Written by Andrea Gin and Jennifer Van Evra.
Canada is such a vast country that it sometimes feels like an impossible task to keep up with all the new music being produced around us. As we approach Canada Day, it seems like a good time to stop and take stock.
We’ve polled artists, labels, record stores and colleagues to bring you what we we hope is a comprehensive series on all the best new and emerging music you should listen to in Canada right now.
Look for different regions from our nation-wide survey to be posted in the coming days. First up, our list of must-hear artists from the North.
The Jerry Cans
Alt-country, throat singing and reggae are just a few of the styles you’ll find folded into the music of the Jerry Cans, a high-energy five-piece from Iqaluit, Nunavut, that’s known for getting fans from kids to elders up and dancing. Passionate about preserving their language and culture, the group sings about life in the Arctic and performs many of their songs in Inuktitut. As CBC’s Tom Power says, “The Jerry Cans challenge mainstream music norms by sticking to their roots.”
Made up of transgender Anishinaabe-Métis artist Grey Gritt and Inuk singer and storyteller Tiffany Ayalik, Quantum Tangle is turning heads with its mix of powerhouse songs and storytelling, throat singing and soulful blues. Earlier this year, the pair’s album Tiny Hands also won a Juno for best Aboriginal album — and they aim to inspire the next generation of Aboriginal artists. "Especially if you come from a small, remote community, it's easy to buy into the notion that just because you're isolated you have less of a right to participate in the arts," Ayalik told CBC. "That's not true."
Old Cabin is the project of Whitehorse-based singer-songwriter Jona Barr, who followed up a 2013 self-titled EP with Saturn Return, an EP that folds influences from folk to art rock. Old Cabin has also toured extensively, performing at Dawson City Music Festival, Pop Montreal, Up Here, Summers End Folk Fest and others.
The Bushman NT
Holy F--k, No Age, Mogwai, Lorde and Grimes are just a few of the favourite artists that Bushman NT, a.k.a. Casey Koyczan, lists as favourites. An Indigenous multi-instrumentalist who was born and raised in Yellowknife, Koyczan uses live looping to mash hip-hop, electronica, metal and more — and his songs are inspired by everything from Aboriginal art to Northern legends.
Using a mix of English and Inuktitut lyrics, Inuk artist Kelly Fraser delves into Inuit history and contemporary society through the ancient story of Sedna, goddess of the sea, on her recently released sophomore album Sedna. The first single, "Fight for the Rights," is a song she wrote about land claims. “The goal of the album is to help heal those suffering from the effects of colonization, including the damaging effects of residential school and forced relocation," says Fraser, who believes contemporary music can help heal her people, on her website. "There is a great need for Inuit artists to directly speak to those affected from the past."
Have you ever heard of a music genre called Arctic soul? Well, it’s time you did. Iqaluit’s the Trade-Offs have been a staple on the Northern music scene for several years, winning over audiences with their vintage-sounding mix of blues-rock and funk, singing songs in both Inuktitut and English. Singer/guitarist Joshua Qaumariaq’s powerful, weathered voice, full of character, is perfectly suited to howling the blues. The band is an alumnus of our own Searchlight competition, and has played all over Canada on festivals and main stages.
Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merritt, a.k.a Ivaluarjuk, a.k.a IVA (pronounced ee-vah), performs an enthralling mix of Inuit throat singing, poetry and Celtic fiddle, creating a sound that seems both familiar but uniquely her own. Hailing from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Ivaluarjuk has captured the attention of an impressive list of musicians, having performed alongside the likes of Tanya Tagaq, Susan Aglukark, Owen Pallet and DJ Spooky. She is also an innovator in throat-singing, using a loop-peddle to create harmonies in melodies and three-way throat songs. Her vocals call to mind sounds of the Arctic, giving voice to the wind, tundra and sea.
Watch her 2015 performance at Folk on the Rocks with Tanya Tagaq, Tiffany Ayalik, and Hovak Johnston, below.
Singer-songwriter Riit has already earned a following for her smooth-sounding folk-pop, even though she has yet to release an album. She combines her skills on guitar and accordion with throat singing and writes songs with catchy pop hooks that are based in folk music instrumentation. Raised in Panniqtuq, Nunavut, she has already shared stages with artists like Twin Flames, Elisapee Isaac, and the Jerry Cans. She is set to release a highly anticipated debut in June on Aakuluk Records.
This Yukon-based singer-songwriter and poet made it all the way to the top 25 from over 2,000 entries in this year’s Searchlight competition, and with good reason: her folk songs about the wilderness and exploring the human experience are gently haunting. Originally from Cochrane, Ont., Kinglit travelled to Zimbabwe, Egypt and Cameroon before settling in Yukon, drawing songwriting inspiration from everywhere she’s been. She has opened for Dan Mangan and this summer will take the stage at the Dawson City Music Festival.
This two-piece from Whitehorse is made up of lifelong friends Patrick Hamilton and Aiden Tentrees, who have been in various bands together since their teens, and refer to their sound as “space dump rock.” The duo is known for its playful live shows, which involve Hamilton and Tentrees trading off vocals and playing multiple instruments. Their second record, Sophomore, is due out in June.