Throat Singing From North to South: Charlotte Qamaniq’s Cultural Exploration
From Igloolik to Iqaluit and then Ottawa, Charlotte Qamaniq’s journey to find herself and her culture has taken her far. Once a banned practice, Qamaniq and her friend Cynthia Pitsiulak were driven to learn throat singing and formed a band called Silla and Rise in 2015.They released their first album in 2016, their next in 2019 and a third is in progress. With two Juno nominations already, they are hoping maybe third time's the charm.
Charlotte Carlton recently joined the band after Cynthia and Charlotte Qamaniq have been throat singing together for over 15 years, performing all over the world for at least a decade. Producer and beatmaker Rise rounds out their music and adds his own flare. Their collaboration with Rise was intended to be one-off but continued. The blend of modern beats and ancient throat singing makes for a unique sound.
“The vibe is amazing. Throat singing is already super Trance-y and very hypnotic. And when we put a rhythm to it and a melody to it? Oh my goodness. It's amazing. It was like alchemy, we just kind of sprinkled all of our own little magic and it turned into this beautiful band.”
Outside of music, Qamaniq is taking the language revitalization course affiliated with UVIC and she’s a mom of two. She teaches government departments and other corporations about Inuit culture and issues.
“As Inuit we were the last indigenous group to be colonized. It was only within the last hundred years where Inuit were forcefully relocated into settlements in the Arctic. Because of colonization and because of the church, they were assimilating Inuit into Canadian society. Speaking Inuktitut was not allowed, throat singing, jump dancing, practicing our spirituality, anything that basically made us Inuit or anything to do with our culture was banned. We were punished for practicing any of these things,” she explained.
“When I was growing up, I didn't hear throat singing at all. I didn't even know what throat singing was until I was a teenager. When I first heard it, I was fascinated.”
Qamaniq and Pitsiulak’s music came from so many people sharing knowledge and their collective longing to become throat singers. Qamaniq sang to her kids their whole lives so they now throat sing. “We're still very protective of throat singing and so we're teaching the next generation and I think it's making a comeback for sure,” she beamed. Over the pandemic, they performed online and recorded in a COVID-safe way.
It’s been an adjustment, like moving South. “Coming from a small community in the Arctic where there's no trees and no highways, very secluded and immersed in my own culture and then moving to a city, it was quite difficult,” she recalled. After graduation, she moved to Vancouver to attend the Native Education Centre and then took tourism training back in Ottawa.
She took a program in Ottawa called Nunavut Sivuniksavut which helps Inuit high school graduates get extra support moving into the city while learning about their culture. “That was really when my passion for my own identity kind of blossomed because I learned so many things that I didn't know about our history, about our people and about colonization and how strong and resilient indigenous people are, all of the things that we've gone through, and we're still here and we're still so proud and our languages are being spoken, we're reclaiming our spirituality,” she elaborated.
Qamaniq learned to speak English in Iqaluit and started losing her language. She went through a phase of being ashamed of her culture but later began to reclaim her language through an online program. In Ottawa, she met Indigenous youth who helped her see how lucky she was to practice her culture.
“It's not too late to learn your language. It's not too late to reclaim your language and if you can't speak it or if you have a hard time speaking or if you lost it, or if you never had the opportunity to speak it, don't be ashamed of that. Just take every single opportunity that you have to speak.”
Her advice to youth considering leaving their home community for travel? “The best thing I've ever done was to branch out and take risks and do things that take a lot of courage. Go and learn as much as you can!” She recommends establishing a support network of family, friends and Indigenous organizations.
“Don't be afraid of meeting new people. Don't be afraid to try new things. It's so refreshing and it's beautiful to be able to have these experiences, especially while you're still young, it really opens a lot of doors.”
One of her biggest struggles has been mental health, but through self care like sleep, exercise, hydration and attention to nutrition, Qamaniq has learned to take better care of her mental health. She’s also found solace in journaling.
“Everyone has something that makes you spark, right? That spark is what you need to look for every day and then let the creativity flow from there.”
Qamaniq is inspired by learning her language and exploring her culture and spirituality. That makes her want to make clothing, music, paint, draw and write. She’s also explored traditional tattooing. “Each tattoo has its own meaning, its own significance and each person who carries those tattoos has their own stories. Tattooing is considered so beautiful and it's so highly regarded that before a woman has her first child, she tattoos her thighs so that the first thing the child sees into the world is a thing of beauty,” she shared.
Learning about her culture has left beautiful, permanent marks on Qamaniq’s skin and her music has left a permanent mark on the Canadian music scene. She and her bandmates are revitalizing the practice of throat singing, introducing it to a new generation. The sound of cultural reclamation is as enduring as her tattoos and just as beautiful.
Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.