Fiddler on fire

Colin Adjun is the “fiddler of the Arctic,” and the pride of Kugluktuk


OTTAWA — Colin Adjun takes up his fiddle and the crowd lights up. The “fiddler of the Arctic,” as he’s known, Adjun is the pride of Kugluktuk and one of the main entertainers at the Inuit Tapiriiksat Kanatami gala in Ottawa this night.

He interprets old favourites and his own compositions with the same seamless skill — and it’s not long before the dance floor fills up.

Adjun, 57, showed promise as a musician at a young age. He says he was born “with music in my head” and first learned to play when he was a young boy living out on the land.

“My two uncles [Charlie Avakana and John Kuneyuk] played the fiddle, and they taught me when we were living in the outpost camp,” Adjun says.

He recalls fondly how the family would gather on Saturday nights around a big, old radio and listen to a country music broadcast from Edmonton.

“That’s how I learned the tunes,” Adjun says. “Once you have the tune in your head, you remember it.”

By the age of 12, he was already playing at square dances. He admits, however, that it took a while for him to feel comfortable performing in front of large groups. “When I started, I was really shaky,” Adjun says.

Since those early days, Adjun has overcome his stage fright, performing with confidence and style. Over the years, he’s played at many community celebrations, special events and music festivals from coast to coast.

As a fiddler and performer, Adjun is easily on par with the new stars of Canadian fiddle music. But despite the growing fame of fiddlers from Cape Breton, and the increasing popularity of fiddle music in general, Adjun isn’t interested in turning professional.

“I’m not that kind of person. I don’t think I’d want to do it as a living,” said Adjun, who has been a territorial wildlife officer for more than 20 years.

He has, however, made three recordings of his fiddle music, which are widely played on northern radio shows.

Adjun’s latest CD, produced in 1995, featured original compositions including the dreamy “Beluga Waters,” the lively “Gustin’s Reel” for his son and “When you look into my eyes,” which he wrote for his wife, Mavis Elias.

Adjun has also written a tune called the “Politicians’ Jig” which he describes as fast, and, no doubt, playful.

While he doesn’t read music, Adjun says he can learn a new melody merely by listening to it, and he knows hundreds of different ones. Sometimes when he is playing with fellow fiddlers, tunes he thought he’d forgotten come back into his head.

Like the tunes he plays, each of Adjun’s fiddles tells a story. When he and his family went to the DEW-line site at Hall Beach in 1958, Adjun met a man with a fiddle to sell.

“I really wanted that fiddle. He wanted $15 for it, so I sold my sealskin jacket. It was a fancy jacket made by my mother,” Adjun says. “But I badly wanted that fiddle.”

Adjun laughs as he tells the story. He now owns four fiddles.

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