Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Arctic karaoke: singing together with the North

Preserving language through songs

7 july 2023

The problem of preserving indigenous languages in the Arctic has been an issue for decades. Researchers compile dictionaries and teaching materials, conduct ethnographic expeditions and develop methods for teaching northern languages. To date, a system has been developed that allows preserving the cultural heritage of the Nenets, Dolgans, Yakuts, Sami, Veps, Khanty, Mansi and more than 30 other peoples. However, there's a significant difference between language in books and classrooms and language that's alive and spoken. Today, several dozen projects are being implemented in the Arctic aimed at bringing indigenous languages back into everyday life, developing and popularising them. Interactivity is the fundamental principle of these projects. There are apps, games, and... Arctic karaoke. We'll talk about it in detail.

A bit about language teaching

Interactive techniques in language learning have been proven time and time again to be effective among children, teenagers and even their parents all over the world. Looking at modern teaching technologies, in one way or another they all incorporate learner engagement techniques, game mechanics, etc. so as to avoid the boredom of memorising dictionaries or grammar books (this is the fate of philology scholars and language students). The goal of this approach is to simplify the 'entry point' into the material by presenting the complex in a simple and easily understood form.

This factor is critical for indigenous languages. The fact is that languages are not just disappearing by someone's evil will—the progress of civilisation in the Arctic territories, urbanisation and the involvement of representatives of small peoples in modern production create an environment in which Russian becomes the language of business life, education and inter-ethnic communication. This process began in the era of Siberian exploration with the appearance of the first fortresses, but today there is hope that it has been significantly slowed down, and in the long term even stopped. To preserve the traditions, the vast and rich cultural heritage of the peoples of the North, it is necessary not only to record their language and write dictionaries but to create a space in which it is used, to enable people to quickly, easily and conveniently access their cultural space anywhere in the country. If a pupil uses the native language only at school, it will not contribute to the consolidation of knowledge. It's another thing if the language is playable, comfortable to sing and trendy to use. The integration of indigenous languages into contemporary Russian culture creates a solid basis for their reproduction in the future, interest will grow and, as a consequence, the number of speakers will increase little by little.

Through the tundra with song and dance

The idea of preserving folk culture through folklore ensembles is not new—the older generation remembers how many song and dance unions were present on the Soviet stage. This tradition has not gone anywhere—songs and dances of the peoples of the Arctic are performed by the ensembles Brilliants of Yakutia, Kolymchanka, Elvel, hEKUUU, Alakuo and others. They actively promote their native culture and are also involved in the education of the younger generation. For example, in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, soloists of the Ngerm folklore group recorded several songs for the large-scale project 'Arctic Karaoke' of the Children of the Arctic portal. Its specialists have been travelling around the Polar Region for the second year, collecting material during ethnographic expeditions. They create popular science and educational content that combines both entertainment and usefulness. Karaoke, very popular at parties and as a leisure activity, allows the whole country to get in touch with the culture of the Arctic peoples and gives the indigenous peoples themselves a reason to remember their favourite songs once again.


'This year our trip, to a greater extent, is devoted to filming musical ensembles, enthusiasts of folklore genre, craftsmen, a special attention is paid to the national cuisine of the peoples of the region,' said Artur Agafonov, the project's editor-in-chief.


In addition to karaoke, Children of the Arctic has released a series of cartoons, interactive language courses in 15 languages of Polar residents and a series of documentaries about travelling throughout the Arctic regions. The content itself is aimed at all ages, from toddlers to adults.

Singing in indigenous languages, however, does not only work on the Internet. Children's folklore ensembles make a great contribution to the preservation of cultural heritage. In the YNAA, a group for young and middle-aged children appeared at the Minley camp. 'At the same time, there will be teaching in the Nenets language and the performance of Nenets songs. The final part of the project will be a small folklore concert at our camp. We really hope that the project will be in demand,' said Galina Mataras, chairwoman of the Minley Regional Public Organisation for Assistance to Indigenous Minorities of the North. The outstanding feature of this project is that it is located directly in the tundra, which allows for the involvement of many more young participants. So far, such workshops in regional capitals remain common practice.

However, such projects are also reaching the 'mainland.' For example, in 2021, on Victory Day, the residents of St. Petersburg received an unexpected gift—their favourite songs of those years were performed in the languages of the Arctic peoples. A little later, already this year, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North released a karaoke with the same performance. These projects are designed to draw the attention of Russian society to the life of indigenous minorities and the need to participate in the preservation of their cultural heritage.

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