The history of music in Greenland starts with traditional Inuit drum singing. Later, choir singing arrived via the German Moravian missionaries, polka via the European whalers, country music via the American soldiers during World War II, and Greenlandic-language protest rock in the 70s. The story ends today with modern musical styles.
Katsi Kleist & Frederik Elsners “Nunarput Nuan”
(“Our wonderful Greenland”)
A short history
of music in Greenland
The musical history of Greenland begins long before anyone can remember – long before anyone wrote anything down in the Arctic regions, and at a time of which archeology and legends are our only source of knowledge. Back then, life played out in a constant interaction (and sometimes struggle) between man, their prey, and the elements. It may come as a surprise that those who inhabited Greenland over 4,000 years ago had time for music, but when stomachs were full and people crouched together on the benches inside skin tents or turf houses, the drum, qilaat, was brought out and used for a mixture of dance, song, storytelling and music. This drum technique is used in various variations from Siberia to Greenland and remains a living tradition to this day.
There is no evidence that the Norsemen, a Viking people who inhabited Greenland from the late 900s to the mid-15th century, introduced any lasting music culture to Greenland, but when Europeans once again began to navigate the waters around Greenland, primarily to catch whales, they brought with them contemporary folk culture in the form of music and dance. The whalers eagerly traded with the Inuit, and in this context music was played for dancing on whatever instruments were available. In this way, the Greenlanders learned the European repertoire, which was transformed into the tradition kalattuut, which resembles other folk music and dance traditions in the North Atlantic but is characterised by being faster. If you are going to a party in Greenland, you must therefore have chalked up your dancing shoes, because you may be lucky enough to be invited to a Greenlandic polka. And this does not go over quietly.
When Denmark began the colonisation of West Greenland in 1721, drum song and drum dancing were pushed into the background and choir and hymn singing were introduced. The German Moravian missionaries, in particular, understood how to use music for preaching, and had a great impact on the Greenlandic choir tradition. Over time, Greenlandic intellectuals began to compose choral music which has its very own singing style and is famous across the world.
The Danish state introduced a strict colonisation policy in Greenland until World War II, during which Greenland was kept relatively isolated from the rest of the world, although modernisation did take place, especially in West Greenland. But Greenlanders did not have free access to Western culture until Nazi Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, and they began cooperating with the Americans regarding the protection of and supply to the country. World War II thus became a cultural injection for Greenlanders, and when the war was over, Greenlanders wanted the opening of the country to continue. As a result, Greenland’s colonial status ceased in 1953, and the country became a nation within the Kingdom of Denmark. In the years that followed, a Greenlandic country and western genre, called Vaigat music, emerged in the mining town of Qullissat in Disko Bay, and in the 1960s the first Greenlandic rock’n’roll bands began to play international hits in bars and community centres, especially in the capital city of Nuuk.
The 1970s saw a revolution in Greenlandic music, in the form of the band Sumé, which was made up of Greenlandic students in Copenhagen. The group wrote rock music in Greenlandic, about Greenlandic topics and using Inuit symbols. Thus, the group’s music crystallized an increasing desire for a Greenland ruled by Greenlanders and rooted in Greenlandic culture, and this desire led to the introduction of Home Rule in Greenland in 1979.
Since Sumé, Greenlandic music has moved in many different directions, but there is still widespread use of the Greenlandic language, national themes and Inuit symbolism, whether the genre is rock, rap or heavy metal. Some artists have succeeded in creating an audience outside Greenland, but the Greenlandic music scene is characterised to a very large extent by its reference to a Greenlandic audience, and is a unifying element for a small population who live scattered across enormous distances on the world’s largest island.
Drum song and drum dancing
The winters are long in Greenland. When the boat has been put ashore and the snow settles metres-high, there is a need for distractions to avoid polar ‘cabin fever’. Today, we can crawl under the duvet and binge a series, experience a local restaurant or go to a concert at one of the country’s many music venues. But if you lived in Greenland 4,000 years ago, or maybe just 100 years ago, the possibilities were much more limited. Therefore, the residents of Greenland have always had a sense for distraction activities. One of these activities is drum song and drum dancing with the Greenlandic drum, qilaat, as the focal point.
