Blending traditional and contemporary art

It’s not every day you get to watch a musical performance combining a throat singer, three fiddlers, a cellist and a guitarist.

It’s not every day you get to watch a musical performance combining a throat singer, three fiddlers, a cellist and a guitarist.

It’s even more unusual when the artists are from as far as Rankin Inlet and as near as Ross River.

On top of the more than 50 cultural presentations and more than 40 workshops, this year’s Adaka festival has something new in store: a musical performance created over three days from six artists all over Canada.

Vuntut Gwitchin fiddler Boyd Benjamin from Old Crow, Kaska singer and guitarist Dennis Shorty from Ross River, Inuit fiddlers Colin and Gustin Adjun from Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Cree cellist Cris Derksen from northern Alberta and throat singer Kathleen Merritt from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, will be performing at the festival.

The piece they’ll be performing isn’t ready – in fact, they’ll start work just three days before the July 5 performance.

“What we want to do with this project is bring to the table each of our cultural and musical backgrounds and create a show,” Boyd told the News on Tuesday.

“It’s all about taking our traditional art and music from where we are from and somehow comparing that to the new contemporary style each of us have created for ourselves.”

It’s a great way for the artists to pay tribute to their music, he says.

“It doesn’t matter what language you speak, music is an international language.”

Boyd acknowledges that this kind of show with artists from all over the country coming together is quite unique.

So is Adaka, a festival in its sixth year that came to be as First Nation artists felt they were ready to share their work, festival associate producer Caili Steele said.

“For so long a lot of culture was practised behind closed doors,” she said.

The festival is one of the few opportunities for people in the territory to experience that art.

A New Way Forward, the 90-minute musical show combining the six artists, is one-of-a-kind, she said.

“This particular act is definitely unique in bringing together artists, musical genres you wouldn’t normally hear together,” she said.

“Typically you wouldn’t commonly hear an Inuit throat singer with a cellist.”

The show could be anything from traditional music to harmony vocals, Boyd said.

“It’s going to be really intimate.”

Just like for the music performance, the festival as a whole is about blending traditional and contemporary forms of art.

Among the many workshops offered, Tlingit Designs by Megan Jensen will show what that blending looks like.

During the festival, she’ll be teaching people about the specifics of Tlingit designs.

Tlingit art has been used as a way to tell stories.

“All of our work had symbolism and stories,” she said.

Art wasn’t just about making something that looks nice. Everything always had a purpose.

That also means there was no waste, she said.

“I’m studying a lot of contemporary art and what it means to innovate,” she said.

“I play with aspects that are more modern.”

For future years, Steele said she is looking at how to incorporate more international artists in the festival.

This year features three Alaskan artists among the 100-plus artists showcasing their work.

In the past, artists have come from as far as New Zealand.

This year will offer a good balance between shows, cultural presentations, and hands-on workshops, she said.

“We encourage people to interact and engage with the artists,” said Steele.

“It’s a chance to sit down with an artist and learn about a particular craft and art form.”

About 50 to 60 artists will be working at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

The Adaka festival will take place from July 1 to 7 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

For more info visit

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

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