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Interview: Uyarakq (GL)

In North America, we rarely hear music from Greenland on mass media, and that’s a damn shame. The fact is, the Greenlandic music-making scene is robust with talent and ambition in all popular genres, like rock, classical, metal, hip-hop/rap and folk, to name a few. To break this Greenlandic music silence, two acts from the decidedly not green country in the Arctic are scheduled to perform at SXSW Music next month: Alt-rockers Small Time Giants (who are currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark) and electronic DJ/rapper duo Uyarakq x Peand-eL.

Uyarakq (real name Aqqalu Engell) kindly answered some questions for us in anticipation of his first trip to the United States. He’s a pretty cool dude, and we look forward to meeting him and Peand-eL at SXSW in Austin, TX. We’ll be there covering Nordic music, so be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube from March 13-19, 2017 to stay in the loop.

Aqqalu Engell (Uyarakq)

This is your first trip to the U.S. Based on what you know about the U.S. and SXSW, what kind of experience are you hoping for? What are you are looking forward to or want to avoid?

We look forward to experience the American way of life, in terms of food, homes, malls and everything that is American. We have only seen this lifestyle in American movies and documentaries. We also look forward to meet the everyday American on our trip.

The rapper Peand-eL is featured on every track of your 2016 album Kunngiitsuuffik, and he’s performing with you at SXSW. How did this collaboration begin, and what plans do you have to work with Peand-eL in the future?

We made a joint album together as a means to find new ways to make hip hop and rap music. We experimented in all kinds of ways on the album to create a shared universe between our worlds. Some ideas didn’t work and the ideas that worked is on the album. We wanted to move the barrier in Greenlandic hip hop and do something no one had done before. We’re planning to make a second album on a new moniker to fully submerge ourselves in our shared universe.

What does “Uyarakq” mean, and why did you choose it as your electronic/rap persona?

I came up with the name Uyarakq in 2010 when I came across the inuktitut name Uyarak on the internet. I adopted the name and put an extra Q to make it google-able. I found out years later that it’s also a slang for marihuana in inuktitut, which I found funny, and don’t mind.

The proceeds of your latest album “Miseraq” are donated to the Water Protectors who are fighting the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which could contamination its land and only water source. Beyond the track Standing Rock on the album, are all the songs on “Miseraq” (which are largely non-English) in the same spirit of activism?

I’m an avid follower of the situation in Standing Rock and I found it difficult to support them as I’m far away. I found out you could donate to their cause and I came up with the idea to create an album, where I donate all the proceeds to our brothers and sisters in Standing Rock. It’s also a good way to get their story out on this island, as we’re not so connected with the other native communities on the mainland. The track Standing Rock is the only track related to the situation. I didn’t want to influence all the other artists on the album, so I gave them free hands in terms of what they wanted to sing/rap about.

You’re a full-time dad to two young children. Has parenthood changed or influenced your work as a performer?

I got two kids and I travel a lot. I prep my kids when I’m about to travel. I find it important to tell em where I’m going and show the place on google earth. They miss me when I’m out and I miss them too. I always promise them gifts when I get back.

You used to perform as Violet Gip, in women’s clothing. Who is Violet Gip as a persona, what type of music did you make? Do you still perform as Violet Gip, and if not, have plans to again someday?

Before I adopted the name Uyarakq I was performing my electronic music in women’s clothing as Violet Gib. It was a political statement as it’s been hard for the LGBTQ community to live in Greenland. Things have changed over the years and I think people are more open to alternative lifestyles and sexualities here in Greenland, thankfully.

The electronic genre is fairly new in Greenland. Your 2014 album Savimineq means “metal” in Greenlandic, but the sound of the 13 tracks on the album are electronic/dubstep, with an edge. How does the “metal” part relate to the tracks on Savimineq? Does it hint at your metal roots?

The album name Savimineq, which means metal in Greenlandic, is an homage to my roots. I played a lot of metal-music in my youth and it’s where my musicality comes from. Savimineq is full of high energy music, because I was openly influenced by metal music. It’s also a play in words as my real name [Aqqalu] means Rock.

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