NUPOP concert highlights week of music development workshops

Inuit recording artists get chance to celebrate new music, share their knowledge

Angela Amarualik shown here in a 2019 file photo, is one of the artists who will perform at the NUPOP concert in Iqaluit on Oct. 1. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Andrea Sakiyama Kennedy

Some of Nunavut’s top recording artists will take the stage in Iqaluit on Oct. 1 at the NUPOP concert, capping a week of events organized and hosted by Nunavut-based record label Hitmakerz.

The all-ages concert, featuring performers like Joey Nowyuk, Angela Amarualik and Shauna Seeteenak, is being held at the Aqsarniit Hotel starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online and also at the door.

In the days leading up to the concert, musical artists such as Christian Tagoona, Qattuu and Chris Birkett will lead artist development workshops on topics ranging from hip-hop to songwriting.

It culminates in a music production workshop being led by Hitmakerz founder and CEO Thor Simonsen, and rapper Hyper-T.

All workshops are free to attend, and will take place at Qaggiavuut, the performing arts space in Building 411 in Iqaluit.

Meanwhile on Sept. 30, Simonsen along with a few of the featured artists will be at the Black Heart Café to hold auditions and meet local musicians.

Thor Simonsen, CEO of Nunavut-based Hitmakerz, has organized a week devoted to music development and performance by Inuit artists. (Photo courtesy of Thor Simonsen)

“Talent can be developed, skills can be taught,” Simonsen said in an interview, when asked what he looks for when scouting new talent. “What we care a lot about is attitude and drive.

“We want to work with artists who, first of all, are nice to work with, but also artists who have something to say, and artists who bring a good energy and who are sincere about wanting to do art and making music.”

With well-known recording artists like Jeremy Dutcher, Tanya Taggaq and The Halluci Nation raising awareness in the south and globally of the depth of talent that exists in Inuit Nunangat, Simonsen is optimistic but notes that trends can shift.

“I tell our artists this all the time, that this is the best time ever to be an Indigenous artist because there is so much political support, there’s so much global interest, and I think that that will continue. But it’s not a guarantee that it will continue.”

Hitmakerz is a full-service record label and social enterprise — meaning it focuses on purpose over profit — with studios in Iqaluit and Ottawa. Its goal is to create financially viable careers in the arts for Inuit and Indigenous artists through music, media and education.

In a blog post in early 2020, Simonsen called on Nunavut government and economic development agencies to capitalize on the momentum built by Taggaq and others.

He urged them to consider formalizing music development strategies as has been done in cities like Ottawa and Toronto to foster the growth of a sustainable Nunavut arts community.

Simonsen said he and his team are doing their part to build an ecosystem of services and support around Inuit artists by launching fan-based events like NUPOP, recording and releasing music artist compilations like Ajungi, and bringing artists together to meet and collaborate at events like the Hitmakerz Compound.

He said his focus is on fostering sustainability by educating and nurturing Inuit artists to be successful “cultural entrepreneurs,” and by promoting Inuit talent.

“Our version of success is for our artists to make enough money to continue to make art,” said Simonsen. “All of the awards and accolades is the gravy on top”


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