NAC Presents: Elisapie still running as fast as she can

Elisapie is at the NAC Fourth Stage.

Elisapie Isaac speaks three languages — Inuktitut, French and English — and she sings in them all.

Her ability to communicate is, in a way, a metaphor for her complex life as a mother, a musician and a filmmaker that takes place in North and South.

“Since Grade 3, I have had teachers who were francophone. They had a big impact in my life. They were my first contact with white people.

“I lived in Salluit in Nunavik on the Hudson Strait. It was a community where we felt nothing else existed except our little village.”

Her passion for music and filmmaking caused her to leave her community and move south to Montreal. That journey has led to career success but there has been a lately a desire to recapture her roots. That has emerged into a new album called The Ballad of the Runaway Girl released in September. In many ways the album returns Elisapie to her Inuit roots. (Her mother is Inuit and her father is a Newfoundlander).

“I had to go there. I have adapted so well to the southern environment but it’s not just about me, it’s about people who were there before me who have gone through colonization.

“I think we carry a lot of things. So this album is a personal journey for me. I had to heal certain things, to open certain doors I have always kind of avoided just because we have to move on.”

Being a child in the North is not easy, she said.

“There is so much that goes on when you are a kid in the North. There is a lot of suicide. There are a lot of parents who have been numbed because they have been told they aren’t worth as much as the white man. There is a lot that we carry even now.

“We are trying to find a way to communicate better with the people around us. And I think it takes a lot of courage and lot of love to do that. That’s the reality for us now in the new generation.”

In making an album based on Inuit stories and culture, she rediscovered that “my culture is very meaningful.”

In thinking about the music, she also came to understand that she had to regain a contact with the world of her people.

“When you have been in the South so long, you kind of forget the rhythm of the North.

“I realized also that this is not about me; it’s about the people and about what the Inuit have gone through. We are very spiritual and we are very connected to the territory and I realized that is what helped me the most to feel better and to ground myself.

She does try to go home as much as she can. Her most recent trip was in September to launch the release the album before it came out in the South.

Going home, though, is complicated.

“I don’t think it would be human if it wasn’t difficult. It is another world, very family and village oriented. There is no individuality. That is very overwhelming when you go there. All of a sudden you realize it is not just about you.

“Of course, there are hard issues too but that’s when you realize how resilient we are.”

It is also difficult when she returns to the South, to a pace of life that is hectic and “nuts.”

“In the North, it’s so much more relaxing for the mind and the body.”

So she lives in two worlds.

“It’s important that I do what I do. It would have been very difficult to do in the north and have to travel all the time. I’m raising a family too. I think it is possible to do if you accept that you are going to live in different places.”

But the future definitely does involve more time in the North. She has a dream of a cabin there where she’ll spend every summer.

The album is really, she said, a journey through the ups and downs of life. She will be performing music from The Ballad of the Runaway Girl in a sold out NAC Presents concert at the Fourth Stage on Thursday. For those who don’t have tickets to that show, she’ll be in Gatineau at the Salle Jean Desprez on Feb. 7, 2019.

“It is not predictable. The road isn’t paved. It’s more on the rough side of life. We are always afraid life is going to be bumpy and we try so hard to avoid those bumps.”

For Elisapie, the album reflects the fact that “I am a woman now. I’m no longer a child. I have to assume who I am and go get that strength. That’s not easy. It’s hard to say I am an adult now and face certain things. Some people never get there.

“It is also a spiritual journey and a lot of it is all about honouring those who were there before.”

So is she the runaway girl. “I would say so, yeah.”

After her current tour ends, Elisapie will be returning to working on film, another of her passions. Her first film was an award winning NFB production called If the Weather Permits.

She said she has several film projects waiting for her attention including a short animated film with the painter and film-maker Marc Seguin.

And she is raising her three children with her partner including her youngest Maalak who was born this past May.

It’s all part of a busy life for this artist who still running as fast as she can.

NAC Presents Elisapie
Where: Fourth Stage
When: Nov. 29 at 8:30 p.m.
This performance is sold out. 

In town: Elisapie will be in Gatineau on Feb. 7 at the Salle Jean-Deprez. Tickets:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.