Meet the musician who has been inspired by the Greenlandic landscape

Alex Minnis
Alex Minnis

Alex is the Founder and Content Creator for Nordic Watchlist. He has a passion for all things Scandinavian as well as for film and TV, and has more than 12 years of experience working in the travel industry for the Nordic region.

Tell us about the projects you have been working on?

I tend to work on several projects at the same time – concerts, music, lyrics and literature – in various combinations. A recent project of music and spoken word grew into an album, newly released, called Panneq … which is Greenlandic for ‘Stag’. The album is spoken word – in Greenlandic – but written and performed by me, a Dane.

Whilst I was living in Greenland, I became infatuated with the language and when I moved back to Denmark last summer, I felt that I was not done with Greenland at all. I tried to put into words how it was to be a guest there, how I tried to integrate with society, culture and Greenlanders. In short – I felt a great need to say thank you to this country. And this need turned into a declaration of love. In words, sounds and music. To the country and the people.

Where did the idea and concepts for this come from?

In 2019, I released a spoken word album in Danish, “Vi skal noget sammen” (”We should do something together”) and Panneq is in a way, a continuation, an extension of this – a new language, but the same ingredients. 

Whilst living in Greenland, I met so many amazing musicians and artists that I wanted to work with. Some of them are now a part of Panneq: the photographer Ivana Sakariassen Knudsen, who took the cover photos, the producer and musician Gerth Lyberth, who was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize in 2021, and the producer wizard Andachan, who was nominated for this year’s Music Prize, participates with two songs – one is called Oqaasissaarukkaangama, which means ‘When I haven’t got words to say’. I met Andachan at Arctic Sounds – an unmissable festival if you’re into Nordic music and culture.

I always carry my recorder to catch sounds. And I always bring a notebook. I jot down notes and sentences and ideas that I can then mix and edit into poetic vignettes.

With the Panneq collaborations I would send recordings to the musicians and producers: clean squeaking snow, the sound of a dog sled ride, the clamour of construction work and recordings where I sing, but without words. And then they would add their own layers of instruments and in that way we made the tracks together – despite distance and covid isolation.

How would you best describe the music to a new listener?

Panneq is like a soundtrack to a movie with the pictures projected inside your head. A journey through various atmospheres, moods and feelings, from ambient pop music, to classical vibes with cellos and electronic treatments, club vibes and electronica. A playful and kaleidoscopic mix of music genres with Greenlandic words woven into it. It’s a love story in seven very different chapters or tracks that alternate between being instrumental or lyrical. Poetic texts with added music, created primarily by Greenlandic musicians and producers. 

I lived in Greenland for a total of 900 days. 2.5 years in the Arctic where I tried to learn Greenlandic, often called the most difficult language in the world. The lyrics for the album was written in Danish and I then had help from friends with the translation and pronunciation. 

You can of course hear that I am not Greenlandic. But that’s the whole point. The essential thing for me is to try. To make an effort to tell my story in the language that they speak. If you want to say thank you to someone and tell them that they have affected and moved you, then I think it should happen in their language and not your own.

The album was produced in three different countries – where did you head to (to record)?

I started making the album whilst living in Greenland and finished it after I’d moved back to Denmark. Despite, or perhaps because of, covid isolation, I learnt that distance wasn’t an issue – the dialogue with my Greenland producers continued wherever I was. My singing were recorded in my bedroom in Nuuk and the vocals – the actual spoken words – were recorded in my closet in my apartment in Aarhus, Denmark. I hung my recorder on the clothes rail with the lyrics taped to the wall and had a Greenlandic friend listening on the phone, guiding and helping my pronunciation. 

One of the tracks, Oqaasissaarukkaangama, was made in Andachan’s studio in Sisimiut, Greenland. 

When we began working on the track, I was in Nuuk and he was in Sisimiut, a distance of 320 kms, usually traveled by boat or plane. When I was finally able to join Andachan in his studio, we recorded extra vocal harmonies and electronic production together, as well as enjoying an inspiring session with Greenlandic rapper FINNi, who just happened to drop by the studio. 

My collaborator on many of my previous projects, Mikkel Gemzøe, lives in Sweden, and he produced one of the tracks as well as mixing and mastering. Of course, the covid situation demanded that the usual close collaboration with musicians and producers could only be long distance and digital, but we got used to it.

