"We Are Going to Be the Change": Nunavut Band the Jerry Cans Bring Hope and Inuk Perspective to 'Inuusiq/Life'

"We Are Going to Be the Change": Nunavut Band the Jerry Cans Bring Hope and Inuk Perspective to 'Inuusiq/Life'
Photo: Michael Phillip Wojewoda

The Jerry Cans are proud residents of Iqaluit, the young and rapidly changing capital city of Nunavut — all their albums, including their latest Inuusiq/Life (out now on Nunavut's first record label, Aakuluk Music) celebrate their Northern home. Like its predecessors, Inuusiq/Life is an energetic mix of folk, reggae, country, and rock sounds, throat singing, and, except for a few words and an English version of the single "Ukiuq" ("Northern Lights"), the songs are performed entirely in Inuktitut.
 
Born in the small hamlet of Pangnirtung in Nunavut, and a native speaker of Inuktitut, accordionist, vocalist and throat singer Nancy Mike tells Exclaim! that the Jerry Cans' use of Inuktitut is central to the band's celebration and is something Northern audiences take pride in. It also allows southern listeners "to really feel what it's like to live up here in the best way we can: through music.
 
"I, personally, am very proud to be singing in my own language," Mike tells Exclaim! "I find that's the best way I can express myself."
 
Inuusiq/Life was recorded during a whirlwind trip to Toronto in December 2015. Mike and, her husband, lead vocalist and guitarist Andrew Morrison — the band's primary songwriters — had only written a few songs when the band came south. With the help of producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda, (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rheostatics) the Jerry Cans were able to craft the rest of the album.
 
"We pushed ourselves to write on the spot while we recorded, which was crazy! But that was the only way we could do it, because that was our best opportunity to get these songs done and written. Especially because we don't have many recording studios up [in Nunavut] so we took that time to get it done," says Mike.
 
Lyrically, the album's central theme is the use of namesake in Inuit culture and is a way the Jerry Cans intersect the past, present, and future in their celebration of Nunavut. The namesake tradition hits close to home for Mike and Morrison as the couple's youngest daughter — seen on the album's cover — is named after Mike's late father, to whom the band pay homage in the song "Tusaavit."
 
"We name children after someone who passed away. When we name people, it is kind of like a grieving process in a way," Mike explains.
 
"Families will bring the baby to other families that are grieving and say, 'this is your little mother, or your little aunty by namesake' and then people start to tell stories about that person who had passed on. It is very much like keeping oral history alive. It's a very beautiful thing in our culture."
 
Beauty is key for the Jerry Cans. On Inuusiq/Life, they show how the multi-generational effects of colonization are felt in Nunavut, but also the beauty of their home and they tell listeners how optimistic they are about the future.
 
"Personally, as someone who was born and raised [in Nunavut] and spoke [Inuktitut], I find that growing up we struggled with many things and could feel the effects of colonization and how that negatively impacted our parents and our generation. There are so many issues that we see up here — high suicide rates, poverty, high cost of living, overcrowded homes — that are often focused on by media all over Canada, so Nunavut is often seen through the lens of somebody from the south," Mike says.
 
"Our passion comes from wanting to express what it's really like to live here and tell people that we do have awesome things going on up here and we, as young people, are going to be the change. We want to really make that be heard. That's been our goal, to tell the world we have lots of things to celebrate. We have great things happening and we have this culture that we are very proud to present to anybody."
 
Check out the video for "Ukiuq" below.