Elisapie Raises Her Voice, In Multiple Languages, on 'The Ballad of the Runaway Girl'

Elisapie Raises Her Voice, In Multiple Languages, on 'The Ballad of the Runaway Girl'
Photo: Le Pigeon
We live in a world with many barriers: language, misunderstandings and a lack of diverse representation can keep people from connecting. Singer-songwriter, director and Inuk activist Elisapie Isaac is striving to change this; she treads the path between language and culture while always keeping her subject matter close.
 
The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, her first solo record since 2012, was a slow-then-fast process of healing and opening new doors. "I feel this is a new cycle that's starting. It's like turning the page to the last three albums," Elisapie tells Exclaim!
 
On The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, Elisapie has included songs written in Inuktitut, English, and French — and each serves a different role. "I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I was a radio host in the North, so I grew up with all these old vinyls," Elisapie says. "I was this nerd, this girl who was fascinated by the '70s because that's when things shifted in the North. When things were modern, and young hippies would come back home in the summer from the residential schools. So I guess that American folk is very, very close to us, it's kind of a part of our culture. For me, [when I'm] writing folk songs, automatically I hear it and I feel it in English."
 
Writing in French, for Elisapie, is more romantic, while writing and singing in Inuktitut — which makes up most of the songs on The Ballad of the Runaway Girl — is a window to speak to the people in the North about the resilience that moves through the culture. "I needed to express myself and say a few things more, and go a little further with this album in what I have to say."
 
Film and music are two more languages Elisapie knows how to move between. She received attention in 2003 for her NFB film If the Weather Permits, which showed the modern life of the Inuit in her home community of Salluit. Now, she is working on her return to film, emboldened with the creative energy that comes from her new chapter. "I have a few ideas, but I'm just going to have to figure out which one I'm going to start with," she says of both future film and musical endeavours. She is currently working on a short animated film as well as her second documentary, Una, slated for release in 2019. "It's very stimulating right now. I just want to go on tour and then not wait too long for a new album."
 
The diversity of languages and art forms speaks to the range that Elisapie wants to reach; she returns multiple times to the image of an "open door." While Elisapie is excited about reactions to the album from listeners of all backgrounds, she acknowledges her position as someone with a voice, addressing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
 
"We need to be a bit more open, but also accept that there was damage done, and also accept that we're trying to clean up this huge mess and we're doing it with a lot of new vision and new ideas. I think it's very stimulating right now to be a Native person, so that's very important for me, that it comes out in the music. A new energy."
 
The Ballad of the Runaway Girl is out now via Bonsound.