The first performance was dancers. I thought, Man, I am curious to see what traditional Inuit dancing looks like. Imagine my surprise when the dancers poured into the middle of the gym and began square dancing to country folk songs. Straight up square dancing, about ten dancers varying in age range from very little kids to older adults, weaving and bouncing to fiddle music, complete with Yee-haw's punctuating each line.
When Scottish whalers first met Inuit people in the 1800s, there was a sort of cultural exchange that happened along with the usual material trade. The Inuit taught the whalers some important skills for surviving in the winter, and the whalers taught the Inuit some of their folk songs and the dancing that goes with it. As a result of these friendly interactions, stuff like Scottish folk music and square dancing have become an accepted part of Inuit traditions, and people seem to love it.
Then we were treated to performances by the Ikaluktutiak drummers, a group of talented young women who showed off their talents in singing, drumming, and dancing to short songs. There was an adorable little girl who stole the show, doing every move perfectly, holding a drum almost the same size as her. There was something truly haunting about the sound of women singing a capella, accompanied only by drums. One song had beats of four, with each beat to represent the people of the Arctic: Canada, Greenland, Russia, and Alaska. Another song involved a bird dance, with each lines punctuated by bird-like chirping sounds. I was impressed by how many songs they knew by memory.
The way that the performers explained it to us, throat singing is sort of a friendly competition held between two women, holding each other closely, with one woman leading and the other following, producing incredible rhythmic sounds from their throats until one of them can't keep up or the other breaks away laughing. Kind of like a staring contest, except throat singing requires remarkable talent and practice, compared to staring. The girls performed songs that imitated different aspects of nature, like the buzzing of mosquitos, or the barking of dogs, or the cawing of birds. The last song was my favourite. It was about a girl singing to her puppy, hoping he grows up to be the leader of his dog pack one day.
Then he put his bow away and began strumming chords on it like a mandolin, humming along. Watch out, Andrew Bird, watch out. This self-taught blind Inuk violinist just might overshadow you.