," he said. 

"We've travelled all of the year - been to China, been to South America, been all over Europe. This is one of the most unique and interesting places on Earth, to me."

Under the big top

Earlier this week, a crew hoisted that familiar purple and yellow tent outside Iqaluit's Nakasuk School, where many of the events will be held.

This year's theme for the festival is Unikkausivut, or sharing stories, an important part of Inuit culture.

"A lot of the stories are shared through song," said Heather Daley, the director of the festival. "And a lot of what Alianait does is sharing this music and stories in different ways."
Each year, Alianait creates opportunities for artists to collaborate. Last year, Greenland's Mike Thomsen, Frederik Elsner (with guitar), Kimmernaq Kjeldsen and Hans-Henrik Poulsen performed together as Akukittut. This year's Elsner returns with his popular band, Nanook. (Submitted by Ellen Skura)

Many of the most popular Alianait events are back this year, including KidsFest on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. and the Gospel Sing-a-Long at the Anglican Parish Hall on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. 

Artcirq, the popular Igloolik circus troupe, also returns to the festival with guest performer Yamoussa Bangoura. And, on Monday evening, the festival is hosting a free movie night where Circus Without Borders will have its Iqaluit debut. 

But Daley says this festival will also see some firsts.

"We do collaborations every year, but this is our first young circumpolar artists collaboration," she said.

"We're really excited."

Artists from across Nunavut, Nunavik and Greenland will perform a new act this Tuesday night --- which they haven't even begun to create.

"We're pulling all these wonderful young artists together," she said. "They're going to be getting together starting this afternoon with Sylvia Cloutier to put together a brand-new performance." 

Saturday concert features popular Inuit acts

"I'm really glad to be going back," said singer David Myles, who attended an Alianait concert in March, 2014.
Guillaume Saladin (on right), a founder of Artcirq, offers instruction to performers during a circus workshop at last year's Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit. The troupe has been performing at the summer festival for a decade. (Jeremy Lafond/CBC)

"I came back from that trip and I couldn't stop talking about how great it was."

But if you saw the award-winning artist last year, don't expect more of the same.

This year Myles will share the stage. He describes his "acoustic trio" as a little bit of bluegrass with more folk and pop songs.

Myles says he's looking forward to once again hearing Agaaqtoq, the young Arviat singer, who will also be performing in Saturday night's show. 

Since he opened for Myles last year, Agaaqtoq has released his first self-titled album, a mix of Inuktitut and English songs.

Rounding out tomorrow's concert is Nanook, the immensely-popular band from Greenland who will perform in Iqaluit for the first time.

Tickets for the festival are available online, at the door, or at Arctic Ventures Marketplace.


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