So, all in all, a very versatile process with recording in all sorts of places and spaces, together and apart – with analogue instruments, digital production, field recordings and eclectic vocals.

Tell us about one of your favourite locations in Greenland.

One of them would have to be Sisimiut, in the western part of Greenland. A small city of approx. 5.000 citizens, so a little less than one third of the capital, Nuuk, where I lived. Sisimiut has it all – Iconic coloured houses, sleigh dogs, snowmobiles, mountains and incredible nature – not just ‘close by’, but actually in it. The Palasip Qaqqaa trial is an breathtaking hike to a 360 degree panoramic view over the sea, the fjords and the landscape around the town. Sisimiut also has an impressively rich cultural life and the people are so welcoming, open … and talented!

I also fell in love with Maniitsoq, a little south of Sisimiut, 2.600 citizens. Calm and intriguing but still tough and raw. I took a walk up Greenland’s longest staircase. I forgot to count the steps but in fact, counting was impossible as most of the steps were buried under meters of snow. It was a fun step-trip-climb to the mesmerising view from the top.

I prefer sailing between these western cities. With the coastal ship Sarfaq Ittuk. Of course slower than by plane, but a unique and much more sensory experience.

Give us some recommendations of other Greenlandic musicians and music we should be aware of.

I have been so lucky to work with several of Greenland’s many talented and versatile artists and musicians. On my 2019 release Vi skal noget sammen (spoken word in Danish) I did a collaboration with Hans-Ole Amossen from Da Bartali Crew. He produced the track Byge – “Shower” in English – for which we also created a music video. He’s currently working on his debut album and has also composed music for theatre.

The Greenlandic producer Tûtu (Gustav Lynge Petrussen) produced the title track on Panneq – he’s also a part of the Greenlandic band, Inuk. Recently he’s been working solo and he has released a video for his song Qamani. That’s Greenlandic for ‘in there’.

Tûtu also produced the debut EP of the female singer/songwriter Naja P Naasunnguusunga – Greenlandic for “I’m a little flower”.

Gerth Lyberth has produced the opening track of Panneq. His album is Anorisaat (Greenlandic for ‘kite’ or ‘windmill’) is phenomenal. He’s a brilliant singer/songwriter and he plays almost all the instruments on the album himself and also created the video for Paariuk. A heartbreaking yet comforting production.

Last but not least: Andachan. Who was nominated for The Nordic Council Music Prize 2022. Great producer – marvellous musician, embracing both ambient, dubstep, pop and metal. He has produced two tracks on PanneqSoorlu sinnattoq (English: “Like in a dream”) and Oqaasissaarukkaangama (English: ’When I haven’t got words to say’). A few years ago we created a music video for “Soorlu sinnattoq” and now we’re ready with a new one for Oqaasissaarukkaangama. Both filmed in Nuuk and produced by the Greenlandic film maker Anders Berthelsen.

What is coming up next for you?

I’m not able to control or predict what’s in the tube or what will come up next because it’s always so varied and I like it this way. In the last couple of years I’ve written a children’s book (released 2021), including an audio book with music, recorded the Panneq album and created the music video for Oqaasissaarukkaangama.

We filmed the video in a typical self-build house in Nuuk, built in 1950. It was owned by the priest, painter and poet, Niels Lynge. Ivana Sakariassen Knudsen, who took the cover pictures for Panneq, is featured in the video and the filmmaker Anders Berthelsen produced it. The three of us spent an entire day in the house. No script, just improvising ideas based on our conversations on the message of the track. Creativity, playfulness and using whatever at hand to create the scenes.

I’m currently working on a new children’s book and also started co-writing new songs with the Faroese singer/songwriter Lea Kampmann. I met her at Arctic Sounds and we decided to write a song in Faroese together. In 2016 I released an album with 8 love songs in 8 different languages, Kokoro, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to add new songs in languages I don’t speak. Meeting Lea sparked this idea. One song in Faroese with Lea led to another one and then one in English. We’ll see what comes out if it.

And then I’m also finishing my second novel. A love story. I guess that’s the common thread – or the ley line if you will – in my work: love. Manifested in music, words, novels, children’s books, videos. It’s a search, a rendition and a materialisation. And in this case, with Panneq, a declaration.

Photo Credit: Charlotte Lakits, Ivana Sakariassen Knudsen, Naasunnguaq, Anders Berthelsen and Per Bloch

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