Nova Scotia

North meets East in new album that pairs throat singing with Celtic fiddle

With ties to the East and the North, Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merritt's debut album features traditional throat singing and Celtic-inspired fiddle.

Debut album came after Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merritt asked herself, 'Who am I?'

Throat singing is adaptable to many kinds of music, says Kathleen Merritt, because it can often serve as the percussion in a song. (Claire Harvey/Music Gallery)

An Inuk-Cape Breton singer in Rankin Inlet is celebrating her mixed heritage in her debut album Ice, Lines & Sealskin.

Kathleen Merritt's unique sound brings together traditional throat singing with Celtic-influenced fiddle.

"I often hear, 'This is the first time I've ever heard throat singing to Celtic music,'" says Merritt, whose mother is from Nunavut and father is from Nova Scotia.

They met when her father moved North from Victoria Mines in Cape Breton as a so-called "Bay Boy" to work for the Hudson's Bay Company. He was posted in Coral Harbour, where Merritt's mother is from.

"A lot of us have one parent that's from the East and one who is from the North," says Merritt, who grew up in Rankin Inlet but spent summers in Cape Breton as a child.

Not always proud

Merritt, 28, says she wasn't always proud of her background.

"Sometimes I would rather not identify with being an Inuk, growing up," she says.

"There's just so much negative stuff in the news about Inuit people, but what often isn't shown is the other side of the story, that we have such a beautiful and strong culture," says Merritt, whose Inuktitut name is Ivaluarjuk.  

She learned that history in her late teens while studying at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a college program for Inuit youth in Ottawa.

"I learned how strong and resilient our people are," she says. Classmates in the program taught her to throat sing.

Cape Breton roots

"Over the years I started to kind of question, who am I, as a person, in full?" she says.

She became more curious about her father's Cape Breton roots, and used music to connect with that side of herself.

In Taannisirutik, or A Song to Dance To, Merritt throat sings to a Cape Breton reel performed by Gina Burgess, a violinist with the Halifax-based jazz band Gypsophilia.

"Throat singing works really well with all kinds of music, because it's so rhythmic and can often play the percussion in a song," says Merritt.

"I think that one really shows the sound between both my Inuit and Cape Breton relations."


Allison Devereaux is radio producer and host in London, Ont. She's been with CBC News for a decade, reporting from Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Winnipeg and Halifax.