June is National Indigenous History Month. To celebrate, Spotify has teamed up with Inuk singer-songwriter and activist Susan Aglukark to curate a playlist of the music that has shaped her storied career.
Born in Churchill, Manitoba and raised in Arviat, an Inuit hamlet in what is now Nunavut, Aglukark first made a splash in the Canadian music scene in 1995 with the release of triple-platinum major label debut “This Child.” Since then, she’s won three JUNO awards and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. In May, she received the 2022 Humanitarian Award for her work with The Arctic Rose Foundation, which facilitates Indigenous-led, arts-based after school programs.
Aglukark’s Indigenous playlist features artists ranging from old-school legends like Willie Dunn and Buffy Sainte-Marie, to boundary-pushing contemporary artists like Tanya Tagaq and Jeremy Dutcher, the playlist also documents the ways in which the music of Inuit, Métis and First Nations artists has evolved over the decades.
“These are artists who have had an impact on me, people I know personally, and people with stories that are very relevant to the times that we are living in as Canadians,” Aglukark told the Star on the phone last week.
The Indigenous music that has emerged from Canada over the past half century is wide-ranging and diverse — just compare the music of Haisla hip hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids with the sprawling post-rock of the Edmonton band nêhiyawak.
However, one common element — particularly on Aglukark’s playlist — is the incorporation of traditional elements of Indigenous culture or music, whether it’s Inuit throat singing, First Nations vocal chanting or the use of traditional languages.
“It’s very important that as much of our tradition and culture and language is incorporated in our music as possible,” Aglukark said. “As Indigenous people, we are always going to be advocates for our community.”
Here are seven songs inspired by Aglukark’s playlist that are worth checking out.
Charlie Panigoniak: Makayak (1973)
Charlie Panigoniak is a legendary Inuk singer-songwriter and guitarist, who in the 70s and 80s became one of the first artists write, perform and record music in Inuktitut.
Aglukark says her musical journey began with Panigoniak when she was young: “He was just this incredible natural talent as a singer, songwriter, entertainer, comedian, just a brilliant guy that I watched all my life, from childhood until he passed away (in 2019),” she said. “He has music out there that I would have liked to share, but most is not available on streaming.”
With its pleasant vocal melody and harmonica parts, “Makayak” is a nostalgic lullaby with a distinct country flair.
“Country music played a huge role in the early years of popular music within the Indigenous community,” Aglukark says.
Shingoose: Silver River (1975)
Ojibwe singer-songwriter Curtis Jonnie was born in Winnipeg and adopted by a Mennonite family as part of the Sixties Scoop. In the early 70s, inspired by the American Indian Movement, Jonnie began performing under the moniker Shingoose — a tribute to his great grandfather.
Shingoose, who collaborated with Bruce Cockburn on the 1975 album “Native Country,” helped popularize a unique countryfolk sound that defined much of the Indigenous music during that era. Like his contemporary, the folk icon Willie Dunn, Shingoose was an activist for Indigenous people and sought to amplify their voices.
“Silver River” was written in collaboration with Duke Redbird, an Ojibwe poet, journalist and spoken word artist from the Saugeen First Nation. With its evocative lyrics and crisp fingerpicked guitar, the track is dramatic and haunting.
It wasn’t until Aglukark moved to Ontario that she was exposed to a broader range of Indigenous artists, such as the Ojibwe singer Shingoose and the folk icon Willie Dunn.
“Shingoose and Willie Dunn — these are artists I didn’t necessarily have access to when I was growing up in small town Nunavut,” Aglukark said. “It wasn’t until I moved to Ontario that I discovered all these incredible people.”
Shingoose died at the age of 74 in 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (1992)
Buffy Saint-Marie’s 13th studio album, “Coincidence and Likely Stories,” arrived in 1992 after a 16 year hiatus, during which the legendary singer and activist focused on raising her son and appeared on “Sesame Street.” The album’s penultimate track was definitive proof that she hadn’t lost her edge.
“Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” is a rousing blues-rock epic, in which Saint-Marie decries those who seek to oppress Indigenous people — from the U.S. army to the FBI to oil companies and the church. Buoyed by righteous anger and crunchy electric guitars, the track is a cathartic and searing protest anthem that hasn’t lost a shred of its relevance.
Susan Aglukark: O Siem (1995)
“O Siem, we are all family/ O Siem, we’re all the same,” Aglukark sings on the uplifting lead single to her 1995 album “This Child.”
When it arrived over a quarter century ago, Aglukark’s inspirational call for unity became something of an instant classic. The song, which includes lyrics in English and Inuktitut, reached No. 1 on the Canadian country and adult contemporary charts, and No. 3 on the pop charts — the first song by an Inuit artist to crack the top 10.
“It’s the song we never get tired of playing,” Aglukark told CBC last month. “You know, there’s even been a couple of instances where the same audience will ask for the song again, and we’ll play it live again as a band. It’s just one of those songs … I think there’s just something very universal about both the visual and the language in the song.
Florent Vollant: Apu Peikussian (2015)
Born in Labrador, Florent Vollant made his mark as a member of Kashtin, an Innu folk rock duo that gained popularity and critical acclaim in the 80s and 90s. For the past two decades, Vollant has worked as a solo artist and a mentor to Nikamu Mamuitun, a collective of emerging First Nations.
Featuring a gently strummed banjo and dreamy slide guitar “Apu Peikussian” is a gentle folk song written by an artist with a clear affinity for a catchy melody.
Jeremy Dutcher: Sakomawit (2018)
A classically-trained tenor, pianist and composer from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Jeremy Dutcher won the Polaris Music Prize in 2018 for his masterful debut album “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa,” which was inspired by a century-old collection of wax cylinder recordings of Wolastoqiyik people singing their traditional songs.
“Sakomawit” is a stirring and operatic track, in which Dutcher’s singular voice builds towards a spin-tingling climax.
Riit: ataataga (2019)
Born Rita Claire Mike-Murphy, Riit is an Inuk artist from Pangnirtung, Nunavut. Her 2019 album “ataataga,” which was nominated for a JUNO and made the 2020 Polaris Prize longlist, seamlessly combines sleek electropop with traditional Inuit throat singing.
Singing softly in Inuktitut on the album’s title track, one can even hear similarities to Aglukark’s delivery on “O Siem.”
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