Throat singers perform for ambassadors, collaborate with Sami rapper on 'whirlwind' European tour

Kathleen Merritt and Charlotte Qamaniq performed in four countries in eight days after invitation to sing at The Hague.

8-day adventure springs from invitation to sing at inukshuk unveiling ceremony in The Hague

Charlotte Qamaniq, left, and Kathleen Merritt acted as cultural ambassadors for Nunavut on a whirlwind tour of Europe earlier this month. (Submitted by Charlotte Qamaniq)

It started as an invitation to throat sing in The Hague.

The Canadian government had gifted the Netherlands a three-and-a-half metre inukshuk carving for the International Criminal Court, and wanted to send a pair of throat singers for the unveiling ceremony.

"We agreed to do the performance," said Kathleen Merritt, who got back to Canada with her throat singing partner, Charlotte Qamaniq, on March 14.

But the trip quickly grew much bigger than that.

"They ended up lining up a tour for us with all of the Canadian embassies in three other countries," said Merritt.

After their performance in The Hague, Merritt and Qamaniq travelled to Geneva to perform a private house concert for International Women's Day. Then, they went to Norway for more performances as part of that country's annual Riddu Riddu Sami culture and music festival. Finally, the pair jetsetted to Paris, where they performed for UNESCO.

The whole trip required 14 flights over a period of 10 days, according to Merritt.

"It was a whirlwind of experiences," she said.

"Each place was different, but yeah, it was really nice."

Each performance had its own unique vibe, considering the audiences varied so much.

In The Hague, the performance was very official, held in a government building. Merritt said singing for the ambassadors for International Women's Day was "very intimate" because it was just a small house concert followed by dinner with "very cool women from around the world."

Charlotte Qamaniq and Kathleen Merritt sing at the unveiling ceremony in The Hague. The inukshuk is a gift from the Canadian government to the Netherlands, carved by Heather Carroll, a sculptor with Inuit roots in Labrador. (Submitted by Kathleen Merritt)

Things got more relaxed in Norway, as the pair had the chance to perform at an event tied to this summer's Riddu Riddu Festival.

"We really enjoyed that performance because unlike the other ones, we had a full show — an hour-long show — and we got to collaborate with a Sami rapper," she said.

Finally, in Paris, Merritt and Qamaniq had the chance to perform for people who work with Indigenous groups around the world as part of UNESCO.

Despite these varied types of shows, one thing remained constant.

"Everywhere we went, we were really well received," said Merritt.

"We had fun with the audience, and getting them to try some sounds and being able to share with them what life in Nunavut is like, and act as cultural ambassadors — that was a real privilege."

'Do what you love'

The pair, who have been performing together for about 10 years, brought a number of different performing outfits that represent not only each region of Nunavut, but the women in their own families.

Kathleen Merritt, left, and Charlotte Qamaniq during their European tour. (Submitted by Kathleen Merritt)

"For Charlotte and I, it was important to celebrate the resilience of our people and our culture and represent Inuit, so we decided to wear outfits made by our grandmothers," said Merritt.

Merritt said she and Qamaniq are grateful for the opportunity to share their culture and songs with people around the world. She also offered a word of advice to any other Nunavut or Inuit youth who dream of these types of adventures.

"It's important to do what you love, whatever it is, and … do it very honestly," she said.

"Don't give up. Keep working very hard and be the best version of yourself — be the best ambassador you can be."