Lucie Idlout as part of Planet IndigenUs at Harbourfront Centre's Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (August 21), 11 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Lucie Idlout named her debut album, E5-770, after her mom. In the 30s and 40s, the federal government set out to register the entire Inuit population and give them numbers. In Idlout's mother's number, the E was for East, the 5 for the Igloolik/North Baffin region.
"I don't think people outside of the Inuit know that that was the truth of the history," says Idlout of her motivation for writing a song about the scheme. "People believe that Canada has a very innocent history, when in fact the skeletons in this country's closet are pretty sickening.
"I thought it was important for people to know the truth of the past - I mean, without getting political and shoving it down people's throats. That's the beauty of music. It's a great tool in terms of getting messages out there to people without turning them off. Hopefully."
E5-770: My Mother's Name is a noisy, crunchy, atmospheric rock record. Idlout's vocals are deep, raw and passionate. There are elements of PJ Harvey, Crash Vegas and some of the bluesy chop of Tom Waits, whom Idlout admits she admires.
She spent a large part of her young years in Iqaluit in the Northwest Territories, where it gets all kinds of cold and the sun shines 24 hours a day for a couple of weeks in the summer, then hardly at all for a while in the winter.
"I think that may have come through on E5," she agrees, when I suggest the lack of light had an impact on the record. "There's no question there's a darkness and a harshness to it, and of course those elements exist in the North.
"But I'm not sure if it's because that album was written entirely in Iqaluit or because that's just where I was at the time in my head and in my life."
The record was nominated for two Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards last year, the title track refers to Inuit history, and the liner notes include a written lesson on said history, but Idlout wants to avoid being pigeonholed as a native artist. Aside from the songs E5-770 and Aija Ja, which uses a native drum and sounds very aboriginal, Idlout says you don't necessarily hear the culture in the music. And her upcoming follow-up, she says, has no elements of her culture at all.
"I'm just a songwriter who happens to be Inuk. I guess it's intriguing to people because they don't know about Inuk culture or land or tradition, but I'm a lot deeper than that."
So what does it mean to Idlout to be performing at Planet IndigenUs, an international indigenous arts festival?
"I think the beauty of Planet IndigenUs is that it's going to give people who are not native a lesson on who's doing what in aboriginal music.
"There are elements of tradition and people who are performing traditional music (at the festival), but then there are those of us who are doing contemporary music that isn't necessarily relevant to where we come from."