A qilaat consists of a wooden frame with a handle, over which an animal skin or membrane is stretched. When playing the drum, you strike from below with your katuaq (drumstick, which is usually made of reindeer antler) on the frame rather than the skin, thus producing a treble sound that resonates in the skin. But there are many elements in drum song and drum dance. As the name suggests, the performer sings and dances at the same time, and a performance can sometimes have the character of a play, in which, for example, a legend is sung while the action is played out by the performer. Another entertaining subgenre is uaajeerneq, mask dance, which can take place both with and without qilaat. Here the performer dresses bizarrely, and performs an eerie or crude dance for the audience.
In Greenland, qilaat has traditionally been used by individuals, but there have been various fighting or teasing forms of drum singing and drum dancing in North Greenland and East Greenland, where the tradition has been best preserved. The most well-known was the East Greenlandic drum fight, which could be reminiscent of today’s rap battles. A drum fight could be arranged for fun, but when it was serious, an aggrieved person challenged his opponent to a battle of words in front of his family and neighbours. The opponent then had to smile politely, while he was accused and ridiculed. The challenger also gave him the opportunity to respond to his provocations, and the drum singing, therefore, functioned as a form of conflict management at a time when murder and blood feuds were some of the other alternatives.
As the missionaries and colonisers spread themselves around Greenland, drum singing and drum dancing were close to extinction as a living cultural tradition. The frame drum was also an instrument for the Greenlandic shaman, angakkoq, and was therefore often regarded by the missionaries as part of the ‘paganism’ that they wanted to lead the Greenlanders out of. Along with the ‘Greenlandisation’ in the 1970s, however, there has been a growing interest in drum singing and drum dancing in Greenland, and today there are a number of young performers who both perform traditional songs and push the boundaries of the tradition.
Kalattuut is often translated as ‘Greenlandic polka’, because polkas are the most popular dances today. But in fact, the couples dance that is the polka was first invented in Europe in the 1840s. When the English explorer John Davis traveled in Greenland from 1585-7, it was not polkas that the musicians he brought with him played for the Greenlanders, but jigs and Scottish reels, which were danced to in rows or quadrilles. By this time, European whalers had also become frequent visitors to the coasts of West Greenland, and they contributed to the introduction of European dances, music and instruments into Greenland.
As with all other music that has come to Greenland through the ages, the Greenlanders adapted the European dances to their taste. The tempo was raised and some slide steps, which are believed to originate from drum singing and drum dancing, were brought into some dances. Kalattuut is thus reminiscent of many of the folk dance traditions found elsewhere, especially in Scotland and the British Isles. If you are used to dancing these dances, therefore, you may well have an advantage in kalattuut, although there can be other surprises than the tempo, because drum dance elements have crept into the tradition.
Kalattuut is danced today on festive occasions, as a performance or in local community clubs. The original instruments used in the genre were violins and accordions, and you can still encounter these instruments when kalattuut is danced. Often, however, it is keyboards and one-man bands that offer the music, but any self-respecting Greenlandic musician has a few songs off the top of his head, to which the audience will dance – the Greenlandic way.
As Christmas approaches in Greenland, and people gather in towns and settlements for Christmas services, there is one hymn that simply MUST be sung. This is Rasmus Berthelsen’s famous and beloved “Guuterput Qutsinnermiu” (Our God in Heaven). When sung best, the hymn crawls along at an incredibly slow tempo, giving the congregation ample opportunity to get into the four-part choral harmonies they have sung so many times before. A few tears are often shed over the time that has passed and the people it took with it, but also because the music and the moment are beautiful in a way that is difficult to explain to those who have never experienced it.
If you have ever heard “Guuterput Qutsinnermiu” in December, you will also have got a sense of how strong a tradition hymn and choir singing is in Greenland. It is normal to sing along during communal singing, and preferably in multiple voices. The singing style in Rasmus Berthelsen’s hymn is called inuttooq and is characterized by polyphony, a slow tempo, a tendency to glide between notes and thus also a rather loose approach to intonation. The sound is fantastic and very different to the European bel canto technique.
The tradition stems from the missionaries in Greenland, which began with the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede in 1721. Hans Egede and his family were soon joined by the German Moravian missionaries, who were on good terms with the Danish king, but which were in fact competing missionaries. The Moravians focused on the individual’s emotional relationship with Jesus, and perhaps this is why the Greenlandic singing style inuttooq places feeling at the centre rather than precise intonation and a clear rhythm. In any case, the Greenlandic choir and hymn singing tradition derived from the meeting of these two missions.
