Riit on being an artist: be whoever you want to be, say whatever you want to say

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Since Nunavut’s own Aakuluk Music launched Riit’s self-titled EP in 2017, the 23-year-old’s musical artistry has been noted in many a publication.

Riit’s debut full-length album ataataga is scheduled to be released by Six Shooter Records October 25.
photo courtesy Six Shooter Records

Come October 25, with the release of her debut full-length album ataataga, the attention and accolades are sure to grow if advance notices are any indication.

“Riit’s long-awaited debut, ataataga, is electro-art-pop at its most dazzling. Every song shimmers: the refracted dance of sunlight kissing snow; frozen lakes like mirrors, moonlight filling up the night sky,”  CBC Music wrote in its Fall 2019 guide: 17 albums you need to hear.

“From the album’s eponymous opener, Riit envelops the listener in a sonic landscape that juxtaposes her history, traditions and cultural practice with futurist, club-ready beats and synth-pop flourishes, offering stunning original compositions and a few skilfully re-imagined covers of beloved Nunavut songwriters.”

The album is produced by Toronto’s Graham Walsh of the band Holy (expletive deleted).

“I feel like I always grew up with music around, especially with my with my dad being a musician. And then my mom was always listening to music,” said Riit.

“I was always around it. But I think when I first started to play music was when I would go to Iqaluit for the summer music camps.”

That music camp is the stuff of legends. There’s hardly a young south Baffin musician who hasn’t attended or taught alongside co-founder Darlene Nuqingaq since its inception 24 years ago.

Riit wrote her first song at 13, with a friend, and earnestly began writing songs at 15 or 16, she recalls. From there, she says she’s the sort of person who just goes with the flow. The flow has taken her to London, performing for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and Paris.

“I was just taking gigs here and there, or even recording my first EP, I was still not saying, ‘OK, I could make a living out of this.’ And, all the hard work, I feel like it’s all paying off,” she said.

Part of the hard work is always being away from home and loved ones. She stays in touch with her mother by telephone, and communicates with her niece via FaceTime every other day. She returns to Pang or Iqaluit every month or two.

“Or anywhere in Nunavut. Even if I don’t go to Iqaluit or Pang or Clyde … Even if I go to Arviat, I’ll still be, ‘Oh my God, I’m home.’ Because I’m on my Nunavut land,” she said.

She sometimes finds having to constantly educate people about home and Inuit culture really draining.

“Also, being a musician and writing songs that are so personal to you, sometimes talking about these songs were re-triggering in a way,” Riit said.

“I really had to find a way to strategize a lot – not to feel sorry for yourself with all the hardships that you’ve been through in life and just be thankful for the experiences and the lessons that you gained from that.”

Riit write and sings solely in Inuktitut, about many of the social issues that are a reality in the territory.

But about the new album, she says, “It feels amazing.”

“It’s been a long time coming. I feel like we are working on it for so long, so having an actual release date feels really good. And I’m really excited for everyone to hear it.”

ataataga features collaborations with Elisapie, as well as Josh Qaumariaq as together they cover Northern Haze’s Inuusivut.

“It’s a little different from my EP because this new one is all electronic with throatsinging, pop,” said Riit.

As for advice for other budding Inuit musical artists, she has this to say:

“When I was just starting off, and even just pretty recently, I was always so nervous about what people were going to think or what people were going to say, but now I think that’s the beauty of being an artist. You can be whoever you want to be and you can say whatever you want to say.”