How hip-hop has cultural importance for Inuit communities.
But there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Nelson Tagoona, a hip-hop artist from Baker Lake, Nunavut, who combines Inuit throat singing with beat boxing to create ‘throat boxing.’
Raj Singh not only wants people outside Nunavut to know Tagoona's music, but also to understand how Inuit hip-hop artists share stories of their people through their work.
Raj isn’t a music producer or record label executive. She’s a postdoctoral scholar at Western University’s Don Wright Faculty of Music, who explores music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it – a discipline called ethnomusicology.
“Very few people outside the Arctic are even aware this music is being made. So, my work now is about talking with the artists, figuring out what’s important to them and what they’re trying to convey to their communities and to the world outside the Arctic.”
That message is often about the pain and hardships the Inuit have experienced and the intergenerational trauma that resulted from colonialism and residential schools. Raj has seen the difficult life the people are leading in Baker Lake.
She notes a bag of apples costs $10. A small container of black pepper is priced at $20. There is little permanent health care. And there is suicide. Nunavut has the highest suicide rate in Canada. But there is hope that comes from the artists and their music. In talking with Inuit hip-hop artists and people who listen to their work, Raj sees this music as valuable therapy.
“Some older people don’t believe you should talk about suicide. They think if you talk about it, you attract it. But many younger people believe talking about it is a form of therapy. And I think hip-hop tends to do this work implicitly by providing people an outlet to express themselves, talk about their lived experience and to show they can overcome the negative impacts.”
Born in Fiji, Raj moved to Canada with her family when she was a child. She grew up loving music (and is a musician herself), but was never much of a hip-hop fan, preferring heavy metal bands like TOOL and Metallica.
Now, years later, she enjoys hip-hop, but it’s more than that. The work of Inuit artists she collaborates with is now a powerful way for her to understand Inuit culture. And it’s reciprocal – in doing her work, she can give back and take it forward.
It’s a role Raj takes on with commitment and passion.
“I had a young Inuit woman say to me, ‘Nobody cares about what’s happening here. They don’t care about our suicide crisis.’ I’m trying to be that person who does care, who listens and helps them tell their stories to the world.”