Riit takes the big stage

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The 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) opening ceremonies featured several fantastic performances of dance and music, both traditional and modern.

Rita Mike-Murphy of Pangnirtung performs one of her songs during the opening ceremonies of the North American Indigenous Games last month in Toronto. James McCarthy/NNSL photo

Rita Mike-Murphy was one of those who got the chance to take to the stage and show the large crowd gathered just how good she is.
Mike-Murphy, who performs as Riit, wowed the crowd at the Aviva Centre in Toronto with a mixture of vocal and throat singing on July 16.
“I just agreed to do it when they asked me,” she said.
When the offer came, the one thing organizers didn’t tell Mike-Murphy was that there would be a sizable crowd.
“I didn’t really know that there would be 5,000 people,” she said. “That made me a bit nervous.”
Mike-Murphy had never performed in front of thousands of people and she said the best way she knew how to take the edge off was just do her thing.
“I don’t really have a way to not make myself nervous,” she said. “I close my eyes sometimes and I don’t mean to do it, but having Kathleen on stage with me helped a lot. I’ve never performed alone and that was what I was going to do but it felt awkward and not right.”
There was a reason for that.
You see, when Mike-Murphy performs, she does so with a full band on stage with her. That didn’t happen in Toronto as she used a back-up track, but it didn’t feel 100 per cent. That was when Rankin Inlet’s Kathleen Merritt stepped in to provide a helping hand and voice.
Merritt only got the call to perform the night before the opening ceremony.
“Riit was supposed to perform on her own originally,” said Merritt. “After she did her sound check, she wanted a throat-singing partner on stage to make it sound more natural.”
The decision to join Mike-Murphy on stage was an easy one, she added.
“She’s a good friend and we’re touring together all summer,” she said. “It was natural for me to want to be up there with her.”
The duo was about to embark on their summer tour following the performance at NAIG with several shows planned for Toronto, along with stops to Ottawa and the Ontario communities of Clarendon and Goderich.
It would make sense that cities such as Ottawa and Toronto would have heard traditional throat singing before, but smaller communities in Ontario may not.
Mike-Murphy said there is the curiosity from people the first time they hear it but that curiosity turns into praise shortly after.
“They come and compliment it,” she said. “It’s not really a ‘what the heck was that?’ but they really like it.”