Native rock Swagger

Long before becoming a rock songstress, Lucie Idlout considered a career in politics.

Long before becoming a rock songstress, Lucie Idlout considered a career in politics.

“My area of interest was self-government and international human rights for indigenous peoples,” says Idlout, who divides her time between Toronto and her hometown Iqaluit. “The problem was that every time a new government came in, we were forced to re-educate new ministers instead of moving forward in the rights of our peoples.

“Because I took that to heart, it really got me down. I didn’t have the spirit for politics anymore.”

Instead, she developed into what New Yorker magazine describes as a “fierce, alternative rocker” — possessing an edgy grit that could only come from someone used to bouncing between homes. Early in her life, Idlout’s father bolted from the family and her formative years were spent both in the Nunavut capital and Ottawa.

Idlout turned to music as a creative outlet for expressing not only her own dealings, but also those of her home community. The title cut of her first solo effort, 2004’s E5-770, My Mother’s Name, stems from a 1940s-era Canadian federal government method of identifying Inuit people.

“It seemed to me that this acted as the first census for Inuit,” Idlout explains. “But more importantly, it was a system that they used to fail our children. The way the system worked back then was ‘get ’em while they’re young’ in terms of colonization.”

With punk-fuelled defiance, Idlout also addresses issues of suicide and domestic violence — the latter leading to an unexpected campaign. The track Lovely Irene, from Idlout’s 2009 sophomore effort Swagger, was converted into an acoustic number, Angel Street, and grabbed the attention of Iqaluit mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik, who rechristened the street on which the city’s women’s shelter is housed. She later called upon other Canadian cities to name a street Angel in honour of women nationwide who have been victims of domestic violence.

Small wonder that Idlout was the ideal choice to open for The White Stripes during their visit to Iqaluit in 2007. The media attention surrounding that visit also highlighted Iqaluit as quite the centre of arts activity — carvers, folk singers, metalheads — beyond traditional throat singers and other Inuktitut-singing performers. Much of that attention can be credited to the likes of Tanya Tagaq Gillis, a throat singer renowned for collaborating with Björk, and folk-pop sensation Susan Aglukark.

“Nowadays there are people who are coming up with even newer, contemporary forms of music that’s married to Inuktitut.”

 
 
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