Greenland’s music comes from the heart, as it always has done since the first rhythms were beaten on a drum. Today’s music carries on these proud traditions.
Music and soul with roots
Rap may well originate from Greenland. Traditional Greenlandic music is made up of drum dance and drum song. A single rhythm from the instrument accompanies the song – that’s rap in its purest form.
In the old days the drum consisted of a frame made from driftwood. The handle was fixed with sinews or strips of skin. The drum skin was made of shark peritoneum, seal intestine or tissue from the stomach of a polar bear. The drumstick was made of wood or the rib of a seal, and the beat was played on the frame. The drum dance had a religious element and could also function as a way of determining disputes. The two parties involved in the dispute took turns to dance and play the drum, while doing their best to put each other down psychologically. The person who got the greatest applause won, in exactly the same way as rap competitions take place today. The drum dance was banned following the introduction of Christianity, but is still practised as a cultural element for the entertainment – and perhaps inspiration – of the country’s guests.
Greenlanders love to sing and do so in churches and in various choirs everywhere throughout towns and settlements. These choirs perform at parties and official events, often dressed in traditional party costume.
Polka is also popular in Greenland at any festive gathering. It’s easy to learn, and as a guest in the country you may be lucky enough to get the chance to try.
More modern Greenlandic music is booming. Julie Berthelsen, Angu and Rasmus Lyberth are familiar names well outside Greenland’s national borders. Two new artists are in the process of establishing international careers: Nive Nielsen and Simon Lynge. Find them on myspace.com and in music shops that cater for all tastes. At Atlantic Music’s website you can find lots of Greenlandic music and Atlantic Music has recently compiled a CD with popular Greenlandic music for Air Greenland.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Danish-Greenlandic duo, The Benefits, had a hit in 2007 with Physical. Since then more than half a million people have seen them on YouTube.
- The Aasivik summer festival was revived in 2012 following a 15-year sojourn. Harking back to the sense of togetherness that was characteristic of the seventies, eighties and nineties, the festival is once again designed to create a haven with room for debate, workshops and lots of music.
- Greenlandic polka is inspired by Scottish reels which were brought to the country by whalers in the 17th century.