Wintry sounds abound in this confident debut album that takes Inuk music to electro pop
Born in a tiny village in the windswept frozen tundra of Canada’s newest, largest, and most sparsely populated territory named Nunavut, Riit’s debut album is a fascinating example of a particular type of fusion music currently making waves in the Canadian music scene. A member of the Inuk people, Riit’s music is both distinctively Inuk, and features examples of Inuk throat singing throughout the piece, but also feels happily at home in the western genres of electro pop, which is indicative of the two sides of Riit’s identity as both an Inuk and a Canadian. Indeed, she calls it ‘Arctic-born electro pop’, which definitely seems like an appropriate categorisation. She sings solely in Inuktitut, and the music itself has an Arctic feel, with icy cool synths and a glacial tempo. Though they are rather different in many respects, I was put in mind of Norwegian singer Aurora, who, on occasion, also uses similar soundscapes in her songs. With her inventive musicality, fusion ideals, and beautiful voice, what Riit manages to do very well in her debut album is make a statement about who she is, where she is coming from, and what she wants to do with her music.
“When taken as a piece, ataataga is a good debut album that manages to announce Riit’s talent, as well as show off what she is capable of doing.”
The opening track is called ataataga, which is the Inuktitut word for father, and as such this smooth, dreamy ballad is a tribute to her father, but also, through the inclusion of katajjaq, also known as Inuit throat singing, it could be widened out as a song reverential of her ancestors and their traditions, which, like her father, helped make her who she is. The acoustic version at the end is also very lovely, and serves as a nice refreshing sorbet of a song at the end. The bare piano and her crystal clear vocals act as a very pleasant coda for the album. Another song I particularly enjoyed was #uvangattauq, a collaboration with South African-Canadian singer Zaki Ibrahim, who provides the English vocals on the song. The song is filled with a righteous anger redolent of another fellow Canadian, Alanis Morissette in its tone – 90s indie rock guitars are nowhere to be heard – as the song sings about both the #metoo movement and female empowerment, and it competes with the title track for best song, in my opinion. The rest of the album, while not quite as good as those two songs, is certainly consistent and catchy, and not without some fun quirks. For exampe, ullagit is a catchy tune, and Inuusivut is a cover of a hard rock song by Inuk heavy metal band Northern Haze, and she manages to make it her own, stripping away the rock instrumentation and adding her signature moody and atmospheric pop instrumentation, turning it into a slow ballad, as opposed to the power ballad feel of the original. This also serves as a doffing of the cap to the indigenous trailblazers of the past; Northern Haze were the first rock band to record an album in any North American indigenous language.
When taken as a piece, ataataga is a good debut album that manages to announce Riit’s talent, as well as show off what she is capable of doing. Coming in at a lean 29 minutes, she does not overstay her welcome, and for an album like this, I would wager that is a good thing. There is not a huge amount of variation in her style, and if she went on for another 15 or 20 minutes, it could have become grating. Though qujana is more in the vein of upbeat 80s synth-pop than the rest of the album, she tends towards the brooding and melancholy in general with little deviation. That said, on its own terms, ataataga is a success, with the fusion of the two styles coming together seamlessly and in a fashion that marks her out as someone to watch for the future.