The Jerry Cans want to encourage other people to make the effort to learn an Indigenous language. One way to do that, they add, is through music.
The band, which hails from Iqaluit and performs largely in Inuktitut, an Inuit language, will be in Quesnel this Saturday, Jan. 26.
Their music is an upbeat mix of folk, alternative rock, country and traditional Inuit sounds.
Nancy Mike, who plays the accordion and throat sings for the band, says the biggest challenge to performing in Inuktitut is that the crowd doesn’t always understand what they’re singing about.
“But,” she adds, “you don’t necessarily need to understand the lyrics to understand the music. There’s always a way to connect to the music without understanding exactly what we’re singing or saying. And that’s the beauty of music.”
The band has also been asked many times if they should start singing in English. But Mike says their answer is always, “no, we don’t need to.” She says the band wants to encourage young people, especially those from Indigenous or minority communities, to “stay strong” and use their own language.
The band has performed across Canada and the world — not to mention at the 2018 Juno Awards — and is currently on a 10-day tour around western Canada.
Quesnel will be the last show on the 10-day tour, which sees the band performing in nine towns and cities, from Saskatchewan to B.C.
Mike, also the band’s only Inuit member, says she first started throat singing when she was 14 years old. There was a summer music festival every year in her hometown, and when she was about 14 years old, they brought in two traditional throat singers to perform.
The singers held a workshop for anyone in the town to attend, and Mike went with a friend to learn more about the practice. She says with the history of colonialism, throat singing had become less and less common, so at the time, she wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Following the workshop, she and her friend decided to continue practising.
Once she was accepted into a college program in Ottawa, Mike says she became more interested in performing live and travelling the world — something she now does as a member of The Jerry Cans.
The band first formed without Mike, who joined about a year after the band started. At the time, it was singer and guitarist Andrew Morrison, bassist Brendan Doherty and drummer Steve Rigby. Mike says they largely played covers and rock and roll.
After Mike joined, she says, “that’s when we started writing in Inuktitut and incorporating throat singing and doing more northern-style music, influenced by artists that are from the north.”
Violinist Gina Burgess, from Halifax, N.S., later joined the group as well. Burgess is the only member of the group who did not grow up in the north.
While the band was first starting out, Mike says it was particularly difficult to get their music out there. She says there’s not a lot of music industry up north, and they had to figure out their own way of getting themselves heard. She says it took them a while, and even now, there is still more work to be done.
“For example,” she says, “we don’t have a recording studio. [Our recordings are] usually done in home recording studios, and that works fine and we really love that home feel to it, but that was one of the struggles that we’ve had.”
Being from a small town (Iqaluit has a population of just over 7,700 people), Mike says they love performing in smaller communities.
“We just love that community feel that a small place has.”
She says a benefit of coming from a smaller town is that it feels like there’s almost more authenticity “because you know what the struggles are, and you know you had to work harder [to get where you are].”
The best shows, she adds, are when they get really good crowd interaction. They put on high-energy shows and love when crowds share their enthusiasm.
She says they also try to send out some messages to their audiences, whether it’s reminding young people to continue living life and taking care of their mental health, or encouraging youth to continue using their Indigenous language.
“We’re always so proud when we have Indigenous people in the crowd coming and supporting us,” say Mike. “I, as an Inuit, find there’s always a personal connection when we see more Inuit, or Indigenous [people] in general, in the crowd. It’s always heartwarming.”
She adds: “We’re very very excited to come to Quesnel and see how that goes.”
The Jerry Cans will be performing at The Occidental Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Bo Peep Boutique, Circle “S” Western Wear, the Quesnel and District Arts and Recreation Centre and at the door.