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Encyclopedia > Inuit music

The Inuit live across the northern sections of Canada, especially in Yukon, Nunavat and Northwest Territories, as well as in Alaska and Greenland. Traditional Inuit music has been based around drums used in dance music as far back as can be known, and a vocal style called katajjaq has become of interest in Canada and abroad.

In Inuit there is no word for what a European-influenced listener or ethnomusicologist's understanding of music, "and ethnographic investigation seems to suggest that the concept of music as such is also absent from their culture." The closest word, nipi, includes music, the sound of speech, and noise. (Nattiez 1990:56)

Native American/First Nation music
Music of the United States Music of Canada
Pan-tribal genres
Chicken scratch Peyote song
Native American flute Ghost Dance
Powwow Hip hop
Tribal sounds
Blackfoot Apache
Kiowa Sioux
Inuit Cree
Seminole Tohono O'odham
Omaha Navajo
Hopi Pueblo
Algonquin Ute
Cherokee Tlingit
Salish Athabaskan
Aleut Yupik
Iroquois Zuni

Until the advent of commercial recording technology, Inuit music was usually used in spiritual ceremonies to ask the spirits (see Inuit mythology) for good luck in hunting or gambling, as well as simple lullabies. Inuit music has long been noted for a stoic lack of work or love songs. These musical beginnings were modified with the arrival of European sailors, especially from Scotland and Ireland. Instruments like the accordion were popularized, and dances like the jig or reel became common. Scotch-Irish derived American country music has been especially popular among Inuits in the 20th century.

The Canadian Broadcasting Service has been broadcasting music in Inuit communities since 1961, when a station was opened in Iqaluit, Northwest Territories. Charlie Panigoniak was the best-known of the early Inuit recording stars, and he remains a popular accordion-player. The most famous Inuit performers, however, are Susan Aglukark and Tanya Tagaq Gillis.


Katajjaq (also pirkusirtuk and nipaquhiit) is a type of traditional competitive song, considered a game, usually held between two women. It is one of the world's few examples of throat-singing, a unique method of producing sounds that is otherwise best-known in Tuvan throat-singing. When competing, two women stand face-to-face and sing using a complex method of following each other, thus that one voice hits a strong accent while the other hits a weak, melding the two voices into a nearly indistinguishable single sound. They repeat brief motifs at staggered intervals, often imitating the sounds of geese, caribou or other wildlife, until one runs out of breath, trips over her own tongue, or begins laughing, and the contest is then over. "The old woman who teaches the children corrects sloppy intonation of contours, poorly meshed phase displacements, and vague rhythms exactly like a Western vocal coach." (Nattiez 1990:57)


  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 0691027145.

  Results from FactBites:
Indian music includes drums, rattlers, horns, and more. (0 words)
Generally, music in this culture was not solely utilized for entertainment, but rather for the summoning of spirits and for speaking to the dead.
Music was also used for storytelling, praying, and for announcing warfare.
Different tribes used different methods of communication music, including throat singing, which was a way to perform vocals through tightening and loosening the muscles in the throat, producing a wailing sound.
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