In only seven years of performing, recording artist Susan Aglukark has emerged as a leading voice in Canadian music. Her unique blend of traditional Inuk folklore with contemporary pop sounds has captivated listeners from all walks of life.
On her new release Unsung Heroes, Susan Aglukark once again shines the spotlight on history and heart of Inuit life with beautiful melodies and uplifting rhythms.
Unsung Heroes is the long-awaited, follow up to 1995’s triple platinum disc This Child, which featured Susan singing in both English and her native tongue, Inuktitut. Her fourth full-length album, Unsung Heroes contains 12 new songs co-written by Susan and produced by long-time collaborator Chad Irschick (The Rankins). A soothing and spiritual collection sung entirely in English, it’s Susan’s most accessible release yet.
“I’ve always tried to make it clear that I’m not specifically any one thing,” explains Susan. “Since This Child, I’ve really committed myself as an artist, and if there is a message to communicate, I’ve chosen to do it in the form that will be best understood. In touring This Child, I realized how diverse my audience was. This inspired the songwriting on Unsung Heroes.”
Born in Churchill, Manitoba, Susan Aglukark spent her childhood moving throughout the Keewatin Region of the Northwest Territories, eventually settling with her family in Arviat, NWT a small community on the Hudson Bay. In April 1999, Arviat became part of Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, which returns the governing of the land to its native residents. This exceptional moment in history is celebrated on the joyful “Turn of the Century,” in which Susan writes from her own personal point of view.
“It’s my emotional interpretation of the event,” she explains. “Being a child of a politician who was involved, I know that the young people gave up a lot, temporarily losing their fathers to go to work out this self-government. Of course, it was worth it in the long run, but the song raises the feelings of the children that I think needed to be addressed.”
Unsung Heroes is rich with message of personal strength, love of community and optimism for the future. Yet Susan Aglukark also explores the often-sorrowful history of Canada’s Inuit people.
The ballad “Never Be The Same” speaks for the victims of tuberculosis who were taken from their northern homes and sent to urban hospitals, often dying far from their families. “It’s about how as soon as you leave your homeland, wherever that is, you lose your innocence.” This is followed by “E186” a solemn remembrance of a government policy initiated in the late 1930’s where Inuit people were identified with dog tags. Susan describes it as a “dark little song,” with a positive message from which the title Unsung Heroes is taken.
“I don’t like making political statements, but I feel that these are stories that need to be heard,” says Susan. “I wanted to write from a different perspective, giving back dignity to the unsung heroes of past generations.”
Susan Aglukark’s musical career began in the early 90’s, after leaving her community to work as a linguist for the Department of Indian & Northern Affairs in Ottawa. Her earliest recording appeared on a CBC radio compilation of Eastern Arctic artists; her first video, for “Searching,” won a Much Music Award for outstanding cinematography.
Susan’s first full album was 1992’s independently released Arctic Rose, a hit with country and aboriginal music fans alike. EMI delivered a worldwide deal in 1993, and quickly released her Christmas album, featuring the song “Little Toy Trains.” Arctic Rose was re-released in 1994 and spawned two hit single, “Song of the Land” and “Still Running.” It earned her Juno Awards for Best New Solo Artist and Best Aboriginal Canadian Recording and the Canadian Country Music Association’s Vista Rising Star Award. Susan was also awarded the first-year Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Arts & Entertainment field in 1994.
1995’s This Child catapulted Susan Aglukark to the top of Canadian music charts. The first single, “O Siem” reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts and into the Top 10 on CHR and Country radio. The hits “Hina Na Ho” and “Breakin Down” followed leading to five Juno Award nominations in 1996.
Through her music, Susan Aglukark spreads uplifting messages to her own community and the nation at large. She was praised extensively in publications such as The New York Times, Saturday Night, Macleans, Modern Woman and Chatelaine, who touted her on its cover as a “pop star with a purpose.” As an ambassador of Canadian culture, Susan has performed twice for HRH Queen Elizabeth, for Prime Minister Mulroney and Chretien, for Nelson Mandela and at the World Special Olympics.
Unsung Heroes not only documents Susan Aglukark’s experience as an Inuk, but also as a woman finding her place in the world. Inspired as much by the success and touring of This Child as her childhood, the album speaks of the personal discoveries and growth that each of us ponders. Ultimately, the themes are universal.
“My ultimate message is to learn to be yourself and believe in that person,” says Susan. “It’s a constant fight, an everyday process. If by example I can relay this simple message, that would be great.”