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Photo of Susan Aglukark. Artistic treatment by Inuit artist Heather Campbell. Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Concert Review: Susan Aglukark with the NAC Orchestra

By Joyce MacPhee on October 15, 2019

Susan Aglukark appeared to great acclaim in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre on September 20th accompanied by the NAC Orchestra.

Aglukark has received many honours, including three Juno Awards, an Order of Canada, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and an honorary doctorate from the University of Lethbridge. This concert was a shining moment in Aglukark’s stellar career, which began with the launch of her first album, Dreams for You, in 1990. She has released six studio albums since then.

Her music and activism were showcased to good effect with the accompaniment of the NAC Orchestra, brilliantly conducted by Mélanie Léonard, in a bilingual (English-Inuktitut) multimedia performance. Aglukark shared her uplifting songs and stories reflecting Inuit life while music videos, and historical documentaries and re-enactments added visual appeal.

Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Aglukark was dressed elegantly in a simple black jacket paired with a flowing black skirt and high-heeled boots. A slight figure fronting a large orchestra and her own five-piece band, Aglukark held her own with grace and dignity. She exuded a sense of strength and pride throughout the evening. The grand musical accompaniment amplified her music rather than overwhelming it.

As well as music videos of her songs, some beautiful historical re-enactments of Inuit on the land played on a video screen behind her. A short documentary about the High Arctic Exiles, a group of Inuit who were forced to live in exceedingly harsh conditions in Canada’s most northerly settlements in the 1950s, was also screened. Another video displayed photos of Aglukark’s relatives on both sides of her family going back generations. Aglukark’s goddaughter Mikka Komaksiutiksak also joined her onstage to perform what she described as “world-class throat singing.”

Aglukark emphasized the importance of elders and their stories, and discussed the positive role of art in the indigenous reconciliation process. “We talk about reconciliation but before this there must be healing and there is a lot of great healing happening now in our indigenous communities,” she noted. “We can turn those stories into art—and art heals.” Towards the end of the evening she donned a traditional beaded tunic that she made with the help of her mother.

Photo of Susan Aglukark. Artistic treatment by Inuit artist Heather Campbell. Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

“We talk about reconciliation but before this there must be healing… We can turn those stories into art—and art heals.”

During her performance, Aglukark played a variety of songs from throughout her career including hits like the celebratory songs “O Siem” and “Hina Na Ho” as well as “Shamaya,” a song about a young hunter coming of age. She constantly marvels at the beauty of the Inuktitut language and appreciates its percussiveness. Along with her producer Chad Irschick, Aglukark has created a new musical form called “jazzitut.” It is similar to jazz scat singing (wordless vocalizations) but with Inuktitut sounds and phrases. To show the audience an example of jazzitut, she performed a song from an upcoming album.

One of the many Inuit in attendance among the capacity crowd was Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization. I look forward to more memorable moments with Aglukark in concert as she continues to share her music and messages of hope and healing.

The opening act was Riit (Rita-Claire Mike-Murphy), a successful young Inuit musician who blends throat singing with electronic dance music. Riit was accompanied by throat singer Alexia Galloway-Alainga and DJ Peggy Hogan. Aglukark also performed on Sept. 21 and 22 with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in concerts designed to take children on “a musical journey around the North.” She was joined onstage by Silla (throat singers Cynthia Pitsiulak and Charlotte Qamaniq) during those performances.

You can learn more about Susan Aglukark at her website: