Sinaa - 2006
Ancestors feat. Bjork
In just six short years, ground-breaking Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq Gillis, has brought an ancient Inuit vocal game to the heights of the experimental music scene. She’s collaborated with Bjork and the Kronos Quartet, and toured with some of the world’s leading global artists.
Like Bjork, Tagaq makes music that is both decidedly unusual and universally appealing on a most primal level. Her innovative, solo style of throat singing seeks to push the boundaries of emotion and to express the primitive instincts she believes still reside deep within our flesh. She describes her evolution over the past six years as a process of going deeper and deeper into her performance to the point where she virtually “leaves her body” and lets the expression take over.
Tagaq’s new CD, Sinaa (sih-NAA), displays her technique through a collection of original improvisations and two traditional Inuk throat songs. Most of the time, Tagaq’s voice is the only instrument, communicating the emotion of the piece through a stunning array of sounds: aggressive grunts and growls, frantic gasping rhythms and ecstatic, high pitched wails, sometimes layered over additional beds of moans and sighs. Four songs also feature the tribal sounding beats of the txalaparta (cha-la-PAR-ta), traditional Basque percussion provided by Tagaq’s partner Filipe Ugarte and his duo, Ugarte Anaiak. On “Ancestors,” a duet with Bjork, a touch of piano provides the backdrop as Bjork’s sweet, shrill vocalizations intertwine with Tagaq’s provocative throat sounds.
It’s a far cry from traditional throat singing, which is neither an emotional art form nor the work of a solo artist. Conventionally, throat singing is done by pairs of women who stand face to face and create rhythms out of the sounds made with their breath and vocal chords. One leads and the other fills in the gaps in her rhythm until one gives in to laughter or exhaustion. The only similarity to Tagaq’s work is the sounds themselves, which often emulate sounds from nature like animals or the wind.
Though Tagaq grew up in Cambridge Bay, Nanuvut, she had little exposure to the centuries old art form. It wasn’t until her final year of art school in Halifax that she began emulating tapes of throat singing her mother had sent her from home. It was originally intended as a cure for homesickness. Tagaq had no partner to practice with and no one to teach her the “right way to do it.” But her growing passion for the form, combined with a series of “cosmic coincidences,” convinced her to make it a primary form of artistic expression.
Tagaq’s first public performance was at a Cambridge Bay talent contest with an old friend who had also been learning to sing. It was broadcast on the radio and caught the attention of Yellowknife’s Folk on the Rocks organizers, who invited them to perform. That lead to invitations from other Festivals.
Then, in 2000, Tagaq attended the Great Northern Arts Festival to exhibit her paintings. When the organizers discovered they were short of performers, Tagaq agreed to sing. Her partner, however, wasn’t with her, so she performed solo with a cast of other performers backing her up. In the audience that day, filming the show, were two men from Iceland, who happened to be friend’s of Bjork’s. The rest, as they say, is history. Tagaq was invited to join Bjork’s Vespertine tour in 2001. She appears on both of Bjork’s subsequent recordings: Medulla, an album paying tribute to the human voice, and the soundtrack to the film, Drawing Restraint 9.
A second “cosmic coincidence” occurred in 2002, while living in London for a month, Tagaq began looking for gigs to help pay the bills. One of those performances was recorded by the publishers of fRoots magazine and placed on their compilation CD. The recording found it’s way into the hands of the Kronos Quartet, leading to Tagaq’s second significant collaboration. This March, her work with Kronos will culminate in a performance at Carnegie Hall.
Meanwhile, Tagaq toured Europe in 2003 as part of the Canada Council’s Sonic Weave tour. Last year, she toured the UK as part of the Shaman Voices Tour with Mongolian throat singer, Okna Tsahan Zam and Finnish yoiker, Wimme. And in November of last year, she earned a standing ovation for her performance at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. She also received three awards at the ceremony, including the prize for “Best Female Artist.”
Sinaa (“edge” in Inuktitut) showcases Tagaq’s innovative and emotional style of throat singing on a collection of mostly original improvisation. Most of the time, Tagaq’s voice is the only instrument, communicating the emotion of the piece through a stunning array of sounds: aggressive grunts and growls, frantic gasping rhythms and ecstatic, high pitched wails…sometimes layered over additional beds of moans and sighs. Four songs also feature the tribal sounding beats of the txalaparta (cha-la-PAR-ta), traditional Basque percussion provided by Tagaq’s partner Filipe Ugarte and his duo Ugarte Anaiak. On “Ancestors,” a duet with Bjork, a touch of piano provides the backdrop as Bjork’s sweet, shrill vocalizations intertwine with Tagaq’s provocative throat sounds. With Sinaa, Tagaq won 3 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards including “Producer of the Year” and “Best Female Artist.”
“She’s “like Edith Piaf or something, totally emotional.”
“Nunuvut-born Tanya Tagaq Gillis drags the ancient Inuit tradition of throat singing into the pop age, using elements of hip-hop and multi-track layering. This disc … won Tagaq best female artist at last November’s Aboriginal Music Awards, and it’s easy to hear why.”
–Morley Walker, Winnipeg Free Press
“Nobody else in the world performs Inuit throat-singing in a capacity that both expands and enhances the audience and potential of the style with as much reverence to the craft and eye to the artistry as this woman. Tanya Tagaq Gillis is possibly the most unique performer of truly traditional, Canadian music in our country … an outgoing, enigmatic and astounding performer, composer and improviser building from a foundation on the periphery of Inuit throat singing. She is revered, controversial, personable, humble, alluring, terrifying…”
“Tanya Tagaq is a compelling artist whose electrifying throat-singing acts as a sonic gateway into the primal essense of humanity. Although she works in an deep-rooted tradition, Tagaq is willing to experiment with radical new ideas. It is the contradiction of ancient and modern elements in her work that creates a depth and richness few solo vocalists can hope to achieve.”
–Philly Markowitz, CBC Roots and Wings
“It was a remarkable display…the most manic and impressive performer on stage.”
–The Guardian, UK review of the Shaman Voices Tour
“An immensely and uniquely talented singer whose work is by turns powerful, hushed, sensuous and driving.”
–The Vancouver Folk Music Festival
“Tagaq’s guttural cries and unfamiliar melodies have a primal feel, employing a range of raw emotive power typically denied to vocalists. … one of the rarest voices in contemporary music.”
“The stand-out performance of the night…Tagaq received a standing ‘O’ for her efforts and a host of new fans.”
–Alberta Sweetgrass Review of the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards
“Her work is strong, creative, and diverse. Her originality is encouraging, especially to other artists of Aboriginal ancestry and the youth. Her work is truly original, beyond categories.”
–Linsey Tenille Ernst, Redwiremag.com
Tanya Tagaq Tour Dates
With DJ Michael Red and Kenton Loewen on drums:
February 12- Bristol, UK: The Cube Club
February 13 - Guarda, Portugal: Teatro Municipal da Guarda
February 14 - Oporto, Portugal:Casa Da Musica
February 15 - Glasgow, Scotland: (solo) The Arches - New Moves Festival
February 16 - London, UK: Cafe Oto
February 17 - Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic: Narondni Dum
February 18 - Prague, Czech Republic: Palác Akropolis
February 20 - Viljandi, Estonia: MTÜ Eesti Pärimusmuusika Keskus
February 21 - Tallin, Estonia: Kumu Art Museum