Renewing tradition with love
THE STRONG BOND BETWEEN JANICE PARSONS GORDON AND SANDY EMUDLUK HAS PUT A MODERN SPIN ON AN ANCESTRAL ART.
BY ELISE DANIELLE LEGAULT / PHOTO ALEXI HOBBS
Sporting their arnautik and silapak, Janice Parsons Gordon and Sandy Emudluk dazzle in the warm August sunlight. As Sandy beats his drum, Janice projects her voice, and the strong wind carries their melody to the ears of nearby onlookers.
At the time of this picturesque scene, in 2019, Sandy and Janice had been performing together for two years. Generally starting with a combination of traditional song and drum, their performance takes an unexpected turn when the pair face each other and begin to throat sing.
“People love it,” Janice affirms gleefully. “They tell us that we are keeping the tradition alive, but we are doing it the modern way: a man and a woman.”
Inuit stories, tales of joy and happiness, patience and perseverance, were told through song and dance, by both men and women, before any written system existed. Katajjaq (throat singing), however, is traditionally practised amongst women.
His admiration for Janice’s voice is what inspired Sandy to take up the art form. For weeks, he emulated her melodies and techniques in secrecy. “I started practising, and when I became good enough, I asked her to throat sing with me,” he remembers. Astonished by her partner’s ability, Janice agreed to coach Sandy. The couple, who work at the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau in Kuujjuaq, showcased their talents to friends and colleagues. Celebrated by their peers, they perfected their act and eventually booked regular performances with Nunavik Parks. In 2019, they flew to Pangnirtung, Nunavut, to perform at the popular Pang Fest.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic halted their 2020 performances, it hasn’t confined their love nor their creativity. The couple have found solace in teaching drumming and throat singing to local youth, and have launched YAYA Inspirations, a jewellery line that honours their heritage.