Artist takes on issues by the throat

Tanya Tagaq a unique voice in musical landscape


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In Canada’s current music landscape, there are few, if any, artists who challenge quite like Tanya Tagaq.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2017 (2195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In Canada’s current music landscape, there are few, if any, artists who challenge quite like Tanya Tagaq.

She challenges through her dizzying and intense arrangements that combine traditional Inuit throat singing with innovative, almost punk-rock inspired ideas to create art that needs to be heard and not just listened to. Her music isn’t always pretty, and it doesn’t always feel good to listen to, which is why some are unwilling to put in the effort necessary to reap the benefits.

But despite the auditory harshness, there are important dialogues being started.

In fact, Tagaq was appointed to the Order of Canada three months ago for “contributions to Canadian culture through her avant-garde Inuit throat singing.”

And there, Tagaq challenges again — with her content. The singer, who was raised in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is fearless in the topics she addresses and is seemingly unaffected by their potential to offend: missing and murdered indigenous women, women’s issues in general, the deterioration of the environment, the state of aboriginal culture in Canada and the relationship aboriginals have with the federal government. The list goes on.

At the 2014 Polaris Prize Gala — at which Tagaq’s album Animism took home the grand prize of $30,000, awarded to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit and not record sales — she made the most of the platform twice that night. During her performance, screens on the stage scrolled through 1,200 names of missing and murdered indigenous women as she growled, breathed and shrieked her way through 10 of the most impactful minutes the gala will likely ever see.

The performance earned her a standing ovation, with host Jay Baruchel exclaiming, “I mean holy shit, was that something else or what?”

Later, she was back on stage to accept the prize, and, at the end of a sweet speech (given in her surprisingly delicate voice) thanking her producer and violinist Jesse Zubot, her family and her label, she said, “On a quick side note, people should wear and eat seal as much as possible, because if you imagine an indigenous culture thriving and surviving on a sustainable resource, wearing them and eating them, it’s delicious,” as she pointed to a seal fur cuff on her wrist. “And f— PETA.”

On top of — or perhaps bolstered by — winning the Polaris Prize, Animism opened many doors for Tagaq in a commercial realm. She locked in numerous festival engagements and began playing to sold-out rooms all over the world.

The trend has continued with her newest record, Retribution; among the North American dates supporting the album (which include a sold-out show at the West End Cultural Centre Saturday), was a March 9 stop at the stunning Appel Room at New York’s Lincoln Center.

Retribution, is, to put it bluntly, about rape. Raping of the land, raping of women (both literally and metaphorically) and the raping of culture. It’s aggressive, packed densely with emotion so strong it will leave a knot in your stomach and, quite possibly, tears in your eyes. The record’s message as a whole rings clear in the title track: “The path we have taken has rotted. Ignite. Stand upright and conduct yourself like lightning because the retribution will be swift,” Tagaq hisses over a a pulsing beat of percussion and throat singing.

Since its release in October 2016, Retribution has received critical acclaim across the board, from outlets including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Exclaim, and found its place on numerous albums-of-the-year lists, including the Free Press.

In addition to her show at the West End Cultural Centre, Tagaq will also give an Axworthy Lecture at the University of Winnipeg tonight at 7 p.m. at Riddell Hall.

Tagaq will be the fourth speaker in the Axworthy Distinguished Lecture Series on Social Justice and the Public Good. Her lecture “will focus on the importance of arts for public life and the public good, including especially how Inuk and indigenous artists contribute uniquely to conversations about justice, including processes of reconciliation,” says the event page on the university’s website.

The event is free and open to the public. Seating is first come, first served, and no advanced tickets are required. The U of W also notes this event is a lecture and not a musical performance.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel

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Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar spends her time thinking of, and implementing, ways to improve the interaction and connection between the Free Press newsroom and its readership.

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