Silla and Rise is a band that dares you to sit still. The infectious sounds of Nunavut throat singers Charlotte Qamaniq of Iglulik, NU, and Cynthia Pitsiulak of Kimmirut, NU, combined with the futuristic grooves of producer Rise Ashen, have packed dance floors around the world.
The Juno-nominated band’s second full-length album, Silarjuaq, which came out in October, once again bridges traditional sounds with contemporary rhythms. This time around, the trio has expanded to a quartet, bringing on collaborator and throat singer Charlotte Carleton, along with appearances by guest artists Tanya Tagaq, Deirdre Dooley, Theland Kicknosway, Risten Anine and Annie Aningmiuq.
Qamaniq takes us behind the scenes of Silla and Rise’s new track and video, “Tulukkat,” a richly layered poetic homage to her late father, Marcel Mason, that conjures the enigmatic nature of the raven.
Inuit Art Quarterly: Let’s start with the title of the song. How did “Tulukkat” come to be?
Charlotte Qamaniq: When COVID-19 hit, I watched my career fall down—one gig and performance and festival and contract after another fell like dominoes. It was a little terrifying. But I found this online Inuktitut course for first language speakers.
Inuktitut is my first language, but having lived away from my hometown for so long, away from my family and my community, I was really losing my language. I took the opportunity, and started learning some really cool words. We were learning different grammar rules and ways of pluralizing words. And in our language, we have singular, dual and three or more when we're pluralizing. Tulukkat is the plural for raven, which is tulugaq.
When we were naming the song, I wanted to name it “Tulukkat” for several reasons. In Inuit throat singing we have so many different types of songs that imitate and interpret sounds of nature, animal sounds and of our environment. They're not all that way—there are others that are just fun. Others are for competition. Some are lullabies. But I was always surprised that there was no raven song because there are ravens all over the Arctic, and they make such cool tones. For years I've been thinking we really need to come up with a raven song, but it's really hard.
I've been practicing different calls for a very long time. But I never had a set way of doing it. I would just practice sounds and know that eventually it would turn into a song. And then my niece, I named her Silarjuaq—that's actually the title of our album—was on my back as we were walking, and I was singing to her. I started trying to come up with arrangements, like a rhythm song with the sounds that I had been practicing. As I was singing to her, it just came out.
I pulled out my phone and brought that little voice memo and recorded it. Rise Ashen is our producer and the other member of Silla and Rise, and we record all of our music in his studio. We were there with Charlotte [Carleton]. I taught her how the song goes and she's so good, she just immediately got it. And that's how the song was created.
IAQ: Is this the path of collaboration that most of your songs take?
CQ: Sometimes when we get inspired, we'll create songs, and then we'll bring them into the studio. Either Rise will record us singing the song, and then he produces the beats to it, or sometimes we start singing the song, and then he simultaneously comes up with a beat when he's on his kit. Another way is for him to show us a song that he's produced and that can make something click.
Or we just completely improvise and a song emerges. There are so many different ways that we create music and they all work really well.
IAQ: How did the spoken lyrics come to be part of the track?
CQ: I actually love writing and I love poetry. But I'm just really shy to record the things that I write.
But my dad had passed away, it'll be two years in February. When we recorded the song, he had recently passed. I knew right away this was going to be the song for my father. He was born and raised in New Brunswick. I'm not sure how many generations settler Canadian he is but when I was growing up, he had done so much research on his family background and his ancestry and traced it back to Ireland. And this really piqued his interest.
He had so much knowledge about different Celtic rituals and celebrations. And he was an incredible storyteller. I grew up listening to old Celtic stories and he would always correlate them to Inuit culture. He always made sure that I knew who I was, my whole being, because he's white, my mom is Inuk.
In Inuit culture, the raven is very significant, as well as in Celtic culture. We always had this fascination of how intelligent they are; how they're all over the world; that there are so many different breeds of ravens. You can find them everywhere, and all the different sounds that they can make, they're just so interesting, and so intelligent. We shared this common interest in ravens, but also this spiritual connection to them as well. In many cultures they can be messengers between the spirit world.
