About the project

The publishing of these five CDs with traditional Greenlandic music has many purposes.  One of the main purposes is to document the outstanding original form of music that has roots in ancient traditions in the Arctic area. On these CDs, you can listen to a selection of 189 recordings of traditional music, collected since 1906 in all parts of Greenland. Most of the recordings found in the archives of Danish Folklore Archives in Copenhagen and at Greenland National Museum and Archives in Nuuk.

800 hours of recorded music

For years, I, Karsten Sommer, and the ethnomusicologist Michael Hauser, sat down for many hours reviewing and listening to the material; about 800 hours of recorded music all in all! No one had ever listened to all the material in one session. Our idea was to get a total overview of the traditional Greenlandic music by listening to everything recorded, before we could get any further.

The purpose of this long study was to bring the best of these many hours of recordings to light, so that the historical music tradition of the Inuit could be exposed and made public to a greater audience. Instead of just lying in some dusty and unnoticed archives! The benefactors of this publication are present day Greenlanders as well as people around the world, who are interested in genuine ethnic music from one of the most unknown cultures of the world. Music closely connected to the harsh living conditions and shamanistic traditions of the Inuit society. Furthermore, we think that this material is a hidden treasure of beautiful melodies; a glimpse of the life lived in that moment, which can certainly give present day people an inspiring experience.

Long forgotten artists

We have chosen to make a broad collection of the material. Some of the most legendary drum singers present their most outstanding songs from recording sessions through a whole century, from 1906 to 1989. Here, in the 21.century, we honor them and get a chance to listen to these long gone and deceased “folksingers” at their best. It is a great satisfaction to know that our work makes sure we´ll always remember them. We have tried to select the recordings that represent the greatest originality, skills and atmosphere, which documents the drum singing tradition at its best.

The process

We the editors have listened with different backgrounds. Michael Hauser, one of the greatest music theoretical authorities on Inuit drum songs has focused on the musical structure and the rhythmical rules in the music. Personally, I do not have a great theoretical knowledge of drum songs. However, through my many years of work with all forms of Greenlandic music, I have acquired a great love to the joy as well as the festivities that has always surrounded the music in Greenland. You find the same atmosphere on these CDs.

Through the editing process, we have received invaluable help from both Hivshu, Robert E. Peary II and James Bianco, who helped us writing down and translating the words and lyrics on the songs. This means that most of the text material is written down in the cover notes for each CD, so that the many listeners, both in Greenland and abroad, who don´t understand Greenlandic, will have the possibility to understand the contents of the songs and stories.

Not just music

The songs and the narrative stories on these CDs are not just music. They are small sound pictures that reflect the long gone Greenland. Our very skilled sound technician Ossian Ryner has cleaned the old recordings with a sensitive use of the newest sound technology. He has removed the scratches, gramophone noises and tape sounds, so we get close to the atmosphere that was in the session room at that time many years ago when the singers performed, often with friends and family in the background.

A tribute to the collectors

The collection of these songs is also a tribute to the brave men who since 1906 and throughout the century went up to the far north with great challenge to collect and record these songs. The earliest of these recording pioneers sailed since 1906 from Europe to Greenland for many weeks bringing their fragile sound recording equipment: Phonographs with lacquer cylinders, in the 1930´s steel tape and from the 1960´s with mono and stereo tape recorders. When they after their long voyage arrived to their destination, Thule, the East or the West coast, they contacted the local singers and requested them to sing. In the oldest recordings the informants sang directly into the funnel of “His Masters Voice”, later came the first microphones. These many pioneers were first of all curios and had true respect for genuine folk art. It has been a privilege and a great honor, many years later, to work with the results of these great collectors.

A musical journey through Greenland

Out of the many hundred hours of music we listened, we have selected a little bit more than five hours of recordings. Overall, five CDs - the first two with mixed artists from Thule came out in 2010 (ULOCD-165 and ULOCD-166). A third CD with the most famous Thule drum singer of them all, Imîna Imîna, (ULOCD-167), was published in 2011 together with a CD with mixed artists from East Greenland (ULOCD-168). In 2014, the 5th CD with music from West Greenland (ULOCD-169) came out. Finally, all five CDs came as a box set – Traditional Greenlandic Music Vol.1-5 (ULOCD-172).

We hope that the music will bring joy to the listeners. Moreover, that the present day musicians will be able to find inspiration in these songs and narrative stories which through history has created community and strength in the Greenlandic people.

Karsten Sommer, Oktober 2015