Unreserved

Throat singing club: 'It gives you a sense of where you come from'

When Elizabeth Ryan heard girls throat singing on the playground at Nakasuk Elementary School she knew there was an opportunity to build on their skills and teach more students the Inuit vocal art.
Elizabeth Ryan (far left) with members of the throat singing club. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)
Listen5:31

When Elizabeth Ryan heard girls throat singing on the playground at Nakasuk Elementary School she knew there was an opportunity to build on their skills and teach more students the Inuit vocal art.

Ryan, who is Inuk and a teacher at the Iqaluit school, started an after school throat singing club. And she is working to make sure the importance of throat singing isn't forgotten.

Traditionally, Inuit throat singing was done by two women, explained Ryan. "Back then, when the men went out hunting, the women stayed behind and tended the camp. And to pass time they would throat sing."

The deep guttural sounds are sung between a pair as a "friendly competition," explained Ryan. "When you're throat singing, you're trying to outdo your partner. And whoever starts laughing is the loser because they stopped first."  

Throat singing was almost lost as a result of colonization, said Ryan. It was banned by Christian missionaries.

"Throat singing and drumming, dancing were considered the devil's work by the missionaries," said Ryan. "I've heard stories that it went underground."  

It wasn't until Ryan was in her 20s that she started to learn the vocal art form herself. "When I was growing up, throat singing wasn't as prevalent as it is today," recalled Ryan. Throat singing started to make a resurgence in the 1980s.

"Now it's making a really big comeback."  

'It gives you a sense of where you come from, who you are'

Gina Veevee, 10-years-old, has been in the throat singing club since she was in Grade 1. Both of Veevee's older sisters throat sing, she said. "You have to go deep in your voice," described Veevee.

Veevee and her singing partner Tessa Armstrong, also 10-years-old, break into laughter as they sing with each other.

"I love throat singing," said Armstrong.

Tessa Armstrong (left) and Gina Veevee (far right) are a part of the throat-singing club at the Nakasuk Elementary School. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

Throat singing is integral to Inuit identity, explained Ryan. And that's something she hopes students in the after school club don't forget. The throat singing club is now in its fourth year.

"It gives you a sense of where you come from, who you are," said Ryan.