"When I wrote my first song ever, all in Inuktitut, and I showed my dad, he said something like, ‘You realize I don’t speak Inuktitut? You need to have some English lyrics somewhere in there,’" Riit tells Apple Music. “He would probably fucking hate this album.” Which is ironic, considering that the Inuk singer, born Rita Claire Mike-Murphy, dedicates her debut LP to his memory. He also probably wouldn’t love how ataataga playfully messes with tradition, mixing Riit's native language with glacial synth-pop and electronic programming and production from Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh. ataataga is a metamorphosis of sorts, marking Riit’s transition from winsome folk-pop ingenue to Panniqtuuq, Nunavut’s answer to Björk. The album is tethered to her heritage with snippets of Inuit throat singing, field recordings captured in her Arctic homeland, and lyrical references to the fallout from decades of colonial mismanagement and Canada’s shameful residential school system. But it also works toward establishing a new form of Indigenous music, reimagining classic songs by Susa Aningmiuq and Northern Haze with help from fellow Northern contemporaries such as Elisapie, The Trade-Offs' Josh Qaumariaq, and The Jerry Cans’ Andrew Morrison. Riit does a little translating for us as she talks through all of ataataga’s songs.
ataataga “It’s a song about my dad, who passed away five years ago. I was really inspired by Elisapie’s song ‘Do You Hear Me,’ which is also about her father, I think. The lyrics basically mean: ‘I thought about you today/And when I thought about you I smiled/Are you listening to me?/Do you hear me?’"
qaumajuapik “‘qaumajuapik’ was the first track that we worked on. I just really left it open for Graham to do what he wanted and use what sounds he wanted to use—I just trusted his artistic instincts. With my EP, there were a little bit of poppy sounds, but it was also folky, which was, I think, a good idea because it left the door open to which direction I wanted to take with my music. It’s also a Tinder love song. I was in Australia, going through a super shitty breakup with a fucking manipulative guy, and the whole Jerry Cans crew just encouraged me to go out and go on a date. So I downloaded Tinder and met this super beautiful Australian dude.”
#uvangattauq (feat. Zaki Ibrahim) “That’s the #MeToo song. This song, specifically, was super fun to make because it has the most sounds from the field recordings that we did. The knife sound is actually me sharpening an ulu, the woman’s knife, and there’s some snow crunching in there and me cutting up caribou meat. It’s so crazy how much backlash I’ve been getting from men about that song. But there’s not a lot of support for people who go through that, especially when it comes to sexual abuse and you’re being abused by, like, your fucking dad or brother. You have nowhere to escape. It’s happening at home, and with the overcrowding of houses and the housing shortage, you literally can’t do anything about it.”
ullagit “‘Ullagit’ means ‘run.’ It’s another love song and it basically translates to, like, I’m telling you to run away from love and to protect your heart. We were initially going to use the track for ‘Inuusivut,’ the one with Josh Q, but the lyrics just happened to so perfectly fit into the track that we ended up using it with them instead. There are so many little things that just worked out somehow on this record, and this was one of them.”
Inuusivut (feat. Josh Q) “It’s a Northern Haze song. I fucking love hearing Josh singing in Inuktitut. It’s mind-blowing, actually, hearing him sing on a fucking pop-electronic song. It’s amazing. But the song is basically about our way of life as Inuit, and this song talks about how we’re always there supporting each other through anything—the good and the bad.”
uqausissaka (feat. Elisapie) “I wrote this with Elisapie three years ago. Basically, all of these songs were made with an acoustic guitar first and then Graham just built all the tracks from there. But I remember showing Graham a song called ‘My Heart Still Beats for You’–it’s a super sad song, because I live for that, I live for depressing music. And that’s the direction that I wanted to take, just because also it’s a super deep song about residential schools and intergenerational trauma.”
qujana “This is another cover, and it’s by Susa Aningmiuq. She passed away probably 30 years ago, but she and her husband, Etulu, were fucking amazing. They were from Pang [aka Panniqtuuq]. I grew up listening to them, and they were incredible songwriters. Andrew had actually made this track like three years ago and we kept on going back to it, but I could never really get inspired by it, never find what to write about. I’d wanted to cover this particular song for a long time, and the original is super, like, country, and then we just played the track and somehow, magically, Susa’s lyrics fit perfectly. So we took Andrew’s version of the track and Graham kind of rebuilt it to make it fit better with the rest of the songs on the album. It was the last track that we worked on, in May–like a year after the rest of the songs–but it easily became my favorite.”
ataataga (Acoustic) “Because it’s a dedication album to my dad, to open it with an electronic version of ‘ataataga’ that he would probably hate and then to close it with an acoustic piano version just felt right.”