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Charlie Panigoniak (born 7 March 1946 in Chesterfield Inlet, Northwest Territories in what is now Nunavut, Canada) is an Inuit singer-songwriter and guitarist whose albums reflect on northern life.
He began recording in the early 1970s, including projects for broadcaster CBC Northern Service. His Inuktitut language rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" with Lorna Tasseor was featured on the 1996 compilation A Northern Christmas
Charlie Panigoniak was born on March 7, 1946 in the town of Chesterfield Inlet, NorthWest Territories. By the time he was 30, he was already a prominent performer of Inuit music in many different Inuit communities around what is now Nunavut. Panigoniak is an interesting artist because he has taken main stream music and songs and covered them using his own unique style of music. Perhaps the most well known example of this is Panigoniak’s cover of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, a popular children’s Christmas song. Panigoniak has collaborated with his partner Lorna Tasseor for the past 30 years. He is not only the lead singer and song writer but also plays guitar and keyboard with Tasseor as an accompanying singer. Let’s look closer at the life of Panigoniak and at the development of his unique style of music.
Panigoniak was born in the far North of Canada. This meant that he was cut off from the majority of the mainstream cultural happenings in Canada and would have been heavily influenced by the traditions of his community. In the late 1950s the Canadian government decided to settle starving inland Inuit in a variety of coastal communities. With these new immigrants to the area came new thoughts and ideas and, perhaps, a potential to hear mainstream Canadian music.
Panigoniak’s father gave him his first guitar when the musician was 21. This guitar was made from a tin can. It allowed Panigoniak to become a “skillful manipulator of the country music idiom”. In 1967, Panigoniak had to travel to Brandon, MN to receive treatment for tuberculosis. This excursion to a big city not only opened the musician’s eyes to new forms of music. It also gave him the opportunity to buy his first real guitar. Since getting that guitar Panigoniak has developed a country-folk style of music. His songs often concern his friends, family and everyday occurrences and events from his life. These songs are written in the Inuktitut language. This shows how important traditions and his Northern home are to Panigoniak.
While playing at Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories in 1973 Panigoniak was overheard by Doug Ward. Ward was a producer with CBC and liked Panigoniak’s sound so much that he arranged for a recording session in Toronto during the following summer. Panigoniak went on to record 3 records for the CBC Northern Service. These records include “2 EPs (11 songs) and the LPs Inuktitut Christmas & Gospel Songs, My Seasons and Just for Kids”. The children’s album was recorded with Tasseor, Panigoniak’s “frequent partner” from this point on. This album shows Panigoniak’s love of singing for children. Panigoniak has also made 2 CBC broadcast EPs.
Panigoniak has not restricted himself to simply recording. He is a prominent figure in touring the North and has visited places such as Alaska, Ireland, Greenland. He also performs at festivals whenever possible. Examples of such festivals include the Festival on the Rock in Yellowknife and WOMAD in Toronto.
One of the most interesting things about Panigoniak is that his music can not be classified as simply traditional or simply country. It is a unique blend of both forms of music. It is this merger of mainstream and traditional values that create the large Northern fan base of Panigoniak. His listeners are eager to hear examples of mainstream country music but enjoy that they still represent some traditional Inuit values. Since 1973 the people of the North have had access to radio and television frequencies. The radio is the main distribution method of Panigoniak’s music with festivals and recordings coming in next.
Panigoniak is not in trouble of falling behind the times. By researching this artist I was able to find a Bebo page dedicated to Panigoniak and his music. This page gave people a chance to listen to select songs by Panigoniak and discuss his music. To me this shows that he is a progressive artist and is not afraid to exploit new media to deliver his one of a kind sound to people all around the world.
- Whidden, L. (1981). Charlie Panigoniak: Eskimo music in transition. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from http://cjtm.icaap.org/content/9/v9art4.html