various artists,
A Northern Christmas
(Inukshuk, 1996)

Here's an intriguing CD. It has a new twist because most tunes are familiar but the words are not in English. Most of the songs are sung in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit. Others are sung in the rich sounding Cree and South Slavey languages.

You might be familiar with Susan Iglukark's "Hina Na Ho," written by John Landry. Here the writer himself sings "Christ is Born," "Thank You, We're Alive" and "We Live for Life." Jerry Alfred, "song-keeper" for his people in Central Yukon, also sings on this CD in his language of Northern Tutchone.

Some of these songs may be original, but liner notes don't say. The first five cuts are Sally Tatty Curley's smooth renditions of the more familiar "O Come All Ye Faithful," "We Three Kings," "Away in a Manger" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." The old standard, "Rudolph The Reindeer," is sung cheerfully in Inuktitut by Charlie Panigoniak and Lorna Tasseor. It's a real treat.

As usual with Northern music, the instrumental technique is superb and would hold its own at a gathering anywhere. The musical arrangements are clear and bright with Christmas soul. Even without knowing the language, it's an easy recording to listen to because the tunes and music flow so well together.

Kenny Mianscum's rendition of "Silent Night" sent a few shivers up my arms. It's such an expressive hymn, and his voice is hauntingly beautiful and strong. I love "Silent Night" anyway and it will always be my favorite Christmas tune. I wish it were Christmas now, so I could share this with others. I expect I'll be playing this CD at Christmas gatherings.

On a different level, the light and airy voices of Peter and Susan Aningmiug sing a countrified version of "Go Tell It On The Mountain" that is dynamic. Especially moving on this CD is how artist John Landry generates a kaleidoscope of arrangements with drum beats and fluid sounds that surround you like a black velvet night of dreams.

Alternatively, children's soft voices sing softly in choir the hymns "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night." The track "Beware" may be a loose translation of the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," but I'm not sure.

If you are the sort of person who is open to new sounds and appreciates foreign content, this is a light form of something exotic mingled with the old and familiar. It's not an assembly line Christmas recording but a charming new linguistic sensation.

[ by Virginia MacIsaac ]
Rambles: 22 October 2002