Kelly Fraser is angry, and her second album, released in April, explains why.
While the 23 year-old songstress from Sanikiluaq describes her first album Isuma (Think) as “folky, very happy, very Inuk”, this second one – titled Sedna – is “very pop and very dance-y”.
Anger and pop may not sound like the perfect match, but, “The thing is I want young people to listen,” Fraser said. “I know what they listen to. I like that music. I grew up with that music. I’m hoping this will be played at the clubs.”
But at the same time, she said, “I have an angry message, a very angry tone.”
It was deep into a two-year First Nations program in British Columbia, now completed, where she learned more about the violent colonization of Inuit and other indigenous people.
“It made me angry. It made me sad. I didn’t know how to deal with it. So I decided I’m going to make some songs, because I don’t believe keeping it in will help anybody,” she said.
Fraser performed two songs from the new album at the Atausiuqatigiingniq Inuusirmi United for Life Summit held in Iqaluit in May 2016.
She began her set with a song called Fight for the Rights – about the pending land referendum – with a message encouraging others to vote against the sale of lands. Her lyrics show a politically aware young woman confident in her message.
“They were really raw and new,” she says now.
Then she moved on to her own personal story, the one that inspired her to embody the spirit of Sedna, whose story is also one of violence.
“I feel like I have something in common with her. My father killed himself when I was 16 and I had to give away a child shortly after, just like the story,” she said.
Yet, there is a saving grace.
“I grew up with that story. My elders told it to me. It’s a part of us that we seem to try to forget because of what happened with Christian missionaries telling Inuit they can’t practice their spirituality, their drum-dancing and throat-singing and tattooing.
“But there’s revitalization going. I can feel it, I can see it. That’s why I say in the song, when I’m singing as Sedna, ‘I am stronger now.'”
One song, Parachutes – “When I fall, I got parachutes” – is a manifesto, a call to action. Fraser shows her joy and pain, even anger, from one moment to the next – all the while dancing like a natural diva.
Fraser learned, with the help of people who believed in her, that she was a leader and “not useless.”
“We need to help each other. You are the change,” she said.
As part of Nunavut Hitmakerz with her producer and manager Thor Simonsen, Fraser visits communities, bringing recording equipment for the musically inclined to produce their own music and record it.
“We hold workshops. Inuit already know how to make music, we give them tools and a safe space to do it.
Asked who inspires her, without a moment’s hesitation, she answers: Tanya Tagaq.
Meanwhile, Fraser is settling in Ottawa for now.
“I’m getting ready to do workshops and to sing in the south, and to educate people. That’s what I’m doing. I want to educate the southerners on how we live. If we don’t do it, who will? That’s my motto.”
As for Inuit youth, she wants them to talk to their elders.
“Learn your culture. Our culture will not be given to us on a gold platter. We have to work hard for it.”
Finally, she says, she’s nothing without the people who listen to her music.
“Cheering me on, encouraging me. That’s what we all should do, is encourage each other all the time.”
Along with performing in the south, Fraser will perform at Alianait in Iqaluit this summer.