Greenland’s Music History, Part 1

- Did Greenlanders really invent rap battles?

QILAAT

Before colonization and meeting Europeans, the frame drum (called qilaat in Greenlandic) was the primary musical instrument among Eskimo peoples throughout the north. A drum performance is typically some combination of playing the drum, dancing and singing, but it is also one part acting as sometimes the drum dancer changes his or her facial expressions and appearance. For example, drum dancers can put a stick crossways in their mouth so that the cheeks are large and misshapen, and the voice becomes altered.

Watch drum dancing here.

The drum’s functions are many. One way it was used was in song fights where opponents expressed their dissatisfaction for each other through song. There could very well be violence during song fighting, such as hitting in the head or other physical impact, but the purpose was always to clear the air between the two. The battle was also about making the opponent break down and show weakness in front of the audience, which could perhaps be compared to the present day rap battle. In some instances, it was achieved with such great success that the loser subsequently had to move to another settlement.

When the first missionaries came to Greenland in 1721, their aim was to convert Greenlanders to Christianity. Many of them also worked to annihilate these forms of drum dancing and singing because they interpreted them as hedonistic rituals. The result is that the tradition has nearly been completely lost, but today locals are trying to revive it.

"A drum performance is typically some combination of playing the drum, dancing and singing, but it is also one part acting as sometimes the drum dancer changes his or her facial expressions and appearance."

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