Both missions were Protestant and, therefore, translated the European hymns into Greenlandic, but from the middle of the 19th century, Greenlandic composers began to add hymns and national songs to the repertoire. Many of these are among the most beloved in Greenland today and pay homage to the landscape and nature of Greenland. In this way, they also helped to strengthen the national feeling in colonial Greenland and were a musical forerunner to the musical and political revolution that took place in the 1970s.
What do Greenland and Hawaii have in common?
Quite a lot, if you listen to the sliding notes from Jens Hendriksen’s pedal steel guitar in Greenland’s first popular music genre, Vaigat music. Despite the genre’s dance-friendly and feel-good vibe, Vaigat music holds a gloomier place in the collective consciousness of Greenland, as it is considered the sound of the mining town Qullissat, which was closed by the authorities in 1972. The town’s population was relocated to various other towns and settlements, but many continued to feel deprived of their hometown for the rest of their lives.
Vaigat music originated in the 1950s and is named after the Vaigat Strait between the Nuussuaq peninsula and Disko Island. It is no coincidence that the genre originated in Qullissat. The town was a unique example of industrialisation in the country. Here, the population worked primarily with coal mining and not with the more traditional activity of hunting and fishing. Perhaps it is therefore that there was a significant need for entertainment, and the local orchestra, under the direction of Jens Hendriksen, raised money for the purchase of the first instrumentarium in Greenland, which included a pedal steel guitar, which characterises the sound of Vaigat music.
Vaigat music consisted partly of versions of American country and western songs, such as Andy Williams’ track, “A song of old Hawaii”, which in Greenlandic became the song “Hawaii” or “Nuna Hawaii” (The Land of Hawaii). The Vaigat Orchestra released some of the earliest EPs in Greenlandic music history, and the genre still has a few connoisseurs. The sandy beach just outside Qullissat is also still there, so it’s simply a case of throwing off your shirt, sticking the Vaigat Orchestra in your ears, and watching the icebergs sailing by while the midnight sun shines over Disko Bay. However, mosquito spray is highly recommended!
You may have heard that the word ‘eskimo’ is no longer politically correct. But this has not always been the case. When rock music came to Greenland in the 1960s, it was a popular band called The Eskimos, a group of students from Nuuk, who played the international hits of the time like “Mr. Twist” and “My Bonnie”, with a focus on international stars such as Cliff Richard, Elvis and The Beatles. But… When music was played for dansemik in community centres, there was no avoiding kalattuut. So The Eskimos’ discography consisted of approximately 50% kalattuut played on rock ’n’ roll instruments.
Sume, photo by Ebbe Knudsen with permission from ULO and DEMOS
You cannot talk about Greenlandic rock music without mentioning the band Sume. Their significance to Greenland is comparable to the importance of The Beatles internationally. Just like The Beatles, Sume had two very different frontmen, and the band’s creative explosion happened amidst the dynamic between these two individuals and their collaboration with the anti-imperialist movement in Copenhagen in the 1970s. On one side there was the politically conscious and socially critical singer and guitarist Malik Høegh, and on the other side was the more civilly educated, but more musically experienced, Per Berthelsen.
During the 1970s, Høegh and Berthelsen, along with a constantly changing crew of musicians, created three of the most important records in Greenland’s music history. But they created much more than that. At a time when Greenland was being modernised in line with the Danish model, Sume was the spearhead of a political and cultural movement, which fought for the reintroduction of Greenlandic culture and language, and which led to the introduction of Home Rule in 1979. The music was in Greenlandic. It centred around Greenlandic culture and history and used cultural symbols, such as the frame drum, and the music was strongly critical of the Danish influence in Greenland. This paved the way for the development of a society that functioned to a greater extent on Greenlanders’ own terms, but also for a kind of rock music that was more than simply a copy of international trends.
Zikaza, photo: Iben Andersen
In the 1980s, Greenlandic-language rock music thrived, and this was when many of the great icons who still play to this day came into being. The equilibrist band Zikaza, with Siiva Fleischer as the frontman, delivered one of history’s best albums, “Miki Goes to Nuussuaq” in 1988. The focus was taken away from Denmark in Siiva Fleishcer’s songs, and eyes and ears were opened to the world. The music was in Greenlandic, but Greenlanders were people, and people were equal, and deserved to live in peace and with mutual respect.
