The Melody of Inuktitut

September 26, 2016

Normally when you think of grand arias sung in operas, you think Italian, French, German, or other European languages. Inuktitut rarely comes to mind. But singing classical arias in Inuktitut is exactly what Nunatsiavut’s Karrie Obed and Deantha Edmunds do. The pair are carrying on the tradition first brought to Labrador by Moravian missionaries hundreds of years ago. Across the last two centuries, Inuit musicians have made that tradition their own. To hear Obed and Edmunds sing is an unforgettable experience.

Obed has been an active member of the Moravian Church in his home community of Nain, Nunatsiavut for most of his life. He was inspired by his father to take up music, which turned into a lifelong passion. Edmunds grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Loving music for as far back as she can remember, she remembers her father singing songs in Inuktitut he learned growing up in Hopedale, Nunatsiavut.

“This is really near and dear to my heart, these Inuktitut arias,” says Edmunds. “Learning the art of singing in Inuktitut and learning these Moravian arias for the CD and for the tour connected me to my history, my family, my ancestry, and my love for music. There’s something that just came full circle for me, both personally and as well as professionally.”

The musical tradition holds a very special place in Nunatsiavut. It is something that is both shared and personal. It is present at community gatherings, and celebrations.

“Up here in Nain it’s very musical. There’s a lot of different bands playing all different kinds of music,” explains Obed. “Music’s been always going on for years and years in Nain. It is part of the culture, part of the way of life, and not just Nain but all of Nunatsiavut.”

Last fall, Obed and Edmunds released Pillorikput Inuit: Inuktitut Arias for all Seasons, a CD of repertoire that has been sung in Nunatsiavut for more than two centuries. Soon after its release, it garnered a 2015 ECMA Nomination in the category of Aboriginal Artist of the year. For Edmunds, performing this music with Obed in her father’s childhood church in Hopedale was a peak life experience.

“That was incredible for me, I really felt like I was vibrating on a higher level at that church just thinking about my family, my ancestors, the music, the prayers. I was so full of gratitude for everything that had lead me to that spot,” explains Edmunds with reverence , “I was so excited and so humbled at the same time; it really fed my soul to stand in that church and share that music.“

Obed, who unlike Edmunds is not professionally trained, says he does not consider himself a professional musician. However, his humility cannot hide his beautiful tenor. When he sings, everyone listens.

“Karrie is a wonderful singer and a true gentleman,” says Edmunds of her singing partner. “He knows his music so well, and he’s so familiar with it growing up and being a part of the church in Nain, I learned a lot from him in terms of the style; he definitely helped me with my Inuktitut as well. It’s easy to get the sense of his respect for the church and this music in his approach as he sings it.”

Mark Turner has been working with Obed for the last four years. The two have released a CD together of trumpet music and Moravian hymns sung in Inuktitut called Imgiguset | Trumpet Hymns. Turner says that he is constantly blown away by Obed’s commitment and abilities.

“There’s a part of the ability that you’re just born with, and he’s born with it, and that shapes part of what he does,” says Turner, “So I think with Karrie, it’s a really special combination of having this really strong natural talent, a really interesting perspective on music, and a unique set of experiences around music.”

Obed and Edmunds will be performing selections from the CD Pillorikput Inuit in St. John’s as part of the katingavik inuit arts festival in conjunction with the 2016 Inuit Studies Conference. For the October 8th concert (7:00 pm at The Kirk, 76 Queen’s Road), they will be joined by Memorial University’s Chamber Choir and Chamber Orchestra. A cameo appearance by the Nain Brass Band rounds out the concert. Obed and Edmunds are excited at the prospect of performing in Labrador Inuktitut for such a large and diverse audience of Inuit from around the world.

“Inuktitut has always been a part of our life in the church and the community and it’s good to know that Inuktitut voices are being heard away from Nain,” says Obed, “I don’t mind performing in front of people with different voices and dialects, I don’t mind at all, I’m looking forward to this!”

Karrie Obed, this time in collaboration with Nain’s Joan Dicker, will also be performing as part of the Nunatsiavut Jam happening from 12-2 PM at the Rocket Room (272 Water Street) on Sunday October 9th.