Out on Her Own

I got up early to get the sleep out of my eyes and the frog out of my throat in preparation for my first interview on behalf of What’s Up Yukon.

I would be talking with Susan Aglukark, who lives three time zones to the east.

Seven thirty in the morning, Yukon time, was a good time for her, but a little early for me.

Fortunately, Aglukark has just the right temperament and our conversation was very relaxed and generous. We had a good time and even laughed a little.

Here we go.

Susan Aglukark is a talented singer-songwriter who was born in Churchill, Manitoba and raised in Arviat, Northwest Territories, which is now part of Nunavut. She currently lives with her family in Oakville, ON.

Despite an international career that demands frequent travel, this Inuk woman remains rooted in the place she is from. And it shows in her writing.

That enduring connection is clear on her last album, particularly in the song “I Will Return”:

Traded in the river for the metal train

Traded in the earth for the concrete plains

Given up the silence for the sounds of empty gain

Now I wonder what it is, that’s calling out my name

I will return at journeys end

To you my place of soulful dalliance

I heed your call, I hear your voice

My fields of white I will return

Aaja iijaja Aaja iijaja Aaja iijaja

Aglukark weaves the Inuktitut and English languages together in song with a pop and folk music fusion. She makes me want to dance a little (which says a lot because I only dance sometimes).

The lyrics, while uplifting and empowering, are also deep and dark, and could fit well into old-time country, folk or Americana genres of music. It could be a gritty old man singing that song.

Aglukark’s soul is old and wise and giving. Her lyrics speak about surviving, dignity and community.

When her latest CD comes out next month, she will have released seven albums in the 18 years of her music career. This woman has stamina. Many artists burn out after just a few albums. Aglukark has endured successfully!

The new album, White Sahara is her second independent release since she left her label six years ago. However, it will still be distributed physically and digitally in Canada by EMI.

In order to flourish as an artist, Aglukark felt she needed more flexibility to make albums when the songs were ready, rather than being pressured to crank out records every six months.

As she puts it, “I write stories, not hits.”

Aglukark was the first Inuk woman to have a number one hit on the Canadian adult contemporary and country music charts (with the song “O Siem”). Several more hits followed, earning her three Juno awards and several nominations.

Her album This Child is certified triple platinum, with more than 300,000 copies sold in Canada.

She also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta, and in 2005 was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

After years in the music business, Aglukark acknowledges that the journey of an artist is more precious than the destination. And she is committed to acting on her beliefs and building on existing partnerships.

Her CD release concerts for White Sahara in various parts of Canada will also be used to promote the goals of the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, of which she is a long-time member.

As well as performing and recording, Aglukark works as a motivational speaker and spends one week each month as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University of Alberta, working mainly with aboriginal students.

The struggles the singer-songwriter encountered in her own path of life and career often coincide with the struggles facing aboriginal post-secondary students, even those with no connection to music.

By identifying the potential for struggle before it occurs, Aglukark says, she helps students deal with it before it gets the best of them. Her presence at the university has had a positive impact on a number of students.

Asked if she saw her music as being distinct from her day jobs, she replied that, although she loves her jobs, “Music is my blood and spirit, and will always be my top priority.”

White Saharais a compilation album, but will include two brand new songs, plus two re-recorded songs – including the title track – that have evolved since they were first recorded.

It must feel great to have a second chance to carve a song in stone. White Sahara will be available from the EMI website and iTunes after the third week in June.

Susan Aglukark will headline a gala concert at the Yukon Convention Centre on May 27 at 7:30 pm as part of the Six Steps to Success conference on disability employment services.

Other artists at the gala will include popular First Nation comedian Don Burnstick, and the local Celtic band The Leesiders.

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