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northern haze

UNGALAQ: The poetry and the music message, you know? – all those things together, I guess.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People may recognize the riffs from Boston’s “Peace Of Mind” in that one.
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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “INUK”)
UNGALAQ: That’s it. We had the idea go around amongst us for a while. And it was a perfect time for our new album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “QAINNA”)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your band members.
In 1985, an album from a decidedly far-flung place put the band Northern Haze on the map. James Ungalaq talks to NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about his band’s new album and their the music lives on.

UNGALAQ: We’ve been playing music all along in our shed and our houses, John’s living room and Derek’s porch.

In 1985, an album from a decidedly far-flung place put the band Northern Haze on the map. James Ungalaq talks to NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about his band’s new album and their the music lives on.

Northern haze

More mind-boggling than the fact that it’s taken Northern Haze 33 years to release its second album is, perhaps, the fact that Northern Haze ever managed to get an album out 33 years ago.

Someone has to keep up the fight, after all.
Northern Haze will play a hometown show in Igloolik “where it all began” to celebrate the release of Siqinnaarut, but that’s about the only plans for gigging the band has at the moment. If you want to see Northern Haze play, you’ll have to travel.

Ungalaq is having knee-replacement surgery next March and, for the time being at least, is content to stay close to home with his grandchildren. He and co-founders Naisana Qamaniq and John Inooya are acutely conscious of the passage of time and mortality — the band lost two of its founding members in just five days 10 years ago when first bassist Elijah Kunnuk succumbed to cancer and then original lead singer, Kolatalik Inukshuk, was murdered — and have recently welcomed Ungalaq’s son, Derek Aqqiaruq, and nephew Allan Kangok into the fold on guitar and keyboards, respectively, in hopes of eventually handing Northern Haze and its music off to a new generation of players.
This month sees the release of Siqinnaarut, a genuinely long-awaited second album that Northern Haze itself still can’t really believe exists. It took the sting of tragedy, and the coaxing of the band’s friends and fans at Iqaluit’s young Aakuluk Music label, to make it happen, but happen it has. Northern Haze has a new record, and this time it might actually get heard outside the Arctic.
The rock ’n’ roll pride of tiny Igloolik, Nunavut — an Arctic-island hamlet with a population that even today only stands at around 1,700 — Northern Haze has been giving proud voice to Inuit discontent through punkish riff-rock jams sung entirely in Inuktitut since its members were teenage chums smitten with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and scrounging instruments wherever they could find them in the late 1970s.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” says frontman/guitarist James Ungalaq, 54, down the line from an “absolutely freezing” Igloolik. “Those guys did a really good job. They made us look better than usual. So I’m really happy.”
“Absolutely,” concurs Ungalaq. “We’ve got a lot of material to sing about. We’re not running out of material. In Inuktitut, we don’t have very much to listen to when we want to listen to our own language in music. We’ve got lots of material to write about. The changes from nomadic life just came so fast we can’t keep up with modern stuff. We’re still growing into it. So I think we still have a lot to write about. I used to write a lot and now I want to go back to writing a lot again. I’ve got some stuff that never got out so I still have backup.”

While the band’s catalog to date consists of just one eponymous record issued through the CBC back in 1985, its occasional gigs here and there in Nunavut are still sufficient cause for excitement that people will gratefully shoulder the considerable expense of flying in from isolated points around the territory to see it play. The guys in Northern Haze are proper rock stars in the North, even if the rest of Canada has never heard of them and they’ve never made a dime from their music.

“Northern Haze is one of the most hardcore bands not just in Canada, but all over the world,” says Jerry Cans’ frontman Andrew Morrison.