Ullortuneq - A Celebration of Greenlandic music and culture
By Adrian Lo Nigro Christensen
For many years my knowledge about Greenland was limited to one quote from the film ‘The Mighty Ducks’. ‘Greenland is full of ice and Iceland is very nice’. However on this day 300 years ago, the Danes began to settle and colonise Greenland, which marks its Ullortuneq (Nationaldag). There is a lot more to this large nation, whose size makes Denmark the largest country in the European Union. June 21st is also an important day in the Northern Hemisphere, with it being the Summer Solstice – or longest day of the year. In most of Greenland this means 24 hours of daylight with no sunset.
Greenlandic music has come a long way, originating with the playing of the Qilaat drum and telling stories through dance in a ceremony which was similar to an Aborignal Corroboree. Choral music and polka (Kalattuut) saw the introduction of instruments such as violin and the piano accordion to Greenland.
The 1970’s an exposure to international music through radio and TV saw these influences develop into Greenlandic pop music forming its own identity. The pioneers were the band Sumé (Where), who explored the themes of cultural independence from Denmark singing in the Greenlandic language and Rasmus Lyberth who was Greenland’s first ever participant at a Eurovision National Final, being in Dansk Melodi Grand Prix in 1979 with the song Faders Bøn (Fathers Prayer), which finished in 11th place.
Sadly this was the start of a 40 year hiatus for Greenland, although their music scene has continued to grow. The most successful artists in the 2010’s have been Nive Nielsen and Nanook a rock/pop band who sings in Greenlandic but have had some international success.
In 2019, Greenland returned to the Eurovision national final stage when Nina Kreutzmann Jorgensen and Julie Berthelsen won the televote at Dansk Melodi Grand Prix with their song League of Light. (they finished second) Nina is a Greenlandic singer from its capital city Nuuk, who works as a School teacher and was the lead singer of the rock band Qulleq. Julie, who was born in Aarhus but of Greenlandic ethnicity and spending much of her life in Nuuk, is perhaps a more familiar face for Danish viewers due to her success in Popstars and her performance at the wedding of our own Princess Mary and the Danish Crown Prince Frederik. Julie was one of the hosts of the 2010 Dansk Melodi Grand Prix (won by Chanee and N’evergreen) alongside Felix Smith. Their song ‘League of Light’ was sung in English and Greenlandic, had not so subtle lyrics about the benefits of being in a union within the Kingdom of Denmark. Many in Greenland think that the timing of this entrant (after 40 years without an entry) is quite convenient giving the current political landscape.
It is clear that the journey of Greenland’s music has somewhat followed their journey into nationhood. In addition to being in the process of writing a new constitution, it is planned that Greenland will soon have a referendum on its continued membership of the Kingdom of Denmark or to become and independent country. While many in Greenland feel that Trump’s intervention last year was a cynical attempt to scare the nation, given Greenland’s new found wealth, we hope that the Greenlandic people will decide on the future path which is best for them. As far as Eurovision is concerned, we welcome them with open arms into our contest either as Denmark or an independent Greenland and are excited to hear more music from this unique corner of the world. Wishing Greenland a happy Ullortuneq – Glædelig Nationaldag Grønland!