Inuk musician Elisapie Isaac explores the music of her childhood reimagined in her native language.
On Sept. 15, Inuk singer-songwriter and filmmaker Elisapie Isaac released her latest album: Inuktitut, with 10 songs from her childhood covered in her language of Inuktitut. Each one of the songs on the album has the memory of a time in her life attached to it.
Growing up in Salluit, the second northernmost Inuit community in Quebec, Isaac’s uncle—a lead singer in the Canadian rock band —had a heavy influence on the music of her childhood. This album is filled with her uncle’s classic rock influences like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Metallica.
The album has the undertones and the melodies of the original classics, but in Inuktitut, they bring out a completely different emotion. And, for a non-Inuktitut speaker, this album is a perfect introduction to Inuktitut music.
It can be hard to branch out to music in languages that we do not understand but with this album—even if you do not speak Inuktitut—you are moved by Isaac’s powerful use of emotion. Having the undertones of the originals, the songs feel even more potent. Mixing lyrics and throat singing in the background of the “Isumagijunnaitaungituq (The Unforgiven),” the song takes an even more somber tone than the already morose original.
Her mother had said this when she first heard The Unforgiven cover: “I think if your stepdad was alive, he would have thought that you wrote the song for him.” That comment meant a lot to Elisapie since her 72-year-old Inuk mother was now able to truly connect to an already poignant song in her community—all thanks to the translated lyrics. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she said, “The band’s music allowed us to delve into the darkness of our broken souls and feel good in there. It felt like we were being told it’s okay to be sad.”
Although this is not her first time producing powerful works. She had the chance to interview Metallica at 15 for her local radio station, and from there wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Moving from Salluit in 1999 to take communications at John Abbott College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. She then went on to make a short documentary, “If the Weather Permits,”, in 2003 on the life of the nomadic Inuit in Nunavik dealing with the confines of settled life. Her film won the Rigoberta Menchu Prize at the Montreal First People’s Festival in 2003. Recently in 2023, she received an honorary degree from Concordia University.
Isaac will be touring Quebec, the US, France and the rest of Canada till the end of 2024 so there will be many occasions to see her perform live. Although all her shows in and around Montreal are sold out, you can still grab tickets for her concert in Quebec City at the Grand Théâtre de Quebec on Dec. 20, 2023.