Almost 40 percent of Canada can be described as Arctic or subarctic, yet those vast tracts of land are home to less than one percent of our population.
Most of us will never see the midnight sun, paddle the vast lakes of the North, or see snow geese on their nests. But this week we will be able to experience some of the sights and sounds of that terrain, thanks to From the North, a touring program headlined by Quantum Tangle.
It’s a diverse bill, encompassing both dance and music in forms both modern and traditional. But if anything unites the tour’s artists, it’s their love of what surrounds them every day.
“Our natural environment plays such a huge role in our lives,” explains Quantum Tangle singer Tiffany Ayalik, reached with her musical partner Greyson Gritt at an Ottawa tour stop. “It’s extreme warmth, extreme cold, extreme beauty. The weather and the landscape are just so upfront and inescapable that I think a lot of us are very inspired by the land that we come from.”
The Yellowknife duo’s sonic environment includes computerized beats, in addition to Gritt’s acoustic guitar and Ayalik’s electronically looped throat singing. But even when the two venture into the multimedia realm, the land still plays a starring role.
“One piece that we’re performing is called ‘Igluvut’,” Ayalik says. “It’s sort of a love song to the igloo and all of the amazing things that it represents, and how this fascinating, ingenious piece of architecture has been protecting and housing Inuit for thousands of years. And there’s a beautiful film that we project behind us while we sing that was created by my sister and my mom. It shows everyone in my family all joining in and creating this igloo out on the lake.…So that’s a really beautiful moment for us, because we’re singing about family.”
Life in the Arctic is not always idyllic; as has been well reported, a suicide epidemic is sweeping through northern youth. A solution, so far, has been hard to come by—but both Ayalik and Gritt believe that it’s possible to find strength by looking back while moving forward. That’s what inspired “Amautalik”: the text/sound piece is based on a traditional legend about a forest giantess who imprisoned wayward children in an antler cage on her back. It’s also a powerful metaphor for the prisons of poverty, addiction, and despair.
“‘Amautalik’ is a way to remind young ones that there are things up in the woods that can be scary,” Gritt says. “A lot of these things have taken on even more metaphorical meaning, especially after residential schools and the generational trauma that has run through all of our families.”
But isn’t that just like the Arctic? The winter darkness is real, but it’s balanced by the perpetual light of family and lore.
From the North is at the Cultch on Friday and Saturday (November 10 and 11).