A diverse crowd packed Heritage Hall for conversation, drinks and katajjaq, the practice commonly known as traditional Inuit throat singing. However, at the end of the night, there was little tradition to be found anywhere in the room.
Nunavut native Tanya Tagaq purveys a form of throat singing that is rooted in the guttural growls and rhythmic chants of katajjaq, but sounds more like a symphony of samples culled from the arctic landscape and classical operatic performance. Tagaq’s unique sound is imbued with the melodies of modern pop and the profound experimentalism of improvised music, a combination that’s almost transcendent when channelled through her powerful voice.
Accordingly, the concert was a departure from the experience that most music fans are used to. Barefoot, yet dressed in what could only be described as a diva’s gown, the singer began with a diatribe of sorts, letting the crowd know her feelings on contemporary gender relations, her baby at home in Nunavut and an assortment of other things most personal and disconcerting. With this personal baggage out of the way, she launched into the real catharsis that everyone was there to see.
Collaborators DJ Michael Red and cellist Cris Derksen set the scene, summoning an open soundscape of sparse beats and haunting melodies for Tagaq to walk into. With sharp, articulate gasps hurled from the back of her throat, Tagaq summoned the surging rhythms that would form the basis of the performance. Bursts of angry growls and explosive staccato wails began to fill the room as she jammed with Red and Derksen, manifesting a particular musical language known only to them. The group worked their way through movement after movement in this manner, traversing through darkness, majestic light and the warmest intimacy.
Tagaq played nearly every part imaginable throughout the night: stomping madly about the stage with microphone raised above her head, she was a warrior; whispering softly along with Derksen’s cello, she was an innocent child; at the end, she seemed to be an old soul, introspective and filled with creative wisdom. The lucky crowd rewarded her and her bandmates with a much-deserved standing ovation, acknowledging a remarkable performance by one Canada’s most gifted artists.