Ole Kristiansen Photo: Leif Josefsen
The following year, another mastodon in music history appeared, when Ole Kristiansen released his debut album. With clear inspiration from intellectual artists such as David Bowie and the Dane Lars H.U.G., he stepped onto the Greenlandic music scene and became Greenland’s dark and mysterious poet. His abilities as a lyricist are hailed throughout Greenland, and you would have to look long and hard to find someone in Greenland who cannot sing along to hits such as “Arnarulunnguaq”, “Zoo Inuillu” (Zoo and Humans) and “Mannik” (The Egg). Ole Kristiansen’s music is about man’s inner universe, but nature is also ubiquitous, as an illustration of man’s emotions, and as the environment in which one explores his innermost existence.
In the 1990s, the group Mariina, led by Marina Schmidt, appeared, and released one of the bestselling albums in Greenland’s music history, “Utaqqivunga” (I am waiting). Although the guitarist and accompanying singer Hans Lange was a key figure in the band, Mariina contributed to rock music by having a woman as the lead, and Mariina became a key source of inspiration for many female singers who flourished in pop music throughout the 1990s. In the group’s huge hit Tupilak, the band elevated the track using elements of throat singing, and helped to create an increased awareness of this Inuit tradition, which originated in central Arctic Canada.
At the turn of the millennium, the group Chilly Friday released their debut album “Inuiaat 2000” (Man in the Year 2000). The band’s international inspiration was obvious, partly because the record mixed English and Greenlandic lyrics, and partly due to the fact that the grunge wave, and especially Pearl Jam, clearly offered many role models for Chilly Friday. But Greenland was ready for grunge, and Chilly Friday delivered some of the 00s’ bestselling albums and most packed concerts.
In 2002, Chilly Friday received competition from DDR (Disko Democratic Republic). As the name suggests, this was a band from Disko Bay. DDR’s music was on the softer side compared to Chilly Friday’s, and the band sang exclusively in Greenlandic. At least until the Danish producer Henrik Marstal asked the group re-record Danish music legend Kim Larsen’s protest song “Cape Farewell to Ümanarssuaq” for the album “Protestsange.dk”, which came out in 2006. Although the song’s words came from Kim Larsen, it had a certain impact in Denmark when it was suddenly a Greenlandic band singing: “That white man – send him home!”
Nanook, photo: Anders Berthelsen
2009 was also the year in which the band Nanook released their debut album “Seqinitta qinngorpaatit” (Our Sun Shines On You) that quickly made the band famous in Greenland. With the brothers Christian and Frederik Elsner up front, and a detailed soundscape which draws inspiration from, among others, the Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, the band has since gained international acclaim and is, for example, the first Greenlandic band to be released in Japan.
Small Time Giants
Small Time Giants, photo: Steen Olsen
Small Time Giants are even more rooted in the post-rock genre than Nanook, and are a chapter all of themselves. The band has challenged conventions for live concerts in Greenland, by breaking down the divide between the stage and the audience. In addition, the band’s lyrics are almost exclusively in English, which has otherwise been a no-go in Greenland since Sume. Nevertheless, Small Time Giants have gained a significant fanbase in Greenland and have also played concerts in the United States, the Nordic countries and Germany. With Small Time Giants, Greenlandic rock became acceptable in English once again, although since Sume there has emerged a strong tradition of Greenlandic-language rock music, which deals with themes that are particularly relevant in Greenland. Many of the aforementioned musicians have also entered politics, and there are very few places in the world where it is more true to say that rock music has helped to change the world.
The division between pop and rock music is in Greenland, as in many other places, extremely fluid. A lot of music moves in the space between the two genres. In addition, most musicians in Greenland would rather be rock musicians than pop musicians. But there is a tendency for solo artists to be more comparable to the pop genre than bands.
In reality, however, various different forms of pop music have been being released in Greenland for a long time, also by bands. In the early years of popular music, this was primarily in the form of suassat music (soup music), like Jens’ Trio. This genre is still alive and well, driven by names such as Enok Poulsen and Suernerit (Wind). Sume’s lead singer, Per Berthelsen, also released a number of well-known and beloved folk-pop albums in the 1980s together with his sister Birthe Olsen, after he had moved back to Greenland and Sume had been temporarily dissolved.
A milestone in recent Greenlandic pop music was the album Zedna from the year 2000, on which a string of the most beloved contemporary pop singers in Greenland collaborated. Of these, Nina Kreutzmann and Julie Berthelsen in particular turned out to be two of Greenland’s most important voices.
