'They brought me back to life': Elisapie draws musical inspiration from classic Indigenous acts

When Inuk musician Elisapie sunk into a darkness, she found her way back by listening to Indigenous singers from the 1960s and '70s. She honours those voices on her new album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl.
Elisapie's new album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, will be released in September.

This story was originally published May 13, 2018

After Inuk singer Elisapie had her second child, she tried to get back to work on a new album. But combining the expectations of being a musician with the responsibilities of motherhood, it soon became overwhelming and she sank into a deep darkness.

"It evoked something very strong, very deep," she said. "I don't like to call it depression but it finally took me two years to try to write songs and then it would just get too heavy… I just couldn't be there anymore."

Elisapie, who is from Salluit in northern Quebec but now lives in Montreal, struggled to stay afloat. To try and find inspiration, she started listening to Inuk artists from the 1960s and '70s. Artists like her uncle's band Sugluk, as well as northern legends Willie Thrasher, Willie Dunn and Willy Mitchell.

'Back to the surface'

"Instead of going to a psychologist, well, I just kind of got obsessed with this sound, these people and they brought me back to life and back to the surface so I could write songs again."

Elisapie honours those voices and songs on her new album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl.

One of the songs she covers is the Willie Thrasher song, Wolves Don't Live by the Rules, but with her own twist. While Thrasher's version is a heavy rock song, Elisapie's version is slower and softer.

As a way to further honour Inuit history, the video for the song is made up of archival footage of when Inuit still lived on the land. At the Avataq Cultural Institute in Montreal, she found film footage of Inuit children smiling in classrooms, playing in the snow and adults going off to hunt in boats and socializing.

"When I found these images I just cried," she said. "Because not long ago Inuit stopped living in the igloo. In the '50s we were still in the igloos. My mother was born in the igloo."

Elisapie said that she wanted to show people how close Inuit still are to the land, that they are still surviving and still smiling.

"There is beauty and excitement but yet you can still see they're Inuit and they are meant to be out on the land."

An image taken from Elisapie's new video, Wolves Don't Live by the Rules. (Facebook)