Jennie Williams, an Inuit woman from Labrador, uses the unique art of throat singing as one way to keep her Inuit culture and heritage alive. If not for Jennie and other members of the Inuit community like her, throat singing would likely be a lost art today.
Throat songs are made up of sounds that are produced from the inhalation and exhalation of breath, resulting in low hums and guttural rasps. Usually, throat singing is done by two women standing or crouching, facing each other and holding each other’s arms. Sometimes, the pair sways back and forth as they keep the rhythm of the song. Each singer responds to the sounds made by her partner by returning with her own sound. And, there is usually a fun, competitive element to throat singing: The first person to laugh or run out of breath loses the competition.
Every song has its own unique combination of sounds, which most often come together to mimic what we hear in nature, like the flow of a river or the wings of a seagull. Or, as Jennie indicates, some throat songs mean something very different, “When you sing a song you’re telling a story about something from a very long time ago, or stories about certain times of year or stories of people’s families and celebrations…by singing those songs, you’re keeping them alive.”
In centuries past, throat singing was carried out by women as a form of entertainment while men were away hunting - that is, until Christian priests banned the Inuit from practicing this art. It’s only in the last two or three decades that throat singing has resurfaced. Jennie, 27, learned to throat sing about five years ago, and now she travels to schools, events and celebrations to showcase this once dying art form. She has even taught her younger brother and her daughter how to throat sing.
"I hope that they will do that when they get older," says Jennie. "It's really important."
Pick up the May issue of Downhome to read Jennie's inspirational story, plus find out what else she's doing to keep her culture alive.
To watch a video of Jennie throat singing, click here.