Julie Berthelsen – private archive
Julie Berthelsen built her music career primarily in Denmark. After participating in the Danish talent show Popstars in 2002, she became one of Danish pop’s most hyped artists, and her debut album Home managed to reach number 1 in the Danish charts. She has since released a number of albums and remains one of Danish TV’s personalities.
Nina Kreutzmann had already made a name for herself in the late nineties as the lead singer of the group Qulleq (oil lamp). After a world tour as a backing singer for the Icelandic artist Björk, she began recording of her solo album in 2003, entitled “Eqqissineq” (Serenity), but it would be 5 years before the album was finished. When “Eqqissineq” finally hit the shelves in Greenland, the album became a big selling success. The album was a mixture of new interpretations of well-known artists as well as new compositions, and Siiva Fleischer’s cosmopolitan national anthem “Silarsuaq takuiuuk” (Have you seen the world?), in particular, was given new life by Nina Kreutzmann’s interpretation.
Nina Kreutzmann could have chosen to follow up “Eqqissineq” with another Greenlandic language album, but she was an artist with something to say, so she chose instead to release a self-written Danish language album entitled “She Stands in the North Wind”, to emphasise the existence of Danish-speaking Greenlanders. The album was not a sales success, although an associated collection of short stories of the same name was praised by critics and highlighted Nina Kreutzmann’s potential as a writer.
Nina and Julie have been friends since high school in Nuuk, where music was an interest they shared. Although their musical paths parted when Julie became famous in Denmark and Nina continued her career in Greenland, the two friends have occasionally come together to demonstrate what they can create together. This happened, for example, when they, together with a choir from Greenland, won the choir competition AllStars on Danish TV in 2010. In 2019 they reunited on another project, when they participated in the Danish Eurovision Song Contest with the track “League of Light”. Nina and Julie went all the way to the Danish final and got the most votes from the viewers, but the Danish judges chose to send the track “Love Is Forever” to the Eurovision final instead.
The list of well-known Greenlandic singers cannot be complete without including Kimmernaq Kjeldsen. Although she is an actress by education, and did not have much musical experience when she went into the studio with her friend and songwriter Pilu Lynge to record the album “Tunissut” (The Gift), the album became a huge hit when it was released in 2007. On the sequel “Uani” (Here) from 2013, Kimmernaq collaborated with songwriter Frederik Elsner, and managed to deliver yet another solid album.
Nick Ørbæk is one of the newer names on the Greenlandic pop scene. He is a bit of an ‘odd one out’ on the scene, for the sole reason that it is primarily female artists we find here, but Nick Ørbæk may surprise outsiders for several reasons. To put it bluntly… Nick Ørbæk is blonde, but yes… he is a Greenlander, and Greenlanders can also look like this. He is also an incredibly talented singer with an almost feminine tone of voice, which surprised many of his fans when he released his danceable solo album “Saappara” (I turn away) in 2018, after having been known from a series of upcoming names in the heaviest corners of the rock genre.
Used with permission from Inunnguaq Petrusse
Inuk is the band that disproves the theory that pop is made by solo artists. The band released their debut album back in 2008, although it did not receive great attention. The sequel, “Aanngalerneq” (Man Is About To Disappear), did, however, when it was released seven years later. With minimal production, complex chord progressions, a silky soft voice and a very talented backing band, lead singer Inunnguaq Petrussen created the timeless “Oqaluttuannguaq” (A Little Story). On the band’s third album “Qalipaatit” (Colours) from 2018, little brother Gustav Petrussen was awarded a more prominent place in the band, but the band has retained its analogue pop sound, which draws clear inspiration from folk music.
Today, folk music in Greenland mostly lives on as a fusion genre – as a style that many bands draw on without their music belonging completely to the genre of folk. Nanook frontman Frederik Elsner’s solo project, F, for example, flirts heavily with the genre. The internationally successful group, Nive and the Deer Children, is often classified as indie-folk, and it is hardly coincidental that Nive Nielsen’s father, Kasper Skifte, frequently appeared on the Aasivik records in various different folk groups.
Rasmus Lyberth – Photo Anders Rye Skjold Jensen
Rasmus Lyberth’s music is, for many, the very sound of Greenlandic music. His big voice and characteristic body language has managed to break down the linguistic barrier that the Greenlandic language often creates for listeners. It is, therefore, also interesting that Rasmus Lyberth’s folk-inspired style does not take up much space on the Greenlandic music scene in general, where pop-rock is the main genre.
