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Elisapie Isaac’s language arts 

Juno-winning Inuit singer showcases her spontaneous side. Laura Kenins talks music and film.

click to enlarge Isaac calls solo songwriting “more feminine, more personal.”
  • Isaac calls solo songwriting “more feminine, more personal.”

In spite of a cell phone connection that keeps cutting out, Elisapie Isaac is in high spirits on her way home to Montreal from Ottawa. The Inuit singer performed July 1 on Parliament Hill for celebrating Canadians and the visiting royal couple, who she had a chance to meet as well. "They were kind enough to go and salute the artists," she says.

Isaac performed previously as half of the Juno-winning folk duo Taima and released her first solo album, There Will Be Stars, in 2009 and toured it in Canada and recently New York, promoting the American release. Isaac took her time getting to writing a solo album. "I wasn't sure if I was able to write songs by myself," she says. "It's more feminine, more personal and definitely more pop," she says.

Half-Inuit by birth, Isaac was adopted into an Inuit family in a remote community in arctic Quebec. Her roots influence her songwriting, but her musical style is more influenced by country music and Canadian musicians like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. Her first language is Inuktitut, her second French, but the album is mostly written in English, with a few Inuktitut songs and one French song written for her by Richard Desjardins. "He wrote me a text about an Inuk girl dreaming of the southern life when this young white boy goes back to the south," she says. Isaac also collaborated with other Quebecois artists on the recording.

"French is my second language, but I always say English has always been a part of me...we automatically become trilingual very fast," Isaac says. She doesn't find her choice of language in writing a song is a conscious thing. "I try not to decide on anything when writing a song, I'm very spontaneous. The language part is definitely not something I think about, it's a feeling I get."

She finds her Inuktitut songs tend to be more personal, about her identity and the people close to her. "The first song on the album is a very organic sexual song coming from a woman to a man, where they've spent the night together and it becomes the day and it goes back to being the night---it's love at first sight, feeling right." Another is directed towards her daughter, who's now five, telling her to "look up to the sky and the stars in order not to get lost"---about wanting to keep her close but knowing she can't always watch over her. "They're very much about my world, to inspire myself about what's going on around me.

Isaac has Atlantic roots as well---her biological father came from Newfoundland. "When I meet people from there, I really connect with them," she says, and is thrilled to learn of The Newfoundland Store in Halifax.

Isaac studied communications in college in Montreal and has also worked as a journalist and filmmaker. She began working in radio and TV as a teenager and has worked with the NFB making documentaries about circumpolar peoples, travelling to interview people in Canada, Siberia, Greenland and Norway. She made another about Inuit identity in the old and the young. In the fall Issac plans to take a break and focus on a film. "It's kind of top secret, involving somebody well-known," she says. "I don't know if it's going to work out, but I have a good feeling.

"Music is much more a way out, much more free. It's a very physical connection. Film is very much thinking, it's not's much more my intellectual side."

To that end, Isaac promises a rousing performance for her Halifax show, accompanied by two multi-instrumentalist bandmates. "We're dancing at the end."


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