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Tanya Tagaq surprises the crowd during the national capital’s Canada Day celebrations


Version française de ce texte.

For almost two years now I have been hearing about the Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Each month, I make sure to include her tour dates in Polar Horizon’s calendar of events wherever she is on the planet. At last! The opportunity to attend one of her shows presented itself yesterday as Tanya was in Gatineau for the Canada Day celebrations.

To start off, in the afternoon, Tanya was to give a throat singing workshop in the Jacques-Cartier Park. Unfortunately, the Mongolian yurt in which the activity was to be held happened to be too close to the main stage where performances were underway. The sound from the stage made it difficult for any discussion inside the yurt. The workshop would therefore have been too demanding on Tanya’s voice, considering that she had to spare it for the evening show she was to give. However, Tanya accompanied by Rebecca Mearns, agreed to do a short demonstration of throat singing to people who had gathered.

Tanya Tagaq and Rebecca Mearns

Some of you may possibly remember Rebecca who participated in Ottawa’ Inuit community in spring celebrations last March. Rebecca grew up in Pangnirtung, Nunavut and learned throat singing as part of her studies at Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa. As for Tanya, she grew up in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, but it wasn’t until she moved to Halifax in the late 90’s that she was exposed to throat singing and decided to learn it by herself. As they both have explained, their mothers and grandmothers did not practice throat singing as it had been banned by the clergy. Fortunately today, things have changed and these traditional songs have now reintegrated their place in the heart of Inuit culture.

Rebecca Mearns and Tanya Tagaq

Throat singing is seen as a game played by two women, during which they attempt to imitate the sounds of everyday life (the use of a saw, …), elements of their natural environment (the water, wind, …) or wildlife (geese, mosquitoes, …). One of women gives the rhythm and pace while the other tries to follow … until one of them loses her concentration. The task is sometimes very difficult!

Tanya Tagaq tries to stay concentrated.

Tanya and Rebecca explained that they often will try to make faces to try to destabilize the other party. In fact, all means are good to try to distract the opponent. It can range from fans positionning themselves strategically and attempt to distract the opponent to making fart sounds 😉 It is now easy to understand why such a competition almost always ends in general laughter.

Obvisously, Rebecca won this battle!

Tanya's turn to celebrate a victory

In response to a question from the audience, they indicated that each song contains specific sets of sounds as well as includes some improvisation. Even though a leader starts the game, her opponent may very well steal the lead along the way.

Tanya explaining the differences between northern and southern mosquitoes

A big thank you to Tanya and Rebecca for agreeing, despite the environment that was far from ideal, to share their passion with the people gathered in the yurt. A magical moment! The activity ended by noting the link between the Inuit and the Mongolian cultures: both practice throat singing except that Mongolian throat singing is performed by men.

A second opportunity to hear Tanya was during the evening show.

Tanya Tagaq

Accompanied by DJ Michael Red, Tanya definitely surprised the crowd who, most likely, expected her style to be similar to that of Elisapie Isaac, a well-known Inuk artist from Northern Quebec who was also performing as part of the festivities, but the Ontario side. Forget the resemblance! I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe what I heard. What a relief to see that even Tanya’s official biography begins by saying that her style is “indescribable”!

‘Indescribable’ is not an appropriate word to begin an artist’s bio, nor is it suitable as a description of a musician. The problem is this: when Tanya Tagaqs’ music fills your ears, she is genuinely one of those rare artists whose sounds and styles are truly groundbreaking. ‘Inuit throat singer’ is one part of her sonic quotient. So are descriptions like ‘orchestral’ ‘hip-hop-infused’ and ‘primal’…but these words are not usually used collectively. In the case of Tagaq, however – they are.

In an article published on February 6 entitled L’inconscient arctique de Tanya Tagaq (Tanya Tagaq’s inconscient Arctic), Alain Brunet of the French language daily newspaper La Presse used the following verbs and adjectives to describe her :

plays, turns, paints, moves, poses, sings, shocks, softens, destabilizes, marvels, demobilizes, federates.

Carnal, violent, cuddly, soft, dreamlike, animal, spiritual.

The best way to understand who is Tanya Tagaq is to take a look. The video entitled Tanya Tagaq in Puebla Mexico is an excellent example of the show that Tanya and Michael gave last night. Not a single word is pronounced. Nothing but sounds!

Finally, here are some pictures of Tanya and Michael taken during the 20 minutes they were on stage. It sure didn’t take long after Tanya started singing for a crowd to start congregating close to the stage. They had just discovered a new idol!!

Michael Red

In the coming weeks, Tanya will be performing in the Yukon as well as BC. If you’re in the vinicity of these locations, stop by and be ready to see something unique!

  • Atlin Art & Music Festival (BC): July 8 & July 10
  • Whitehorse Fire Hall (YT) : July 12
  • Dawson City Music Festival (YT) : July 15 & 17
  • Vancouver Art Gallery (BC) : July 27

To learn more about Tanya and her art just google her name and you’ll find lots of material. Here are just a couple of links :
Her official website
Interview with a throat singer: Tanya Tagaq on the whisky and bacon cleanse. by Elling Lien
Interview Instinctual invocations by Anil Prasad

2 comments to Tanya Tagaq surprises the crowd during the national capital’s Canada Day celebrations

  • I captured her at Bluesfest a few years ago – she’s quite amazing!!

  • Jordan

    I love Tanya Tagaq’s performance on now! I am so wonderful to throat sing like her. She is like a wolf howling and grunting and growls I love her very much already! her live show is a unique form of the indigenous people of the nan nook of the north of Canada. She makes sounds and squeals and she growls and snarls and she gutturals like a bear! We loved her music and breath and her throat singing voice.

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