But Rasmus Lyberth has collaborators. When he released his debut album, “Erningaa” (My Son) in 1975, Juaaka Lyberth was also active in a number of musical contexts, including the political and cultural Aasivik rallies, where folk music was also cultivated by other artists.
Nive Nielsen – private archive
Rasmus Lyberth is still an actively producing and performing musician today, and Nive Nielsen tours far and wide in Canada, Europe, Asia and the USA with The Deer Children, when she is not busy being an actress in major international productions such as AMC’s gruesome series The Terror, in which she has the lead female role, or the Disney movie Togo. The folk genre is thus strongly fixed in the international awareness of Greenlandic music. Even stronger than it is on the Greenlandic music scene.
Hip-hop culture, and its vocal expression as rap, has become the voice of the marginalized across the globe.
Hip-hop culture, and its vocal expression as rap, has become the voice of the marginalized across the globe. This is also the case in Greenland today, although Greenlandic rap has seeped down through the social strata since the first Greenlandic rap group Nuuk Posse emerged in the early 1990s, after the group’s members had already been cultivating hip-hop culture for a number of years. The result at the time was a lighter, humorous rap music that blended Greenlandic, Danish and English, and put Greenland on the rap world map with concerts in Europe and Canada. Even today, there are few other names in the genre, if anyone at all, who can gather an audience like Nuuk Posse. Although the group’s fans have now grown up, they can still sing along to hits like “Qitik” (Dance) and “Inupiluaqqat” (Little Thieves).
In the following decades, rap music became an underground culture in Greenland and set new standards for what could be said through music. The group Prussic, in particular, was the spearhead of this movement. They harshly criticised their parents for neglect and thereby took an important step towards putting these themes on the agenda in a society in which talking about unpleasant topics has typically been avoided.
As computers, the internet, sampling programs and Android phones have become ubiquitous in Greenland, the production of rap music has exploded. It’s only a fraction of this music that actually reaches beyond the artists’ immediate circles of friends, but the rapper Tarrak is a recent example of this. Today, Tarrak is the biggest name in the third wave of Greenlandic rap, which comes out of the producer Uyarakq’s home studio, and partly also through collaborations with the more experienced rapper Peand-eL. Tarrak puts his middle finger up in all directions – towards Danes, Greenlandic politicians and irresponsible parents, whilst at the same time trying to re-establish an Inuit identity, which might represent a new way to negotiate the meeting between tradition and modernity. In this way, he summarizes trends in Greenlandic rap music, as well as political themes in Greenlandic music in general. And he does this pretty well.
It is said in Greenland that the further north you go, the heavier the music becomes. However, if you expect a heavy metal scene a la Norway’s black metal or the Faroese Viking metal, Greenland will disappoint you. Perhaps because music here is so much about creating community, niche music has a tough ride, and let’s just admit it… heavy metal is not for everyone. However, the country has fostered its fair share of underground bands within the heavy, punk and nü metal genres. A select few of these have achieved national recognition, played bigger concerts and released albums.
The genre’s flagship in Greenland is the group Siissisoq (Rhinoceros). The band broke through the sound barrier with a riff-based heavy rock album about the animals of Africa in 1994. Despite the obvious humor in the music, the group consists of a handful of serious and professional musicians from Uummannaq in North Greenland, who have managed to maintain their base in this more secluded part of Greenland, despite the logistical challenges that this presents.
Pukuut, X-it, I124Q, Arctic Spirits
It is also in Uummannaq, and the area around the even more northern town of Upernavik, that we find the members of the groups Pukuut (Oatmeal), X-it and I124Q (try saying it out loud in English), which have some known overlaps in band members. If we go a little further south, to Disko Bay, we find the band Arctic Spirits from Qeqertarsuaq, which has released a number of heavy albums over the last 10 years.
If we go even further south in Greenland, we find pop-punk such as Uummat from Aasiaat, or heavy grunge in Nuuk from Chilly Friday’s former lead singer Malik (Kleist) – but the well-known heavy bands come from North Greenland. So there’s probably some truth behind the expression.
