I have yet to recover from the sudden passing of Kelly Fraser. But the truth is, we should never recover from it. Mental illness — especially amongst the Inuit and Indigenous peoples — is something all levels of the Canadian government are still trying to ignore, even with albums like Ajungi being produced.
In late 2019, the Nunavut-based music collective Ajungi released their first album composed of mainly up-and-coming musicians — including Fraser — from across the territory. The album consists of 12 songs that discuss mental health, bullying and residual intergenerational trauma experienced by the singers.
It has jumped into top-five positions on campus radio stations across Canada since its release, though it has not appeared on any of the U of M’s 101.5 UMFM “top” charts.
Ajungi — which means “capable people” in Inuktitut — is just that. It is an album made up of not just capable, but also talented, young artists, whose songs pierce the listeners’ emotions, their lyrical struggles of making peace with their history and thoughts weaving through the music.
“Letter to Myself,” featuring Shauna Seeteenak, focuses on the singer writing a letter to herself in order to confront and lay to rest the “residual haunting” of the “intergenerational trauma” she has experienced.
“Monster,” featuring Aasiva and FXCKMR, is explicitly about mental health. The singers lament how they keep “practicing looking normal and happy all the time” but the monster inside them — their past and their anger for how they’ve been treated — uncontrollably comes out.
The songs written and performed by Fraser hit hard in the face of her sudden passing. Featured on the track “The Other Side” with Kirby, Fraser sings “I’m just trying to live, I’m just trying to make it work […] I just want to shine” — lyrics that resonate deeply in light of her own mental health struggles.
When Kirby raps “trying to see the bigger picture,” it feels disheartening in the reality of Canada’s bigger picture with the government seemingly leaving mental health initiatives up to big corporations that pay lip-service to such causes.
Fraser’s other song on the album, “Next One,” perhaps hits hardest. In Fraser’s second track, the Juno nominee and 2019 Indspire Award recipient talks about losing a love. But to Fraser’s adoring fans, this song brings on new meaning. As she sings “Now I can see, it wasn’t meant to be. So I’ll wait patiently, wait for the next love, the next one,” the listener must come to terms with the fact that there will be no “next one” — no next album to fall in love with Fraser all over again.
And when she sings “I’ll never forget you,” it is a sentiment that can be reciprocated by any of Fraser’s fans — an artist who made an impact for Inuit singers by bringing her beautiful language of the North to the mainstream.
Beginning with traditional drums and starting the song in Inuktitut, Fraser ends the track with an allusion to Inuit throat singing, layering her culture onto the English lyrics of the song’s second half.
The lyrics “I want you to smile, I want you to be happy” are devastating in the wake of music’s loss of such a talent. How can we be happy in a world that is so unfair it took away our beloved performer far too soon?
Though Fraser’s tracks on the album are hard to process emotionally, there are definite songs of encouragement and anthems of togetherness. Aocelyn — discovered by Fraser — has a loving and supportive song titled “Adventure Awaits.” From the first lyrics, you can tell this song will be an anthem of positivity — “This is for all the people that have been left behind and ditched” declares Aocelyn defiantly against bullying.
“Dreams come true when it’s within your reach” and “They say you’re not cool, you’re still really, really cool to me” leave a sense of hope and camaraderie. The inspiring lyrics also leave a sense of mirroring with her fans, heralding words of support to Aocelyn’s Inuit supporters.
As well, Angela Amarualik sings “Don’t ever give up on your dreams” in “Sapingillunga (I Won’t Give Up)” — the song, part anthem in Inuktitut, speaking resilience to fellow Inuit listeners to never give up.
In fact, the album closes on a positive note. “Change the World” featuring N-16 and Mimi commands hopeful inspiration, N-16 repeating “Together we can do many great things,” and rapping “We can change the world […] one child at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time, one city, one province and one country at a time.”
The album decreeing “We got to work together” on its final track and to “Make sure the person next to you is OK” brings a sense of community to the listeners in that although things may be dark at the moment, there is always a possibility for change and to one day relish in the light.
Ajungi is available for purchase on all streaming platforms. A portion of the sales will be donated to the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline.