Traveler, writer, reviewer, all-round observer. I like anything cool & fast, but occasionally sit at a cafe watching the world go by.
With its origins and influences from Inuit throat singing, Tanya Tagaq’s unique style brings music like none you’ve ever heard. As her online bio states, “This Inuk punk is known for delivering fearsome, elemental performances that are visceral and physical, heaving and breathing and alive.”
With the use of her throat, she combines the traditional Aboriginal culture with a wide array of styles such as modern classical, electronica, or metal. To say her voice is remarkable is an understatement. She began experimenting and practicing the unique form of Inuit throat singing in her teen-years while growing up in Nunavut, Canada.
With several accomplishments under her belt, such as the 2005 and 2008 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, twice nominated for the Juno Award, participated in an award-winning documentary as well as an award-winning film, she took great pleasure being on stage at Carnegie Hall. With each sway of her body and arms, she manipulated the sounds from her throat with great ease, and seemingly influenced the orchestra’s music to the control of her reverberation. Watching and listening to her performance was quite mesmerizing to say the least.
I contacted Ms. Tagaq, and she agreed to an exclusive Q&A interview…
Aki: According to your Playbill Bio, you’re from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and grew up surrounded by Inuit as well as Western Culture. How was it growing up there?
Tanya: My upbringing was a rich kaleidoscope of cultural influences. My parents are awesome. It took me a long time to realize how cool they were and are. I remember being chased by polar bears down the beach in Churchill, Manitoba (we lived there for a year). I also remember going too close to the window of our house in Resolute Bay, and smelling something very strong, a polar bear was munching on a sealskin right outside the window. I closed the window very quietly. We spent a lot of time playing outside, causing mischief, being children. The social climate was tense, as it is for any awkward and dorky kid. We were rough kids, and I am happy for that. Cambridge Bay is a very small town, and I am so thankful to have been raised in a culture that still thrives off nature. Aki: What was the catalyst for you to become a Throat Singer?
Tanya: I heard it throughout my life in dim memories like a ghost thread of sound. The first time I remember it impacting me was in Halifax. I received an old tape from my mom with “80’s hits” scratched off the label. Some throat-singing and Ajaja songs were on there. It rocked me to my bones. I was 22 or 23 at the time.
Aki: How was it like for you during your first public performance?
Tanya: It was like a fish in water. I am at home on stage.
Aki: As I watched you come out on stage at Carnegie Hall, you wore an amazing, shimmering silver and black dress, with your hair done up, and barefooted. Is performing barefoot your signature?
Tanya: It just happened. I sing barefoot to stay connected with the earth. It keeps me grounded and I don’t have to be distracted by teetering around in heels. I also like to use my toes and feet to keep cadence. I know this sounds weird, but sometimes the beats or ideas will come from my feet.
Aki: Coming from a person that has never seen throat singing before, watching you on stage, it seemed to me you just became part of the music, melding into it as your hands, arms, and body swayed along as an instrument itself. Is this your personal style, or is it the norm in throat singing?
Tanya: I suppose sound becomes other things for me. It can become movement or tastes or smells or ideas. It’s a stream of consciousness that carries me with it like a current. It is not normal to move around while throat singing.
Aki: This is the first time The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performed in the U.S., and at Carnegie Hall. What’s your connection with them? And while in New York, were you able to take in the sights?
Tanya: It was my third time here. Derek Charke is the catalyst for this time. Having come here so many times, I don’t feel like a tourist anymore.
Aki: Do you have family back home? Is there anyone following your musical footsteps?
Tanya: I am a mother with two beautiful daughters at home. They both think I am a huge dork, and are not into throat-singing right now. Hopefully, they will warm up to it later. I am going to teach them how to be awesome first, they can learn throat singing later.
Aki: Besides throat singing, do you sing any other way? Do you play any musical instruments?
Tanya: I am not musically trained at all. I want to sing in all ways possible.
Aki: If you were to turn on the radio, or throw a party, what choice of music would you personally prefer?
Tanya: I grew up listening to Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, the Beatles, Kris Kristofferson, Donovan, Elvis, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Simon and Garfunkel, but Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, MIA’s “Amazon” are my party anthems. Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” is my happy song, and anything by Elliot Smith lives already in my marrow.
Aki: When not performing or planning for the next thing on your plate, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Tanya: I like to read and exercise. I like Thompson Highway and Joseph Boyden. I like to paint, and run, and cook. I am a human that is very happy to be alive.
Aki: What’s next for you in life?
Tanya: I think…..more breathing 🙂
Thank you Tanya. May your sounds reverberate forever more. To find out more about Ms. Tagaq, you can visit her website at http://www.tanyatagaq.com