I've written so many things on my phone. Often, I'll pull it out whenever I get inspired with new poetry or things that come to my mind. I kept saying, “I wanted to record some words.” But I was very hesitant. Finally, Rise said, “Okay, we're going to need to wrap up the album soon as I don't know how many more sessions we're going to have in the studio. If you're going to record any spoken words, we need to get that done.”
So I just pulled up my phone. I picked a few of my favourite lines to record, and then Rise, as the producer, decided where they were going to go.
Silla and Rise Tulukkat (still) (2021) Video 3 minCOURTESY THE ARTIST
IAQ: Now that your poetry is out in the world, do you still feel that shyness?
CQ: Yeah, I'm still shy, but I'm working towards being more open and sharing. I wanted to do something that made my heart go fast. Sometimes, the way I see it is if you really care about something, it's gonna make your heart race.
I really care about my dad, and I really care about my music. He was the biggest supporter and my number-one fan, always there in the front row. So I wanted to do something that made me nervous and made me come a little bit more out of my shell.
IAQ: The song also features bodhran player Deidre Dooley. Is that traditional Irish drum sound an acknowledgement of your dad?
CQ: My father had a bodhran hung on our wall growing up that had some really beautiful Celtic knot work painted on it. He didn't know how to play, but I was super interested in learning.
I went to an international cross-cultural festival in Poland several years back, and I met a really awesome player named John Joe Kelly who gifted me his bodhran after one of the shows. He was playing, and I was like, “I'm so sorry, but can you teach me something?” He passed it to me, and I started playing, and he was so impressed that he said, “It's your drum, you can keep it.”
I later tried to learn more on YouTube, but it's really hard. It's so much easier to learn something when it comes directly from someone and I couldn't find any bodhran lessons or players in Ottawa.
And then I was at the beach, shortly after my dad passed away, on a bike ride with my son, and I heard drumming. Deidre Dooley was playing the bodhran and her father was next to her playing a flute. I stopped, and I listened. And when they were done, I introduced myself.
We hit it off so quickly. I told her that I had had a bodhran for years and she offered to give me lessons. We would meet once a week at the beach and play. I didn't get good enough to record on the album, so I invited Deidre to collaborate with us—the Irish drumming on Silarjuaq is Deirdre. It’s super special.
IAQ: What would you say is the hardest part about learning the drum?
CQ: It’s really fast, you have to do it really quickly. When I'm throat singing, I can find the beat and stay on the beat, no problem. I can slow down; I can speed up. But for some reason that doesn't translate to my hands. It’s the same thing with a guitar. My fingers are just so uncoordinated. Yet when it comes to my throat, it’s so natural for me.
IAQ: Can you tell us about the beautiful video for “Tulukkat”?
CQ: Mike Scherling (Motion by Mike) recorded the video. The idea was to include all the elements: earth, air, water, fire.
My dad was very instrumental in my spiritual growth growing up. I come from a Christian family, but I'm not a religious person, and I really struggled a lot with spirituality. One thing that he taught me when I was very young and struggling with praying was that I don’t need to follow any rules or anybody else's customs. He said praying can be as simple as saying thank you to the sun when it comes up in the morning, and thank you when the sun goes down each night, because that's constant, and the sun keeps us alive.
That was really, really deep for me. And so whenever the sun comes up, I think of my father and I thank the sun for coming up for another day and for keeping us alive. Sunset was super important in that aspect of the video, and the lighting is gorgeous. We wanted to keep it very natural and earthy. We're on Earth right now. We wanted to be respectful of the place we're in right now. That's the best way that I can really be spiritual.
Shooting was a really fun evening where we picked a spot by the Ottawa River, and there was a little fire pit and the weather was perfect, and the trees were gorgeous. Rise brought his big boombox, we played the song over and over and Mike took different shots of us in different places. He did a super job capturing what we had envisioned.