In mid-February, the Indigenous Music Awards (IMA), presented by the Manito Ahbee Festival, which runs from May 15-19, 2019, released the full list of nominations for the 2019 edition, including artists from across Inuit Nunangat. Katajjaq (throat singing) duo PIQSIQ, comprised of sisters Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay, are nominated for Best Electronic Music Album for Altering the Timeline (2019) while Beatrice Deer is nominated for Best Music Video for the animated “Fox” as well as for Best Folk Album for her record My All To You (2018).
However, these nominations have not come without controversy. Alongside Deer, Edmonton-based Nehiyaw musican Cikwes (Connie Legrande) and her album ISKO have been included in the Best Folk Album category. Cikwes combines influences including jazz, soul, reggae and, to much contention, throat singing.
Cikwes’ use of katajjaq, which was systemically suppressed and has since been actively reclaimed across Inuit Nunangat, has drawn heavy criticism from Inuit musicians and artists alike who have expressed concerns over this blatant cultural appropriation. Posts calling for the IMA and Board of Governors to address the issue have been widely shared by musicians Kelly Fraser, Iva (Kathleen Merritt) and Polaris Prize-winner Tanya Tagaq alongside artists Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Niap and more.
On March 31, 2019, Executive Director of the Manito Ahbee Festival Lisa Meeches addressed a post on Fraser’s Facebook. “As executive director we reached [out] to a local organization which represents Inuit people in Manitoba last year to provide best practices [for] the Manito Ahbee Festival,” she wrote, noting that issues of appropriation raised should be handled by the artists themselves and not the organization. “Let’s all get along together, we owe that to the next generation. With Love and Light.”
Meeches statement was met with additional comments by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Malaya Bishop and more, who further argued for the IMA's to take concrete action and develop clear policies surrounding appropriation. In her response to Meeches, Tagaq concluded, “Love and light and actual Inuit Throat singing.”
On April 2, 2019, the IMA's released a formal statement noting “the nomination will stand for the artist in question – based on the current rules and regulations [. . .] Cikwes' nomination is in the Best Folk Album Category, and not the Best Inuit, Indigenous Language or Francophone Album Category.”
In response to the controversy, PIQSIQ have rescinded their nomination, stating on their Twitter account, “We look forward to submitting future work once our concerns of cultural appropriation are taken seriously and policies are in place to prevent it from happening again.” Fraser, Tagaq and Iva have also made statements on Facebook and Twitter that they will no longer perform at, submit work to or attend the IMA’s until the organization has revised its policies and added Inuit representation to their board.
In the meantime, we’ve rounded up seven Inuit katajjaq performers you should be listening to:
1. PIQSIQ (Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay)
Yellowknife-based Kayley Inuksuk Mackay and Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik combine ancient traditional songs with eerie new compositions as PIQSIQ.
2. Riit (Rita Claire Mike-Murphy)
Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung)-raised electro-pop artist Ritt (Rita Claire Mike-Murphy) weaves together Inuktitut with unique rhythms and traditional throat singing.
3. Celina Kalluk
Iqaluit-based performer Celina Kalluk has contributed haunting vocals to numerous works by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory including the 2016 video Timiga, nunalu sikulu (My body, the land and the ice), made with Jamie Griffiths.
4. Sila Singers (Jenna Broomfield and Malaya Bishop)
Malaya Bishop and Jenna Broomfield comprise the duo Sila Singers, who have performed widely across Canada as well as Germany.
5. Tanya Tagaq
Hailing from Iqaluktuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay), NU, Polaris Prize-winning musician and Split Tooth author Tanya Tagaq is among the leading voice in contemporary throat singing.
6. Iva (Kathleen Merritt)
Musician, artist and poet Iva (Kathleen Merritt) fuses spoken word, celtic folk and throating singing to create unique compositions.
7. Silla + Rise (Cynthia Pitsiulak and Charlotte Qamaniq)
Describing their sound as "Freaky Alien Hip-Hop," Charlotte Qamaniq and Cynthia Pitsiulak mix throat singing with beats by Rise Ashen as Silla + Rise.