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Trade-offs’ frontman Joshua Qaumariaq brings a little Northern soul to Ottawa

By Gloria Song on June 17, 2014

The voice that comes out of Trade-offs’ frontman Joshua Qaumariaq is startling for anyone who hears him sing for the first time. Qaumariaq is a young Inuk man born and raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s cold capital city, but he has the voice of an aged blues man from the deep south who has seen too many hot sleepless nights. It particularly suits the Trade-offs’ blues/soul sound that has enthralled Nunavummiut for years. Last year the Trade-offs came out on top and represented Nunavut for CBC Music’s Searchlight contest for Canada’s best new artist. In the two years the band has been around, they have been an integral part of the Iqaluit music scene.

I ask Qaumariaq over the phone about his thoughts on the Northern music scene and being a Northern musician. “It’s starting to explode with so many young but experienced folks,” he observes. “They’re starting to get noticed, and it’s pretty awesome to see. Bands from here [Iqaluit], and Arviat’s pretty big for music right now too. It’s awesome right now.”

Qaumariaq began his music career when he first picked up the guitar in high school and kept practicing. He was eventually joined by other musicians until the Trade-offs were formed in 2012, and their first EP Red was released that year. The Trade-offs describe themselves as a modern Arctic soul band, and it’s interesting to see them highlight the unexpected commonalities between living in the North, often described as the newest wild frontier, and the blues music of the deep South. Of course, for Nunavummiut, everywhere below the Arctic circle is considered to be “down south”.

Qaumariaq is not only a musician; he also works for the TV comedy show Qanurli as part of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. I ask him if he ever finds the activities crossing over. “Yeah, all the time,” he replies. “Part of my job there is to come up with music for the show, so it definitely carries over. It works for me.”

The Trade-offs have played in Toronto before, but this will be the first time that their music will be performed in Ottawa. Qaumariaq will be opening as a solo act for the Jerry Cans, another Iqaluit rock band whose shows always end up being a reunion party for Northerners living in Ottawa. With two of the biggest Arctic bands represented on stage at one show, the Byward Market will be transformed into a Little Nunavut for one night.

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View the Trade-offs’ “Brighten Up” official video:


Joshua Qaumariaq of the Trade-offs will be opening for the Jerry Cans on June 20, at Zaphod Beeblebrox (27 York Street). Doors open at 10PM. Tickets are $10.