Ever been asked if you live in an igloo? Or ride a polar bear? For us Northerners, it can happen. Just ask Andrew Morrison, guitarist/vocalist for Iqaluit-based, country-folk band The Jerry Cans.
“I think [for] Northerners, there’s some kind of pan-northern experience of southerners really just getting it wrong sometimes,” he says. “We always have good laughs, sharing stories all about heading down south and some of the questions we get asked about living up North.”
Over the last few months, the five-piece group has ventured out of their home territory to play in Toronto in February and Northern Scene in Ottawa in May; and they will be playing at this year’s Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF), July 19-21.
The Jerry Cans enjoyed a good reception at each of their southern performances, though some of their themes were lost in translation, as their lyrics are 90 percent Inuktitut, the native language of Nunavut.
“Things that might be kind of funny up North, especially jokes that go over well in Inuktitut don’t go over well in English, like jokes about eating seal meat…” Morrison says.
Sometimes the lyrics are lost even on young people in Nunavut – those who don’t speak the language.
“We’re very passionate about encouraging young people, if they don’t speak or if they’re shy to speak, to try to make an effort to be proud of learning or knowing Inuktitut,” he says.
They’ve come a long way since their formation as a garage-rock band.
“We grew up in Iqaluit and started playing in the garage way back in the day doing cover music, and then we started doing more Inuktitut music when my girlfriend, Nancy [Mike, a throat-singer], joined the band,” Morrison says. “It’s kind of a strange music-type because we mix in country music and jigging and square dancing, with throat-singing and a little bit of reggae, which is a really weird mix.”
The Jerry Cans are very excited to play DCMF, alongside acts like Al Simmons, The Soujourners, The Beauties, Daniel Romano and local artists like Vision Quest and Old Cabin. Morrison also expects to find kindred souls among the audience.
“We hope [our music] just kind of informs people a little more about what modern life in Nunavut is… it’s nice to play to Northern audiences because they often encounter those stereotypes as well… so I think there’s a certain level of comfort, going to Northern places.”
For The Jerry Cans, playing in the North is also a priority because many of the smaller communities, particularly in Nunavut and the NWT, have little to no live music for most of the year.
That said, they do love to travel elsewhere, and hope to act as musical ambassadors for the North, bringing the knowledge of their language and culture to the south, as well as debunking misconceptions about the North.
“I think, first off, there’s lots of other media outlets representing the North [in a negative way], like The Globe and Mail, The Post,” Morrison says. “You see lots of negative representations of Nunavut in the media, and I think that lots of people up here find that very troubling because while, of course, there’s negative things going on, it doesn’t really tell the whole story. So we try to kind of shed some light on the other side of it, that there’s lots of laughter and lots of dancing and lots of very strong community values here.”
With those goals in mind, The Jerry Cans plan to continue playing around Nunavut and gradually increase their range; their next big show Outside will be Greenland in August, followed by a music festival in Quebec.
They will also be recording a new album, the follow up to their debut, Nunavuttitut, in November.
Catch The Jerry Cans live at Paddy’s Place on Thursday, July 18, and check out the DCMF website for festival showtimes.
For music samples and more information, check out The Jerry Cans on Facebook or at www.TheJerryCans.com.
Willow Gamberg is a former What’s Up Yukon intern who writes about music and other arts-related topics.