Greenland is a rather complicated place for musicians: there is a lack of places to play, there are no roads connecting the main cities, and so getting there is a challenge. However, according to the report ‘Defining Resilience in Remote Music Ecosystems‘ by the ‘Center for Music Ecosystems’ there is a chance that the music scene will improve.
The CME is an Estonian non-profit organisation dedicated to analysing how music can be good for communities, and the report was funded by the Nordic Council, an inter-parliamentary cooperation forum active between Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland. It is based on the considerations of musicians, politicians and civil servants from three very isolated cities (Nuuk, Torshavn, Juneau) and its aim is to understand how things are now, to make assumptions about what could be changed and with what strategies and shrewdness. Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, with just under 18,000 inhabitants is also the most populous city. Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, has about 20,000 inhabitants while Juneau, the capital of Alaska in the north-west of the United States, has about 30,000 inhabitants. One of the main problems of playing in such remote and inhospitable places is that it is hard to get around: many places can only be reached by ship or air, and in many cases the weather stops musicians for days at a time. In Greenland, it is quite common to go to a concert by boat or helicopter. Last year, the most popular local band, Nanook, toured from town to town by boat, taking all their equipment with them, not without difficulty. Nanook are from Nuuk, have been active since 2008 and play pop-rock singing in Greenlandic, a language understood by only a few tens of thousands of people in the world: they have 3,300 monthly listeners on Spotify and 23,000 followers on Facebook, almost half the population of Greenland. The Small Time Giants, on the other hand, were formed in 2011 in Qaqortoq in the south of the island, sing in English, and are also popular in Denmark. Among the musicians’ main problems is the fact that the local audience is too small to allow them to support themselves with music alone: Nanook bassist Andreas Otte, for example, teaches Greenlandic culture at school in Denmark, while Jonas Nilsson, the drummer of the Small Time Giants, is also the head of the Nuuk Nordic Culture festival, an international music, culture, arts and literature event that takes place every two years. Organising a festival was one of the first ideas that the ‘Center for Music Ecosystems’ suggested to rural or isolated communities to revitalise their cultural life: in places where opportunities are limited, it brings communities together and can also motivate young people to stay, rather than move elsewhere (often to Denmark, in the case of Greenlandic towns or Tórshavn). The report outlines 29 recommendations and short-, medium- and long-term initiatives to support music in small communities: it suggests that towns and community leaders set up specialised educational programmes to train new musicians and practitioners, and that more varied and diverse music venues be provided where even younger people can feel encouraged to experiment. The Centre’s initiative will continue with the activation of a project to put some of these suggestions into practice: it will include training workshops and extend its research activities to 15 other remote communities. The idea is that supporting local music can also serve to change the image and perception of particularly remote places, a bit like what happened to Iceland thanks to the international success of artists such as Björk and Sigur Rós.