"Can I just send you all the songs and you can pick the one for me to pre-release?" Kathleen Merritt writes me when I reach out to ask about her upcoming album, Ivaluarjuk: Ice, Lines & Sealskin. Colour me flabbergasted.
I first met Kathleen at a small house party in Iqaluit. She entered, head freshly half-shaved, eyes and cheeks aglow from the cold, and immediately proceeded to give the crowd of about 15 people a throatsinging lesson and performance. We were enraptured.
Now well-acquainted with the young artist and her zest for life, I know that Kathleen has never been one to shy away from a chance to perform. Born "almost on a Honda" in Naujuut (Repulse Bay) and raised in Rankin Inlet, she recalls a "willingness to interrupt hockey games on TV by jumping in front and 'putting on a concert'" for her dad and his friends. This proclivity to perform has since evolved into a musical career that has taken Kathleen around the globe.
Today, she is putting the final touches on her debut album, all while juggling a busy job - Kathleen is the Festival Coordinator for Alianait - and amazing consultant opportunities - she was hired as a culturalist for an upcoming Adventure Canada cruise. You can stream Ivaluarjuk below, and then read on to learn more about the album and how you, too, can get involved.
Ivaluarjuk: Album Preview
Kathleen has been performing, touring, and teaching as a throat-singer for nearly six years, sometimes on her own and often as part of the duo Kulavak. No surprise then, that Ivaluarjuk features Kathleen throat-singing, but with a twist.
"Over the last decade, throat-singing has become quote popular, and more and more young Inuit women and men are identifying with it," Kathleen explains. "Naturally, we have a desire to explore traditional sounds in new settings." Partly, this meant integrating both her Irish and Inuit backgrounds. The result is a sound that is at once familiar and unique, a mix of genres and cultures and influences.
Speaking of influences, Ivaluarjuk could also have been called Kathleen and Friends for the number of Nunavut music stars who appear on the record, including Andrew Morrison, Nancy Mike, and Robe Aube from The Jerry Cans, Josh Qaumariaq of The Trade Offs, Marie Belleau, Ellen Hamilton, Shawn Inukshuk, and more."They all brought their energy into the pieces, so it really is a collaborative album," Kathleen says. And you can really hear it, from the lyrical guitar playing of Chris Coleman (who also produced the album) on "Anuri" and "Naglingniq," to the jaunty yet delicate fiddling of Gina Burgess on "Taanisirutik" and "Dizzy Mosquito," to the husky throat-singing of Kevin Kablutsiak on "Qimmiruluapik" and "Springtime."
Working off the various artists involved in the project, Kathleen and Chris took a novel approach to developing the songs and the album as a whole. This started with the combination of Western instruments and Inuit throat-singing, something that has been done before (check out Tanya Tagaq or The Jerry Cans for some examples), as heard on the single "Naglingniq." But Kathleen wanted to push the envelope a little further, though she wasn't exactly sure what that would look like. "I had no idea what I was doing, until I did it," she says. "I just kind of felt it though, and let the songs go where they were going to go."
Where she ended up is with songs like "Qimmiruluapik," which features three throat-singers singing in round - quite the feat of timing and rhythm! For "Tiqtivaluk" (boiling seal meat), the recording of Kathleen and Marie throat-singing is doubled, so that the pair are singing on top of themselves (you have to listen to it, really). The tracks range from vigorous to lilting, with snippets of spoken word and English lyrics in various tunes.
After listening to the entire album, there was one particular standout for me: a song called "Kuurvaluk" (river). From the opening bars to the vocals, "Kuurvaluk" made me think of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" - it has the same desperate softness in its cadence and melody.
Remember when I told you Kathleen has a lot of musical friends? Well, they all came out of the woodwork in support of her Indiegogo campaign to provide sponsors with some "Folken Great Perks" - experiential rewards that are unique and exclusive to this fundraiser.
So what can you get by contributing to the Ivaluarjuk project? A lot. For example, a donation of only $5 will enter you for a chance to win:
- Throat Singing Lessons with Kathleen (value: $250)
- Yoga Mat and 5-Class Card to Saimavik Studio (value: $170)
- Serenade by Calvin Pameolik (priceless)
One of my favourite goodies is the chance to win a country food meal, home-cooked by Laakkuluk Williamson-Bathory - another priceless prize, for a mere $40 donation. (A close second is the chance to win a date with Gina Burgess, but alas, that option is open to Halifax residents only.)
This effort to create an experience for her audience is so much a part of Kathleen. It was evident when she danced in front of the TV for her father; it was what inspired her to enter a room full of strangers and start an impromptu throat-singing class; and it's what motivated her to reach out and ask for support. "At first I was terrified to put myself out there," she confesses, "but not long after the fear, I came to realize that I truly believe in this project and I know others will too."
Though, I do have to confess, I may have laid claim to the best experience of all: helping choose Ivaluarjuk's second single, "Uluutuk," thus having a tiny hand in shaping this beautiful project. Pretty folken great, eh?