The world is listening: first Nunavut Music Week festival underway in Iqaluit

The first Nunavut Music Week is underway in Iqaluit. It’s organized by Aakuluk Music - a record label in Nunavut - which was founded by members of the The Jerry Cans, one of Nunavut’s biggest international music acts.

Record labels, booking agents and Rolling Stone magazine drop into Nunavut for music incubator

The Jerry Cans' Nancy Mike, Andrew Morrison, Gina Burgess, Brendan Doherty, and Steve Rigby in Iqaluit. (The Jerry Cans)

The first Nunavut Music Week is underway in Iqaluit.

It's organized by Aakuluk Music — a record label in Nunavut— founded by members of the The Jerry Cans, one of Nunavut's biggest international music acts.

Musicians and bands from across the territory will be playing free shows at the Iqaluit Royal Canadian Legion Branch 168 Thursday and Saturday evening. During the day, free music workshops are on at the Francophone centre.

Music industry insiders are in town — including booking agents, record labels and the legendary Rolling Stone magazine — giving Nunavut performers exposure otherwise difficult to find in the North.

And that's the whole point of the festival, says the Jerry Cans' Andrew Morrison. It's the kind of support and exposure Morrison said he and his band struggled to find at first.

"When we started Jerry Cans we had no idea what a manager did, or what a booking agent did," Morrison said. "When you release a CD, how do you get it on CBC nationally or how do you get it on iTunes?"  

"All of these lessons are hard to figure out and we made a lot of mistakes along the way."

Morrison said music is now the Jerry Cans' full-time gig: "We've all been able to quit our full-time jobs."

But it wasn't easy, and still isn't easy, for anyone living in Nunavut to make a career out of it, he says.

Keeping talent in the North

"It's very hard in Iqaluit and Nunavut not to have a 9-5 job and a salary," Morrison said. "We have kids and we have mortgages. It's not the same as living in Ottawa or Toronto where it's quite cheap."

It can easily cost well over $2,000 for one round-trip ticket from Iqaluit to Ottawa, and that doesn't include the $1,000 for a round-trip ticket out of, for example, Igloolik to Iqaluit to make the connecting flight.  

That's a lot of money for an aspiring musician, not to mention a band. The Jerry Cans' Nancy Mike says Nunavummiut wanting a career in music might think leaving the North is the only realistic financial option.

"When you think about music and having music as your career, often times we're forced to leave our homeland," said Mike.

The Jerry Cans' Nancy Mike performing live in the q studio in Toronto, Ont., last December. (Cathy Irving/CBC)

"The music business infrastructure is often in the south. Our long term goal is to try to take that home and have it available, and have people educated on what they can do at home in terms of the music business."

For many aspiring artists who want to build a career from their home community, the internet can be a big help. But in Nunavut with it's notoriously slow and expensive broadband access, even what should be relatively inexpensive online exposure can be difficult to manage.

The Jerry Cans can't solve expensive and sluggish broadband in Nunavut, but they have brought the music world to Iqaluit, at least for these few days. Morrison says these visitors won't be disappointed.

"We're really proud of the musicians in Nunavut," he said. "We play all over Canada and we know the talent in this territory is right up there with anybody across Canada and…across the world. We really want the people from the south to understand how strong the talent is here."

The long term goal is a self-sustaining Nunavut music industry. It's a vision that sees musicians in far-flung hamlets able to bring their music and their experience to the world, without giving up their connection to home and to the land.

"We really want artists to be able to live in their community, live with their families — be able to go hunting, be able to participate in life in their communities — but still be able to pursue a career in music," Morrison said.

"We want artists to be able to express themselves from home, so they can live in Igloolik and live in Arviat, and still continue to ... function on a national level.

"The talent is there, but something we really need to work on is developing the industry to support that talent.

With files from Qavavao Peter


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