Reclaiming Memories Through Music: Revisiting Elisapie's 'Inuktitut' - The JUNO Awards

When you first listen to Elisapie’s album Inuktitut you may be surprised to recognize the familiar strains of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac or the iconic riffs of Metallic’s “The Unforgiven.” Breathing new life into notable pop and rock classics, Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year winner Elisapie beautifully translates ten iconic songs from the 1960s to 1990s into her mother tongue, the thousand-year-old Inuit language, Inuktitut.

Inspired during the pandemic, Inuktitut is a product of Elisapie’s reconnection with the music of her childhood. Revisiting popular songs that once dominated the radio stations of her home of Nunavik, Northern Quebec, Elisapie experienced an unexpected flood of emotions and nostalgia that she felt compelled to explore further.

More than just a collection of covers, Inuktitut is described by Elisapie as an emotional autobiography with each song representing a deeply personal memory or story from her youth. On Inuktitut, Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” transforms into a tribute to her uncle during the residential school era while “Taimangalimaaq (Time After Time)” is associated with memories of her aunt Alasie and cousin Susie.

A true labour of love, Elisapie was careful to only cover songs that elicited a strong emotional response within her. While listening to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” she recalls being brought to tears realizing, “[for me] this song was really about young kids trying to deal with the loss of a cousin who committed suicide, so this was a song we put on often,” she told CBC’s Q with Tom Power. “I started feeling those emotions again and I felt like they’ve been stuck in my body for so long I didn’t even know they were still there.”

For Elisapie and her community, these timeless anthems provided an escape during a time when their cultural identity was under threat from colonization and many lives were to lost to suicide. By translating these songs into Inuktitut and pairing the accompanying music videos with visuals from the North, Elisapie hopes to help reframe past memories and encourage a deeper exploration of emotions often buried by trauma.

“I wanted people to remember things maybe differently. Not just, ‘Ah I remember my dad and I used to dance to this song.’ Yes, but what also went on [during] that time that maybe you need to bring back?” she shared with CBC News: The National. “When all these songs like Metallica started coming back in a whole new way for me I started remembering and also acknowledging that we shouldn’t forget [the] people [we’ve lost].”

But Inuktitut isn’t just an expression of grief and sorrow, it’s also a celebration of the resilience and joy within the Inuit community. Through this act of cultural reappropriation, Elisapie ensures her language and culture resonate beyond Inuit territory while also giving thanks to the many artists who help create a safe space for her. “I feel like these songs that are not mine are actually mine,” she told the JUNOS. “[This album] is about telling our stories and our pains and our trauma. To find a way to tell the story that we were also people who loved to dance – who love life.” 

Photo credit: Elisapie at JUNO Awards at Scotiabank Centre, Halifax, NS, March 24, 2024 PHOTO CREDIT: CARAS/Ryan Bolton.