There is not a very long tradition of electronic music in Greenland. The legend Ole Kristiansen has flirted with the genre since the mid-1980s, but otherwise there are simply sporadic releases, like the G-60 keyboard player Aqqa’s beautiful, but almost forgotten, electronica album Sialuit from 1986, and the dance release Nanu Disco from 1998, which has represented the genre in Greenland.
In recent years, however, electronic music has gained a few prominent performers on the Greenlandic music scene. In recent years, DJ Uyarakq has put out a number of releases on digital platforms such as Spotify and Soundcloud. Genre-wise, the music has moved from Dub Step over towards House, and Uyarakq has simultaneously been active on the Greenlandic hip-hop scene in collaborations with rapper Peand-eL and the new hope in Greenlandic rap – Tarrak, among others. On these collaborations, Uyarakq’s background in electronic music, as well as his technique of sampling well-known Greenlandic hits, has revolutionized Greenlandic rap. Uyarakq is both a provocative and a humorous artist who, along with his collaborators, challenges everything from gender norms to the writing of history in Greenland.
Da Bartali Crew
In the wake of a number of festivals in Nuuk which were dedicated to underground and electronic music, the musical name Da Bartali Crew emerged. Behind the name is the event technician Hans Ole Amossen, who, in collaboration with Ole Mørch, Kasper Mathiesen and a number of other Greenlandic musicians, singers and rappers, has played numerous major concerts around Greenland, which must be said to be a breakthrough for a niche genre like electronic music. In terms of genre, Da Bartali Crew move widely within the electronic subgenres and also like to flirt with rap, but you can sometimes hear inspiration from the French house icon Daft Punk between the lines of Da Bartali Crew’s music.
Experience Live Music
Greenlandic music is very much about community and the sharing of a musical experience, and if you would like to experience this music in the best way possible, Greenland has a number of great festivals to offer.
The country’s oldest music festival, Nipiaa Rock Festival, takes place every year at the end of August in Aasiaat in Disko Bay. The festival is primarily dedicated to Greenlandic rock music, and offers two days of partying and headbanging to some of the country’s best known artists.
In Sisimiut, on the Arctic Circle, the music festival Arctic Sounds offers a wide variety of upcoming Nordic artists. Including workshops and pop-up concerts, Arctic Sounds is quite a different festival for Greenland. Season-wise, the festival takes place in the middle of the Arctic spring. Therefore, a visit to Arctic Sounds can be perfectly combined with dog sledding and snowmobile trips, or perhaps even represent a festive end to participation in the Arctic Circle Race. So if you want to be a part of discovering the next new phenomenon in Greenlandic or Nordic music, Arctic Sounds is the perfect place to go. A few of the more well-known Greenlandic artists also usually come by and play concerts.
In the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk, there are concerts every weekend. But if you really want to experience the best of what Greenlandic music has to offer, Akisuanerit Festival is the safe choice. In early October every year, well-known musicians, both old and new, gather for three days of music and partying in Greenland’s beautiful cultural house – Katuaq. Every year, the festival also invites a couple of internationally renowned artists to Greenland. If you are more into sit-down concerts than partying and dancing, Akisuanerit concludes with an atmospheric Sunday concert, in which a selection of the best the festival has to offer is played for a seated audience.
If you are not after festivals, you can still easily experience Greenland’s live music scene. Keep an eye out for concerts at bars, in community centers or in local churches. Here, you can regularly find everything from drum singing and dancing to electronic music, and it may actually be in one of these settings that you have your greatest musical experience in Greenland.
Music from Greenland has not gone completely digital, as it has in many other countries. You can find a number of artists on iTunes, but with a population of approximately 56,000, many of whom still want to collect CDs or vinyl, the streaming market is simply not that interesting for Greenlandic music as anything other than promotion for the artists. The younger underground names, however, do publish frequently on Spotify, for example,. and the more established names publish singles or selected albums. Of course you can also find music videos from Greenlandic names on YouTube, and a large amount of the older music on there is more or less legal uploads from fans.
Andreas Otte is a teacher, lecturer and writer with a special interest in the topics of Greenlandic music, globalisation and nationalism. He completed his PhD at the University of Copenhagen with the thesis, “Popular music from Greenland” (2014), and is also the bassist in the band Nanook.
Bjørst, Lill Rastad. Fra Polka til Popstars. Tidsskriftet Grønland 52 (1-2):11-20, 2004.
Berthelsen, Per. Sume – en grønlandsk rocklegende, Nuuk: Milik Publishing, 2010.
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