Live from Nunavut: Thor Simonsen

Thor Simonsen has been writing, composing, and singing songs since he was two years old. Born in the Faroe Islands, his roots play a pivotal part in his journey as a music producer and founder of Hitmakerz, the record label based in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

His early memories of music are closely tied to family. During summer festivities on the Faroe Islands, his family would attend Faroese folk chanting, where scores of Faroese men and women in national dress would recite hours-long songs about Norse sagas.

“My uncle, a song-leader, would lead the countless songs and verses in his memory,” Thor remembers.

His Norwegian grandmother would sing Scandinavian folk songs to him. “They are melodic, playful, and beautiful, but almost always in a minor key and with dark undertones. The lyrics are extremely poetic, but the themes are often as dark as the winters and rugged as the landscapes,” he explains. One of Thor’s personal projects is to translate, modernize, and share these old Scandinavian songs with the world.

“My dad came from West Jutland, where my great-grandfather was one of the 14 soldiers killed during the German invasion of Denmark in World War II. My grandfather’s family was so poor that they survived an entire season eating only strawberries, which my grandfather subsequently hated for the rest of his life,” he says.

Thor’s dad, a classical and jazz double-bass player was kind of a cultural bridge-builder, combining – by financial necessity – his love of rock, jazz, and later classical music. Thor says, “My dad was inspired to become a musician after hearing the drum fill introduction to the Beatles song ‘She Loves You.’” Obsessed with the Beatles, Thor grew up listening to their early albums on vinyl.


When at kindergarten in Nørresundby, Thor remembers being at his best friend Jimmy’s house, and listening to Dangerous by Michael Jackson. “I realized how each of the songs was an absolute beautiful symphony of chaotic sounds that had been forced into a structured form, and the result was sublime. I never recovered from that moment, and Michael Jackson has always been my guiding force as a music producer,” says Thor.

At six, he began drumming lessons. “My favourite part was at the end of each lesson where I would be allowed to ‘go nuts’ and let out all my energy in a chaotic flurry of instrumental violence,” He began recording his songs to cassette tapes, sometimes with help on the guitar from his mom, starting with Danish kid’s songs like “Jeg Ved en Lœrke Rede.”



One Christmas, when Thor was 15, his mom (who is still his biggest fan and supporter) bought him his first audio production equipment, which he experimented with night and day during his teenage years, creating prolific amounts of songs, demos, sound libraries and experimental genres. Over time he picked up the guitar, bass, trombone and a handful of other instruments.

Thor describes himself as being “a typical Danish-Faroese boy and I fully expected to grow up within and be part of that beautiful system – but life had other plans.” At seven, he moved with his mother to the Canadian Arctic, Nunavut specifically.

He didn’t want to move. “It was the most traumatic period of my life. I remember being torn out of the arms of my father and feeling like I lost him and everything he represented – my sense of home, friends, culture, heritage, ancestry, language.”

After decades of introspection, he believes that the separation from his Scandinavian roots is his “superpower.” He penned several “escape plans” with details of emancipation and financial independence. “These plans forced me to develop a strong work ethic,” he explains.

He notes that, “despite my sadness about leaving Denmark, I always felt very welcomed in Nunavut. As a group, Inuit are the most kind, accepting, and compassionate people I’ve ever met. For better or worse, I’m a son of the Arctic, a Nunavummiut, and I continue to do whatever I can to make it a better place to live.”



When he arrived in Nunavut, there were few blonde kids, especially in the smaller communities where his Inuk stepdad’s family lived. “I was often the only white kid and remember people curiously touching my hair and asking me about my roots.” But he emphasizes that Nunavut is an extremely tolerant place.

His exposure to Inuit culture “which was categorically different from the Scandinavian or North American cultures I knew before – developed in me an acute cultural sensitivity.”

Due to the intergenerational trauma in Nunavut, Thor quickly became aware of his privilege as a white European. He noticed the small things he took for granted such as “knowledge about the dangers of sugar and the importance of brushing your teeth every day – were not necessarily passed down to the Inuit kids. This was understandable since their grandparents (and sometimes parents) were nomadic, and as a result, many kids there continue to end up needing metal teeth.” He also sensed the trouble many kids were having at home. “The best way I’ve found to help is to support artists to become financially self-sufficient,” he says.

At 17, Thor moved back to Scandinavia as per his escape plan. “I wanted to move back to the Faroe Islands because of the girls. Teenage motivations aside, I was also eager to learn my maternal culture and the Faroese language.” It was during this time that Thor released his first album, International.

“My mom connected me with someone at the Tutl record label. I showed up with my demos, and they agreed to help me release the album. It was the first-ever Faroese hip hop album, and while I now cringe when I hear it, it got me an award nomination and introduced me to my future manager.” When marketing the album, Thor admits he had no idea what he was doing: “I just began booking shows and hanging up posters.”

There are he feels, many similarities between the Faroese and Inuit cultures, including being colonized, native language made illegal by the colonizers, and having a very distinct group identity, traditions, and music.

