Susan Aglukark at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Saturday (May 27). $32.50, advance $30. 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNN
Susan Aglukark is on the phone from New York City, where she has a meeting at the UN.
"I work with the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, and we're doing a presentation to the UN, speaking on behalf of youth and children and the things we need to do to better their lives."
Aglukark does a lot of this sort of thing. An "artist with a conscience" and activist, she was called to the Order of Canada in 2005 for her contribution both musically and as a workshop facilitator and mentor in the aboriginal community.
The singer/songwriter from Arctic Canada blends Inuktitut and English with contemporary pop arrangements to tell the stories of her people, the Inuit. She came to national attention with the 1995 release of This Child, and is known for her hands-on approach to her music and activism. She runs self-esteem workshops for aboriginal youth.
"I developed the workshop over the course of a couple of years, about five years ago, just when I finally committed to my music career. That was a major turning point for me. I was letting all the other stuff go things like always second-guessing myself, feeling like I don't quite belong, I'm not really a singer, all that stuff.
"When I decided, "I like this, I want to make this work,' I started writing in a journal to deal with the insecurities, the questions, the doubts. After the mass suicide events in Quebec a few years ago, I decided I should try to do something that might help in some way."
It's a sign of her growing self-confidence that Aglukark's latest album, Blood Red Earth (Arbor), is her first independent release since leaving EMI.
"EMI was great. I went into this career with no clue at all, and the label was so patient and nurturing. I learned a lot from it and from the support system of my producer, crew, management and band. But when I reached that decision six years ago, I realized I had an incredible opportunity and I needed to figure this out and work through whatever fears I had."
The tracks on Blood Red Earth reflect Aglukark's serious, dedicated, Earth Motherly personality, with titles like Citizens Of The World and Circle Of The Old.
As Only Heart Would Dare meshes with an Inuktitut version of Amazing Grace, which she previously recorded in full on Arctic Rose. A preacher's kid, she grew up listening to hymns. "Amazing Grace is the hymn," she says.
She also covers Fleetwood Mac's Songbird. It's a very grown-up record.
"This was a big turning point for me. A weight was lifted, and I realized this is my album, these are my ideas, I have something to say. It's like reaching that next level of liberation."