Tagaq projects sounds that carry the imprint of the body’s secret contours and recesses … to summon voices from the flesh cavity haunts of animal spirits and primal energies.” —The Wire (UK)
Minneapolis, October 27, 2015—Innovative vocalist Tanya Tagaq can capture the most ethereal moments of desire, or find the deepest, huskiest, beating pulse with her voice and breath. She creates a soundscape from inhalation and exhalation, summoning a powerful emotion from the smallest movement of lips, throat, and lungs. Her intense, evocative vocalizations, based on Inuit throat singing traditions and layered with electronica, industrial, and metal influences, help reclaim the controversial 1922 film Nanook of the North. The performances, Thursday–Friday, November 19–20, 8 pm in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater, feature Tagaq along with percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot performing a live accompaniment to the film’s silent images of life in an early 20th-century Inuit community in Northern Quebec. Copresented with the Cedar.
About Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North
Nanook of the North is considered the world’s first major work of non-fiction filmmaking, yet it is rife with contradictions. The film portrays the lives of an Inuk family in Arctic Canada. Its director, Robert Flaherty, lived and worked with Inuit for years, but still included staged scenes of buffoonery and feigned Inuit ignorance of modern accoutrements.
Working with composer Derek Charke (whose Tundra Songs Tagaq performed with the Kronos Quartet), Tagaq employs exquisite improvisations with traditional roots, a style she has perfected over a decade of performances on major stages worldwide, as well as with collaborations with everyone from Björk (Tagaq joined her on the Medúlla tour) to Mike Patton (who contributed to Tagaq’s 2009 Juno-nominated album Auk/Blood).
Commissioned by the Toronto Film Festival for their First Nations Film Festival, Tagaq’s work with Nanook and with Charke began with a sonic exploration of the film’s imagery, images that spoke deeply to the vocalist. “The film expresses a lot of what I’m thinking and feeling,” Tagaq reflects. “It softened my anger about some of the great difficulties facing my community and put some beauty in there. It’s so hard to capture the absolute vastness of those places with visual elements alone. You can look at it, and it looks beautiful, but it’s also spacious and terrifying. The sound is very expansive. You can hear people talking from so far away. A single duck flying over you has the loudest sound in its wings. I have it in me, because I was born and raised up there.”
Drawing on her childhood on Nunavut’s Victoria Island, and on her mother’s memories of forced relocation from film’s Northern Quebec location, Tagaq’s sense of the sound of the Arctic spaces shown in the film transforms the images, adding great feeling and depth to what is a complex mix of beautiful representations and racially charged clichés.
Even though the film is rife with contradictions, Tagaq and Charke sill found it to be worth exploring. Tagaq viewed the film, improvising two interlocking parts based on Inuit throat singing forms, which usually involve two vocalists. As she did, she experienced a wealth of emotions, from pride to delight to rage. “Initially I found it a hindrance to adhere to the visual element and not be totally free, but I like the dimension it gave me,” Tagaq notes, “and the ability that I have to let the film be the film.”
Charke left Tagaq’s recorded vocals intact, weaving in sounds he collected during stays in the Arctic, as well as using subtle processing to enhance certain moments in Tagaq’s voice. Live, Tagaq adds yet another swath of sound, reacting once again to the images and music that were laid down with Charke. The layers that form the soundscape echo the layers of meaning that can be drawn from the film itself, from its gorgeous scenes of a very different Arctic a century ago, and from its failings, when it devolves into harsh stereotype.
“Everyone will take what they want from it. I have no intention of spoon feeding people what they need to know,” Tagaq states. “Yet, hopefully, via coaxing and innuendo and emotion, I can elevate people’s consciousness of Inuit culture and of culture in general. I can take a small bite out of the underground racism against Inuit and Aboriginal people. I have faith that if people are educated about what’s actually happening, and if people believe, it can be fixed. But you have to acknowledge the bad to sprout the good.”
‘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.
