AUTHOR’S NOTE: With the Yellowknife International Film Festival coming up, I got a sneak preview for some of the movies for reviews.
On September 28, the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) will kick off the Yellowknife International Film Festival with a common theme for the festival: A small group of Aboriginal people reclaiming their culture. In the case of the short documentary Return of Throat Singing, a small group of Inuit women practice the art of throat singing. Over the course of 8 minutes, we get an in depth look at this musical activity, from the various types to its meaning for these women.
This little film begins with two women throat singing over a northern landscape. “Throat singing is like a communication between two women” explains Silpa Sularak. “And we do it using our throats and our mouths and our breaths and our voices.” The recent years have seen a growing interest in this skill within the North. Sularak and her musical partner Eva Obed are just two among many women reviving this musical style. These women range from middle aged women like April Andersen and Susie Debbie Lyall to teenagers like Althaya Solomon and Caroline Nochasak. These women provide use with an idea of what goes into the practice of throat singing, especially various techniques of throat singing (The Love Song, The Geese). I have to nitpick in wishing they had went into a lot more detail into the techniques including how they rehearse it, and how it was formed.
But the true focus of the film is not to much the techniques of the singing but the meaning behind it for these women. Some audience members may not share their interest, but like any great film, Return to Throat Singing captures the heart of this music and absorbs us in the passion these women share. Solomon and Nochasak do it because they think it’s cool to have a special talent others don’t know how to do. For Lyall, it’s a chance to communicate with her grandmother.
At the core of this growing interest comes from the tragedy of residential schools. For decades, aboriginal children were forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture’s activities, including throat singing. Since the formation of the Youth Division in 2000, we had seen a regrowth of this cultural practice. In a way, this offers a deeper meaning for the women. Throat Singing serves to bring the people closer to their culture, closer to their loved ones and closer to themselves. As Oden says “I just want everyone to know that Inuit culture is still here.”
Those words could also describe this documentary. It reminds the world of the existence of aboriginal cultural activities and the importance of preserving it for generations current and future. It also demonstrates the role it plays in giving the people a sense of self identity and connection to their culture. Finally, it promotes this unique musical style for others with potential interests. It’s important for films like this to be shown for a wider audience.