By Trevor Morelli
CALGARY – Artists. Activists. Leaders. Storytellers. There are some of the words to describe The Jerry Cans, and all of them elude to their enthusiasm and endurance for keeping Inuit culture alive though music.
2018 was a breakthrough year for the Iqaluit, Nunavut roots-rock outfit as they were nominated for both Contemporary Roots Album of the Year and Breakthrough Group of the Year last March.
“It’s been an interesting year, as it was our first time all five of us taking on the band as our full-time gig. So it was really our move into making music our career,” remarks throat singer/accordion player Nancy Mike.
It hasn’t always been easy for The Jerry Cans to find an audience. Living remotely in the north is a big challenge to even exist in the music business, and the band struggled to find the right distribution channels when they first started seven years ago.
“Some of the things that we found very hard were to find the right places to go to, to have our music distributed … trying to get our music out there,” Mike explains. “That was very hard when we first started because we’re from a place of 7,000 people, in Iqaluit, obviously it’s a remote place in the North and there aren’t a lot of things that you can just go to for easy access to get your music out there.”
For the Inuit, the pressure to conform to English culture is constant. For instance, Mike noted that even though she conducted the interview in English, Inuktitut is the language she exclusively speaks at home around her family. Despite this, she believes Inuit life in the northern regions will continue to evolve but also hold to it to roots.
“Up here, I think it’s surviving, and people are finding ways to preserve our culture and language in a lot of different ways, and it’s an awesome thing to see. And I don’t think it’ll ever die. We have stamina. We survive the harshest climate, and I think we can continue to keep our language and culture alive regardless of what might affect us.”
The Jerry Cans’ latest effort Innusiq (2016) attempts to enlighten fans about life in Nunavut through foot-stomping, catchy songs. They also released a fantastic cover of The Hip’s “Ahead By A Century” in their native Inuktitut language in 2017.
“A lot of our songs obviously are written up here and are about living up here. And so, when we play in the south, there’s not one show we don’t talk about what it is like up here, and what kind of lifestyle, and what kind of struggles we face, because that’s our life,” Mike comments. “When we are onstage and performing, we want to tell everybody and educate everybody about who we really are and what it’s like.”
The Jerry Cans perform Jan. 19 at The Broadway Theatre (Saskatoon), Jan. 20 at The Gateway (Calgary), Jan. 22 at Bo’s Bar and Grill (Red Deer), and Jan. 23 at Festival Place (Edmonton).Bo’s Bar and Grill, Festival Place, Let's get Inuit, The Broadway Theatre, The Gateway, The Jerry Cans