Two young women in flowing traditional Inuit amautis—one white, one purple—clasp one another’s arms and stand face to face, rocking and swaying in front of a mesmerized audience, their fearsome growls and raspy cries melding together in oddly hypnotic song.
Something (a glint in her friend’s eye, perhaps?) throws the white clad singer’s attention and though she breaks first, both girls dissolve into a fit of giggles.
It was a scene that won over the hearts of millions of Canadians in early November 2015, when 11-year old Inuit throat singers Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre performed at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony.
Metcalfe and Degrandpre were showcasing for the world the art of traditional Inuit throat singing, a culturally significant practice almost lost in history -- one that is thankfully making a resurgence, and that Arctic cruise passengers just might get to witness live on an expedition to the Canadian Arctic.
What is Inuit Throat Singing?
Among the Inuit, it’s known as katajjaq, a traditional musical performance typically by two women. Ancient Inuit women used throat singing to entertain one another while the men in their communities were away on long hunting trips.
The human voice is used as an instrument to create resonant harmonies in this guttural style of singing, where women sing multiple notes simultaneously and in tandem.
Sang in this way, as a duet, it was a type of contest to see which singer could outlast the other. However, Inuit women across the Arctic also used throat singing to soothe fussy babies who were tucked close enough in the hoods of those amautis to feel the vibration of their mother’s throat.
Metcalfe and Degrandpre’s performance is a great example of the Inuit’s use of inhalation and exhalation as the basis for the rhythmic pattern and pulsing sounds of a throat singing duet:
Throat Singing: A Traditional Part of Inuit Culture
Hums, gasps, grunts and growls delight audiences privileged to witness this ancient art up close and in person. In fact, it’s one of the world's oldest forms of art, and was almost lost, as Canada’s Inuit people were forced over the last century to assimilate, often punished for speaking their own language or practicing their culture.
Present-day Throat Singing
Today, artists like Nunavut duo Tudjaat and singer Tanya Tagaq are keeping the Inuit traditions alive, sometimes fusing Inuit throat singing with different styles and other genres, like pop music.
Tagaq is incredibly unique, as she not only performs throat singing solo, but has exposed Inuit throat singing to the mainstream.
Throat singing is still practiced in many Inuit communities, particularly in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.
While we cannot guarantee expedition passengers will witness this specific experience due to weather conditions in the remote regions we visit, there are several Quark Expeditions arctic itineraries on which a modern-day adventurer might see an authentic Inuit throat singing performance.
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