Angu and the performance of ‘non-place’

Greenlandification of popular music, in its various avatars, has dominated musical production in Greenland from Sume’s first release and up till today. Most artists sing in Greenlandic, often about themes with some local or national relevance, and different auditory elements have been incorporated into the repertoire to make it possible to perform a sense of place in the music as well as in the lyrics. Most artists thus engage in musical production that is explicitly framed by place and produce music for a Greenlandic audience. However, within the last ten years a number of artists have emerged that seem to target their music to a more international audience, and who only rarely attempt to perform a sense of Greenlandic place in their music.

Angu Motzfeldt was one of the first popular artists to come out of Greenland using such an approach, and he did manage to gain some attention in Denmark with his soft melancholy pop/rock songs. But when Angu released his music in Denmark (2005 and 2009), Danish music journalists emphasized his Greenlandic background – something that Angu himself neither rejected nor promoted. One critic in Denmark even suggested, with a sense of disappointment, that it should be possible to detect a sense of Greenlandic and Arctic place in Angu’s music (cf. Poulsen 2004 and 2009). Angu himself, on the other hand, seems to repeatedly and knowingly position himself as a modern globalized individual, a cosmopolitan who is not limited to acting within frames of a particular place or culture (cf. Holton 2009: 33). This cosmopolitan approach is particularly evident in the official music video made for Angu’s song “Time for time” (cf. fig. 16). In the beginning of the video, the viewer is presented with an image of earth seen from space as ‘one’ place. Then the video presents Angu performing in a recording studio and as the song hits the chorus, the video shows Angu performing in a synthetic-looking outdoor setting made up of water, sky and flames – an outdoor setting that does not really belong to anywhere in particular. Like the video, the English lyrics featured in the song do not connect to any particular place, but are concerned with love and desire, which must be some of the most global themes in popular music history.

Though a few examples exist in which Angu does in fact connect to a sense of Greenlandic place in both his music and visual material, he generally avoids this and his two albums, along with the first two albums released by Julie Berthelsen in Denmark following her participation in the Danish television program Popstars in 2002, are the most popular examples of Greenlandic artists releasing music with no explicit sense of a Greenlandic place. Since these releases, a number of Greenlandic artists have emerged, who produce music that features English lyrics, and these artists partly focus on gaining an international audience. Most noticeable of these are Nive Nielsen and the Deer Children, Simon Lynge and Small Time Giants, but these bands and artists all use their Greenlandic identity as a promotional strategy, and in the case of Small Time Giants, very much as a resource for their musical production.

Fig.16: the official music video for the track ”Time for time” by Angu (2005).