Thursday, 24 June 2010

Trilingual singer/songwriter Elisapie Isaac, Inuit of Salluit, Nunavik at Winnipeg International Jazz Festival

Trilingual singer/songwriter Elisapie Isaac brings her unique brand of folk-pop to the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival
Jen Zoratti

The  great communicatorElisapie Isaac is a trilingual folk singer, composer, filmmaker and journalist. She's also easily one of the most interesting people performing at the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

Born to an Inuk mother and a Newfoundland father, Isaac was adopted at birth by an Inuit family and raised in the tiny, isolated hamlet of Salluit, Nunavik, which is located on Quebec's Northern coast. In 2000, she headed south to Montreal to pursue her passion for communications, finding success in TV, radio and film. (In 2003, she directed the award-winning National Film Board documentary If The Weather Permits — a thoughtful and moving examination of modern-day Inuit culture.)

Still, music has always been a vital communications tool for Elisapie, who sings and composes in Inuktitut, French and English. Previously known for her work in the Juno-winning duo Taima, Isaac stepped out on her own in 2009 with her solo debut, There Will Be Stars — a strikingly beautiful collection of feminine folk-pop songs that'll make you fall head over heels in love.

Sigh. Is there anything this girl can't do?

Uptown: How were you introduced to music?

Isaac: Music is very weird for me. It's hard for me to describe how music came into my life because I come from a small isolated town. But I loved singing — it was a way for me to express myself. I started singing religious music. Religion was introduced to the Inuit people in the 1920s, and they became Anglican church members (laughs). I'm not religious, but the hymns became part of the culture and part of who I am. Of course, in school I always wanted to sing. I was very shy and introverted in many ways, and music became my tool to let it all out. But I never really took it seriously — it was a way to express myself.

U: What made you take it seriously?

Isaac: When people started saying I had a unique voice. They would say, 'It sounds like Elisapie.' It was a revelation. I'm not one to be always running after things — sometimes I am — but with music I was insecure. I didn't have the guts to say, 'Here I am.' So (my confidence) mostly came from my friends. When I got to Montreal, I wanted to make (singing) part of my artistic approach. That's when I met Alain Auger and we started collaborating and came up with Taima.

U: You recently put out your first solo record. What was that experience like for you?

Isaac: It was great. It was a very personal adventure for me. For me as a human, an artist and a woman, it was a life to another level. My confidence was lifted. It changed my life, and I want to make more. It was a very important process for me.

U: You perform and write in all three of your languages. How do you know which language will most appropriately serve a song?

Isaac: I thought there was a, how do you say, a formula. But the melody comes before the lyrics, often, and the words and phrasing come after. So it depends on what the melody brings out in me. My language is Inuktitut, but it's hard to find poetry in it. It's a straight-forward language. English, for everyone who loves folk and pop music, it's in its own world. People who write songs love English for that. French is a a very strict and complicated language. but it's also very beautiful. Each has its own meaning and purpose. I'm trilingual every day.

June 27, 7 p.m., Old Market Square (free show) & 9:30 p.m., Aqua Books