Qilaut, promoting Inuktut through songs | Polarjournal
Organized by the Government of Nunavut, the Qilaut contest aims to promote the Inuktut language. Since its creation, over 80 songs have been recorded and broadcast. Image: Government of Nunavut

Every year, Nunavut organizes a competition for songwriters. With one main rule: lyrics must be in Inuktut. A way to promote Nunavut Indigenous languages while showcasing local artists. For some, the competition can even be a real stepping stone to a musical career.

On November 16, the Government of Nunavut officially launched the call for entries for its ninth annual songwriting competition, Qilaut.

Initiated in 2015 by the Nunavut Department of Culture and Heritage, the competition aims to celebrate the Inuktut music scene while promoting the use of the territory’s dialects. Each year, a theme is imposed. This year, it will be Naglingniq (love). “This contest aims to celebrate our vibrant music scene and stimulate the creation of original music in Inuktut,” says the contest entry message.

The purpose is clear: to strengthen the use of Inuktut, a collective name for Inuit languages that encompasses the Inuktitut (spoken in most of Nunavut) and the Inuinnaqtun, mainly spoken in the communities of Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk. Promoting the language means maintaining and spreading the culture throughout Nunavut’s communities: “Speak it with your family and friends, and pass on your language skills to your children, your loved ones and your colleagues. Every time we use Inuktut, we contribute to keeping our language and culture strong. The survival of our language is essential to our survival as Inuit,” said Pamela Gross, Deputy Premier of Nunavut, earlier this year.

The competition takes its name directly from the qilaut, a drum used by the Inuit. Traditionally, the instrument consisted of a caribou skin stretched over a circular frame and fitted with a handle. Here, Pakak Innuksuk, actor and qilaut master. Image: Qaggiavuut / YouTube.

The competition takes place in several stages. Candidates submit their entries to a jury of government officials, who select ten winners. In addition to financial rewards – prizes range from C$5,000 for first prize (about €3,300) to C$500 – the winners will have their songs professionally recorded and produced on an album, which will then be broadcast throughout Nunavut, and presented at the Uqausirmut Quviasuutigarniq. This festival is held every April to celebrate Inuktut and Inuit culture.

Pop, rock, rap, jazz, gospel, traditional music, all styles are welcome. However, at least 90% of the lyrics must be composed in an Inuktut dialect. To submit their compositions, candidates must be 19 years old or older and live in Nunavut. But there is no need to be a professional musician – the competition is opened to beginners. A way to discover new talent.

A platform for artists

For some winners, the contest has become a stepping stone to a musical career, as for Becky Han. In 2016, the young woman won first and second place in the competition. Her victory in Qilaut brought her additional visibility and the opportunity to open for Tanya Tagaq, a famous Inuk singer.

In this song, 786, the artist evokes narwhal hunting at the floe edge with her mother, with whom she communicates via a CB whose number is 786. Video : Becky Han / YouTube

Another example is Joey Nowyuk. Three-time winner of the Qilaut competition, this pop-rock-influenced artist sings in his native Inuktitut. He has won several awards, including the Indigenous Music Award in 2020.

With this pop song that incorporates traditional Inuit throat singing, Joey Nowyuk sheds a light on Inuit culture and Inuktut in a modern way. Video : Hitmakerz / YouTube

The deadline for entries to the Qilaut competition is December 31, 2023. The winners will be announced in January 2024, and recording of the album will start immediately and continue until March. The album will then be presented at the Uqausirmut Quviasuutigarniq festival in April.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

More on the subject

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
error: Content is protected !!
Share This