Music and Dancing in Greenland
By: Vikki Beale
While Iceland may boast popular singers and alternative bands such as The Sugarcubes, its musical history is fairly straight forward. Holidays to Iceland could see you attending the performances of Emiliana Torrini and Sigur Rós, or you could spend your time at Iceland Airwaves, a music festival where local and international bands perform at clubs throughout Reykjavík. If you are interested in music, you can see most types of music and performances, as you embark on an exciting specialist holiday in Iceland.
But it is Greenland’s musical history that is particularly intriguing. Greenland’s modern musical scene sees the amalgamation of Inuit and Danish music, combined with the added influences of some Canadian territories, Alaska and Eastern Russia. A rich musical tradition exists here, with all music types from folk songs to rock music forming an integral part of Greenlandic life. Greenland travel could see you dancing to the rhythms of Shamans and bopping to the music of hip-hop artist, Nuuk Posse, and it’s worth investigating Greenland package holidays to see if you can tie in a performance with your trip.
Current Musical Trends in Greenland
While Greenland’s current popular music scene is not as big as Iceland’s, its modern music is unique in that it retains a traditional feel. The biggest record label in Greenland is ULO. The label is based in the town Sisimiut, and is responsible for the majority of the releases on the Greenland music scene. It covers a range of genres, and produces everything from the rock music of Sume to Inuit folk music. Also with the label is pop singer Rasmus Lyberth and hip-hop artist Nuuk Posse.
Simamuit is an interesting theatre group and would make for a good evening of modern performances with a traditional flavour when on a Greenland holiday. They combine indigenous elements of Inuit drum dances with masks and face painting, creating an interesting contemporary art form.
Traditional Greenlandic Folk Music
A holiday to Iceland could include discovering the Nordic folk music of the local people. And while this would be fascinating, it doesn’t have the same extent of cultural diversity that Greenlandic folk music provides. On travels to Greenland, discovering its traditional music is a great way to get into the minds of the local people. It is in the east and the northeast that you will find the greatest amount of surviving traditional influences. On a Greenland holiday, take the time to watch the sacred drum beats and dances being performed, with the locals playing on an oval, wooden-framed drum, covered by bear-bladder.
Shamans would integrate drums into their religious traditions, often incorporating humour into the performances. Song and drum duals were used as a way for rivals to compete, where the competitor managing to elicit the most laughs out of the audience was the victor.
Traditional Inuit Music
At the essence of traditional Inuit music is drum beats and song. None of their music is purely instrumental, and the rhythmic beat of traditional drumming always lies at its heart. Dance too, plays an important role in Inuit musical traditions, and music is always accompanied by singing and dancing, often being very festive. If you go at the right time, you could witness or even participate in these spiritual yet entertaining events on your Greenland holiday.
The instruments commonly used in traditional Inuit music are whistles, bull-roarers (dating back the 17000 BC, these instruments were originally used as a means to communicate over large distances) and buzzers (whirling objects making a buzzing/humming sound). And illustrating European cultural influences, Jew’s harps and fiddles have been incorporated into Inuit music.
The Art of Competition
Similar to the drum-beat duals in Shaman rituals, drum dances are used as a means of competition between two males, often cousins. The dancers compose songs which are sung by their families while they dance, and are usually performed in a qaggi, which is a snow-house used for events and festivals. The criteria for judging the dancers are based on their endurance in a lengthy performance, as well as the composition of the dance itself. Perhaps you would be lucky enough to receive an invitation to such an event while on your Greenland travels.
While the men demonstrate their strength through their dancing, women compete with one another through song. The two women will face each other and begin singing songs using throat-singing and making animal noises. The competition usually comes to an end because the women laugh at their own utterances, which is a demonstration of the friendly nature of the Greenlandic people.
About the Author
Vikki Beale is a holiday expert for Iceland2go, a specialist operator providing Greenland holidays and holidays to Iceland. We provide luxury tailor-made itineraries and the finest package holidays in Greenland and Iceland, with sights including glaciers, geysers, fjords, and the Northern Lights.
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