Big opportunities presented themselves, but he missed out on many of them due to “a tendency to overindulge in alcohol, cigarettes, and other addictive substances.” After a particularly bad hangover caused him to miss an important TV interview, he decided to quit.

“I read a few self-help books and after a few attempts, quit. I’ve been straight-edge ever since. I’ve replaced the negative addictions with reading and working on my self-growth.” He grew deeply attached to his Faroese roots, mostly through language, family, festivals, whale hunting, and Faroese music. “I felt incredibly connected to the local Faroese culture during this time.”



In 2012, he returned to Canada after receiving a job offer from a design agency in Iqaluit where he had interned as a teenager. The offer felt validating, and “I felt a tugging at my heart to return to Canada,” he explains.

Hitmakerz was founded a few years later in 2016. Started as a record label and touring company, Hitmakerz specializes in the production of world-class Inuit pop music and provide workshops in remote areas of the Canadian Arctic and currently work with 30 + artists.

Their mission, Thor shares, “is an innovative social enterprise that champions artists to share their stories, strengthen their culture, and develop sustainable careers in creative industries,” with “creative partnerships for positive impact” being at the core of this mission.

Lyrics as storytelling plays a pivotal part in developing the music of Inuit talent. The theme of identity is something Thor shares in common with his artists. “I love words in all their imperfection. They help us formulate a story about who you are, where you come from, and how we’re connected.”

Language is a big topic in the Indigenous community. At Hitmakerz, the goal is to make sure artists are 100% authentic and true to themselves.

“Often artists, especially young rappers, want to sing in English like their influences, instead of their daily language, Inuktitut. We sometimes challenge why they want to do that, but the task of discovering your ‘authentic self’ can be much easier said than done,” says Thor.



Thor is a third culture kid – someone who is raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their nationality, and who also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years. Thor is also raising three third culture kids with his Japanese wife. I ask him how his particular experience ties in with his passion and work with Hitmakerz.

“Without trying to sound overly dramatic, I believe third culture kids are the future of humanity. As the world becomes more globalized, I believe that in the future, third culture kids will be the norm, not the exception. Third culture kids can often relate to people of cultures around the world and build social bridges between nations by helping to translate between different paradigms of thinking,” he says.

Thor makes an important point and shares that “we (third culture kids) tend to see the hopes, fears, and circumstances of people from vastly different backgrounds, and help them align their interests (this being especially true in his work with Inuit artists) to create common goals.”

How does he hope to keep his children connected to their Danish roots? Thor says, “I suspect that my kids will feel fully Canadian, partly Japanese, slightly Scandinavian, and distantly associated with Inuit culture. I hope my kids will adopt good cultural values through my role modeling, and we’ll travel often to give them exposure to their various homelands.”

He struggles with the language part, noting, “My kids are already learning Japanese, English, and French, and I’m not sure how I could also successfully teach them Danish, Norwegian, Faroese, and Inuktitut, especially when my own language skills are second-hand.”

He consoles himself with the knowledge that “growing up multilingual, my kids will likely be culturally sensitive and have decent language skills. Furthermore, if they feel compelled to learn more, they’ll have the freedom to take an extended sojourn to their homelands, just like I did.”



He and his wife have settled in Ottawa, Canada. They had the option to live anywhere in the world, which inspired Thor to create an elaborate spreadsheet that listed all their values, which included, “proximity to family, cost of living, safety, etc. – rated the importance of each one, and rated the score of each location. The spreadsheet said very clearly that Ottawa was the right place to live, and it was correct!”



A big appeal of Ottawa was its accessibility and multiculturalism. He believes that “culture is all about connection” and hopes that his kids “find their version of that, from whatever culture they feel most connected with, and in whatever language they prefer.”

His personal musical inspirations reflect his dual upbringing. Nik & Jay is a very personal one. “These guys defined the Danish pop scene when I lived in Scandinavia. Seen through North American sensibilities, their music and style were pretty cheesy and overdone, but damn was it ever true to who they were. And the fact that they made it work in Denmark – with its Jantelov – was incredible. I met them backstage once when I was a touring artist, and I’m still starstruck.”



Another favourite is American rapper, songwriter and record producer Eminem. “He is undoubtedly the most influential artist among young Inuit men. Something about his work resonates deeply with them and has inspired countless young rappers, including myself. A collaboration with him, or even just a concert in Nunavut, would be incredible.”

So why is music important to Thor? It’s a loaded question for someone whose life is inspired by the art form.

“Music taps into something primal in our nature – feelings, experiences, energy,” he explains. Music is “a conduit for human connection,” which explains its universal appeal and importance. The beauty of being totally absorbed by his passion “is that I constantly feel like I’m re-discovering it.”

Find out more about Thor Simonsen and Hitmakerz.

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Beka Shane Denter

Beka Shane Denter is a Canadian writer and author currently based in Copenhagen. Her second book, Bloom Where You Are Planted - 50 Conversations with Inspiring Canadians - will be published by Heritage House in Fall 2024.