A covers album that explores "a whole other world"
Inuktitut by Elisapie
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Inuktitut is Québécoise Elisapie’s fourth solo album

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Elisapie (Leeor Wild photo)


Covers album explores “a whole other world”

The 10 songs on Elisapie’s new album are profound reinterpretations of the hits she listened and danced to growing up in the remote Inuk community of Salluit in Northern Quebec.

Calling the collection “an emotional autobiography”, the Québécoise singer chose each track to evoke memories of the joys, struggles and dramatic changes that faced her Inuit community over the past half century and longer. The songs – radio classics from the late 60s to the 90s – are sung in Inuktitut, the Inuit language that surrounded her and gives the album its name.

Elisapie goes beyond simple translation. She has reshaped the music to make its sound and words relevant to her Inuit community – from the older generation who survived residential schools to the young people who saw too many of their peers commit suicide. At times those suicide rates have been 10 to 40 times higher than in the rest of Canada.

“We lost so many cousins, too many of them,” she told CBC TV’s Ian Hanomansing last week. “At one point when it’s just too much…sometimes you don’t even cry anymore.” However, tears were essential. “It was only when I started crying that I knew I’d keep the song for the album,” she told the Montreal Gazette’s Brendan Kelly.

“The ones that I didn’t cry to, which could have been very cool versions, they didn’t make it because there wasn’t enough emotion,” she said. “I mean, anyone can do a covers album. If I don’t feel enough, I’m not going to be able to interpret these huge songs. The more emotion there was behind the song, the more I was like, ‘OK, we’ve got something.’ ”

Jogging emotional memory

That emotional seed launched the project. An award-winning musician and filmmaker for almost 20 years, Elisapie had always wanted to make a covers album. During the pandemic she took up jogging and found herself crying to familiar music under the headphones.

“I started running and then somehow…these old songs that I used to think were fun memories started being a little bit more on the emotional side,” she told Hanomansing. “… Something was stirring…why am I crying to an ABBA song?”

The work of translating answered the question. It added another dimension of memory and meaning when she considered Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. “This is a song we would put on often,” she told CBC Radio q host Tom Power. “…And then I realize that this song was really about young kids trying to deal with the loss of a cousin who committed suicide.”

“So I started feeling those emotions again and I felt like they’ve been stuck in my body for so long. I didn’t even know they were still there. So it became a whole new thing when I translated them. I realized that they really meant something for all of us.”

“What I am trying to bring back with these songs is my childhood,” she told the Globe and Mail’s Brad Wheeler. “…The sound and energy there was, and also the sadness I felt. And it’s not just about the songs. It’s a whole other world.”

Building new songs from the old

If you’re familiar with any of the original songs you’ll be impressed that Elisapie’s interpretations retain their essence while placing them in an entirely different context. The intonations in Inuktitut are intimate – in keeping with Elisapie’s sensitive and measured vocals. The creative arrangements crafted by her and producer/arranger Joe Grass are brilliant and varied. The music is strong and sublime marshalling a surprising array of sounds and instruments. Traditional drumming and throat singing find a comfortable niche in the clear and organic sound.

If you don’t know the songs, they stand on their own as beautiful compositions. And it doesn’t matter that we don’t understand the language – the music is more than enough. Another way to experience it is to watch the videos made for seven of the album’s tracks.

Inuktitut is remarkable – a moving musical document capturing a critical social and cultural moment for the generations of Inuit who lived through it. CBC Radio q host Tom Power says it best: “A great artist, through their reinterpretation, can bring things to the songs that you never thought of before… and this album does that like I’ve never heard any other.”

“My most personal album”

Despite having authored all the songs for her previous three albums, Elisapie says Inuktitut holds a place of its own.

“I think this is my most personal album…it became this huge journey where I kind of went back home…I felt I found some new sources, new places to inspire from. I made peace with myself. It’s taught me to be even more me in what I do.

“I want people to see beauty …and beauty is not always ‘let’s dance’…beauty is also crying and dancing at the same time.”

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A screen shot from last week’s CBC TV interview

Album Tracklist

The Inuk titles are followed by the English song titles and original artists

  1. Isumagijunnaitaungituq
    (The Unforgiven) Metallica 1990
  2. Sinnatuumait
    (Dreams) Fleetwood Mac 1977
  3. Taimangalimaaq
    (Time After Time) Cyndi Lauper 1983
  4. Qimatsilunga
    (I Want to Break Free) Queen 1983
  5. Qaisimalaurittuq (feat. The Westerlies)
    (Wish You Were Here) Pink Floyd 1975
  6. Californiamut
    (Going to California) Led Zeppelin 1971
  7. Uummati Attanarsimat
    (Heart of Glass) Blondie 1979
  8. Inuuniaravit
    (Born to Be Alive) Patrick Hernandez 1979
  9. Taimaa Qimatsiniungimat
    (Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye) Leonard Cohen 1967
  10. Qimmijuat
    (Wild Horses) Rolling Stones 1970
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06 October 2023


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