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'I'm super Inuk': Nunavut singer Terry Uyarak releases songs in Inuktitut

Whether sledding with his dog team across the frozen ocean north of the Arctic Circle or driving his snowmobile over a land in darkness, the self-taught singer-songwriter says he's "always thinking about music."

The debut collection, called "Nunarjua Isulinginniani," was released on Oct. 30

Igloolik singer-songwriter, Terry Uyarak is shown in a handout photo. His debut album is called "Nunarjua Isulinginniani", or "Before the World Ends". (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Lane)

Terry Uyarak hums all the time.

Whether sledding with his dog team across the frozen ocean north of the Arctic Circle or driving his snowmobile over a land in darkness, the self-taught singer-songwriter says he's "always thinking about music."

"I hear music everywhere," a soft-spoken Uyarak said in a phone interview from his home in Igloolik, Nunavut, off northern Baffin Island, about 2,700 kilometres north of Montreal.

It was only last year that Uyarak's friends finally persuaded him to share that music beyond his snowmobile and dog sled.

His debut collection called "Nunarjua Isulinginniani," or "Before the World Ends," came out Oct. 30 and is available on all music-streaming platforms.

"I thought maybe I could try. Even if it's not that good, I'll still have an album to tell my children about one day, to inspire them that they can do anything if they choose to. That's when I really started writing," Uyarak said.

The album art for "Nunarjua Isulinginniani." The music has been available to stream since Oct. 30. (Killbeat Music)

The 14-track collection weaves together songs with storytelling interludes by Igoolik elder Simon Qamaniq. It also mixes Uyarak's acoustic guitar melodies with his own recordings of sounds, including his dog team howling and winter winds sweeping across the tundra.

The songs, which are entirely in Inuktitut, also feature Becky Han, Celina Kalluk and Riit, all Nunavut artists.

Uyarak did his recording at Aakuluk Music's Iqaluit studio, a refurbished garage insulated on the inside with caribou, muskox, seal and polar bear skins for soundproofing.

'It feels like we're right on the edge'

He said the title is a reference to "the sensitive time" Nunavut faces during the pandemic, but is also a reflection of his own dreams.

"It feels like we are right on the edge. At the same time ... if I can make a CD before I die or before the world ends, I can at least inspire someone."

The collection is also meant as a message to young Inuit to remember where they came from, Uyarak said.

"[Inuit] went through so much change with our parents and our grandparents, especially with being completely nomadic to our lifestyle now. If I could send a message to people, it would be that we go back a bit to our roots and tell each other that we can overcome any situation.

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"Today, more than ever, we need to share our love with each other."

Uyarak said he is digging into his own family history and spent "countless hours" learning stories from his late grandmother.

"I'm super Inuk, living in the modern era. I have always been proud of our ancestors, how they lived a very extreme lifestyle, but took the time to laugh at night when they settled after long hours of hunting."

Uyarak said there was a point where he stopped playing music altogether. In 2012, he lost his best friend Solomon Uyarasuk.

Uyarasuk died in police custody. While the RCMP said he hanged himself in a cell, a coroner's jury ruled his cause of death as undetermined.

Uyarasuk had introduced Uyarak to guitar.

"I didn't have any more motivation to play. I ended up getting back to it when my friends kept pushing me. I'm relearning again, I guess."

The song "Anuri," featuring Riit, was written by Uyarasuk and Uyarak dedicates it to him.

"We got through happy times and hard times and loving times. They're all necessary for life."

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship

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