So much has happened to Tagaq since the release of her debut CD Sinaa (meaning ‘edge’ in her ancestral language of Inuktitut) in 2005. The Nunavut-born singer has not just attracted the attention of some of the world’s most groundbreaking artists, but they have invited her to participate on their own musical projects, not just singularly, but repeatedly. Tanya has recently recorded once again with Björk (specifically on the soundtrack for the Matthew Barney film Drawing Restraint 9) having already appeared on Björk’s Medúlla CD in 2004 and accompanied her on the Vespertine tour. In 2005, another monumental collaborative project came to fruition when the Kronos Quartet invited Tanya to participate on a project aptly titled Nunavut, which has been performed at select venues across North America, from its January 2006 debut at the Chan Centre in Vancouver, BC through to New York’s Carnegie Hall. Acclaim and respect has followed Tagaq on her solo ventures as well: both Sinaa and Auk/Blood were nominated for a Juno Award (Best Aboriginal Recording) and (Best Instrumental Recording). And both recordings won in several categories at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, including Best Female Artist.
Tanya’s stunning video Tungijuq, which she collaborated with Jesse Zubot and Montreal filmmakers Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael, premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. In 2009 Tanya also narrated and provided music for the National Film Board documentary, This Land. In 2011, she released a live album titled Anuraaqtuq. It was recorded during Tagaq’s performance at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville. And in 2012 Tagaq performed the theme music for the CBC television show Arctic Air. Tagaq recently released her third album, Animism, in May 2014 on Six Shooter Records. The album won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, and $30,000 award. The album also won the Juno Award for Aboriginal Recording of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2015, and was nominated for Alternative Album of the Year.
Tickets to Tanya Tagaq are $25 ($22) available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600
About the Cedar
The Cedar Cultural Center is a highly eclectic music venue located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Over its 27-year history, the Cedar has become one of the premiere US venues for world music by fulfilling its (501c3 nonprofit) mission of promoting intercultural appreciation and understanding though the presentation of global music and dance. Learn more at http://www.thecedar.org/
Walker Art Center Performing Arts Program History A catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences, the Walker Art Center examines the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities. Established in 1927 as the Walker Art Gallery, in 1940 it adopted a new name and focused on modern and contemporary art exhibitions as well as screenings, performances and public programs. Today the Walker is one of the top-five most visited modern and contemporary art centers in the U.S. Multidisciplinary in focus, it is equally committed to advancing artistic innovation and interdisciplinary scholarship as it is with increasing access to lifelong learning in the arts. Led by Senior Curator Philip Bither since 1997, the Walker’s Performing Arts program under his tenure has been defined by its commitment to the increasingly blurred lines between artistic disciplines, including contemporary dance, new music-theatre, performance art, experimental theatre, avant-jazz, contemporary classical music, new global sounds and alternative rock and pop. In addition to animating its outstanding McGuire Theater, the Walker has also greatly expanded its placement of dance into gallery settings, in its sculpture garden, and beyond, to further encourage a conversation between forms. It has also continued it long-standing tradition of mounting work together with presenters, venues, community-based collaborators, and unique sites across the Twin Cities. Through its endeavors, the Walker has earned an international reputation as “one of America’s foremost experimental art spaces” (UK’s The Guardian).
Support provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North was commissioned by TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of its film retrospective First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition. Nanook of the North film is used courtesy of The Flaherty.
The Walker Art Center’s performing arts programs are made possible by generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duke Performing Arts Fund, the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Performing Arts programs and commissions at the Walker are generously supported by members of the Producers’ Council: Nor Hall and Roger Hale; Kings’ Fountain/Barbara Watson Pillsbury and Henry Pillsbury; Emily Maltz; Dr. William W. and Nadine M. McGuire; Leni and David Moore, Jr./The David and Leni Moore Family Foundation; Mike and Elizabeth Sweeney; and Frances and Frank Wilkinson.