Aqpik jam immortalized in rocker’s web log

Lead singer of Trooper finds Nunavimmiut closer to “the Source”


Aqpik Jam, the cultural festival hosted by Kuujjuaq every August just when the aqpiks or cloudberries mature, ended last Friday night with a marathon evening of music.

But Kuujjuamiut say the 2004 highlight was the festival opener, which featured Trooper, Canada’s legendary rock band from the late 1970s.

The band’s visit to Kuujjuaq started off a bit rough, but their gig at the Aqpik Jam ended on a high note and everyone was like family.

“My first unpleasant duty upon arrival at the airport in Kuujjuaq had been to remind at least three of the enthusiastic, and otherwise instantly likable, committee members that our contract stipulated five hotel rooms and that ‘billeting’ the band and crew was not an acceptable option,” Trooper singer and songwriter Ra McGuire writes in his web diary posted at

“I could see the hurt look in their eyes as they repeated their heartfelt welcomes and insisted that we would be ‘treated right.’ It broke my heart to play hardball with them, but, as I suspected, hotel rooms did turn up.”

But Troopers’ adventure was just starting, McGuire continues, because, after the welcome, there was a “keystone-cops-in-slow-motion series of musical-chairs pick-up truck rides from the airport to the gig and the only two hotels in town… dragging luggage from one truck to another, swatting at the clouds of merciless mosquitoes and black flies, in hopes that someone would take the reigns and bottom-line our accommodations for the evening.”

McGuire had many warm words for a long-time Aqpik Jam volunteer and the Kativik Regional Government’s general director, Ida Saunders, who “rose heroically” to the occasion and, after getting Trooper squared away in a hotel, took the band on a tour of Kuujjuaq.

“Ida was a wonderful woman,” McGuire says.

Saunders also took the band home to meet her kids and go shopping to buy ingredients for dinner.

Trooper performed in Rankin Inlet three years ago, but Kuujjuaq was a new sight to McGuire: a “scrambled grid of virtually identical, characterless buildings.”

“As we sat in the Co-op Hotel’s spartan dining room, eating canned soup, crackers and cream cheese, Scott [Brown, another band member] and I discussed the fact that it’s not about the houses and buildings. Scott believes that the people here are fundamentally closer to ‘the Source.’ Their freedom from competitive consumerism leaves them able to live more full and connected lives. This may be one of the reasons why we like it so much up here.”

After the performance, McGuire says the band was surrounded for at least an hour by a crowd of “delightful, elf-like children” who returned again and again for autographs on a different part of their bodies or clothing.

The next morning, flying on to the band’s next stop, McGuire mused about the “great adventure in this life I lead – and an opportunity to connect with cultures and communities in a deep and moving way.”

Saunders said it was “great fun” meeting the band members and credits the success of the Aqpik Jam to the genuinely warm welcome Kuujjuaq extends to performers.

“Everybody has a good time and everyone is happy about having these visitors,” Saunders said.

“Our farewells at the airport were like those experienced by family members leaving home for a year. Hugs and hand shakes – kisses and last-minute photographs,” McGuire’s web diary says.

About 500 Kuujjuamiut turned out for the festival’s finale on Friday night, an all-night bash that started with a set by Edward Snowball and continued into the wee hours with dancing to a Bryan Adams tribute band and Ipuushin. The music started around 7:30 p.m. and didn’t end until the next morning.

Inside the cultural centre, the lower portion of the performance hall in front of the stage was filled with tables and chairs for members of the audience who wanted to dance or drink, while the upper section was reserved for non-drinkers.

No smoking is allowed in the building, but, last Friday night, beer was sold on the premises with a special permit, with 145 cases of 24 sold during the evening.

According to Alan York, who supervised 10 security officers during the show, anyone who became drunk was told to leave or was taken home by friends.

The Aqpik Jam also featured many daytime competitions, including an aqpik picking contest, golf tournament and kayak races.

But police found the festival demanding, particularly on its final night when booze was sold. Six people were taken into custody and several brawls that erupted at private house parties required police intervention.

During the festival, several drivers, including the mayor of Aupaluk and a municipal festival organizer, were also charged with impaired driving.

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