Photo Credit: TSO/Jag Gundu
Tagaq’s voice evokes the land and sky, as the ancestors move through her.
Inuit throat singer and artist Tanya Tagaq is a life force. At the world premiere of Qiksaaktuq with Toronto Symphony Orchestra for New Creations Festival on March 4 at Roy Thompson Hall, she was transcendental.
Tagaq overthrows traditional throat singing, which is usually performed with two women, as she performs solo using her body, and voice equally as instruments. Dedicated to Canada’s Indigenous Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and “those who grieve for them,” Qiksaaktuq was composed by Tagaq, Christine Duncan, Jean Martin, and Christopher Mayo. Qiksaaktuq –the Inuktitut word for grief –moved through the five stages of grief via five musical movements, and symphonically explored denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Each movement of Qiksaaktuq felt like an unearthing. First, listeners were met with denial, and had to confront their internalized racism through the colonial confines of being contained with an institution like Roy Thompson Hall, at an exclusive black-tie-affair. Tagaq moved onto anger, and combined with the atmospheric string arrangements, conjured up generations of trauma. While she moved through stages of bargaining, depression, and acceptance with masterful grace, five red dresses (Pallett noted in the his introduction, it was supposed to be 2,000) hung behind the orchestra in honour of our stolen sisters.
To witness Tagaq perform with Toronto Symphony Orchestra, one of the country’s most established group of players, was an honour. Tagaq’s debut performance with the Toronto Symphony was a 20 minute commissioned piece for Canada’s 150 year celebrations, in partnership with the 13th annual New Creations Festival, co-curated by TSO’s music director Peter Oundjian and renowned performer and composer Owen Pallett.
Tagaq’s voice evokes the land and sky, as the ancestors move through her. Her work is anti-colonial, and creates art from an ancestral place. Born in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Tagaq won the Polaris Music Prize with Animism for best Canadian album in 2014, and scrolled thousands of names of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous women on a projector behind her during the gala performance. She is inherently political, and doesn’t separate her art from her identity, spirituality, and person hood.
Many First Nations peoples came to experience Tagaq with the TSO, and Roy Thompson Hall was a mix of settler and Indigenous peoples. Dressed in a stunning black dress – with a sparkling halter bodice, and flowing thigh-revealing skirt, Tagaq’s performance was visceral. Generations of women move through her, as she becomes both wild tundra, and animal. Tagaq’s improvised throat singing honours the mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
The spirit of Tagaq’s TSO performance combined improvisation and notation. Martin, who has worked with Tagaq over the years, and is an internationally recognized drummer, instrumentalist, producer, and artistic director of Barnyard Records, also worked with Duncan, who freely conducted the brass section.
Despite Toronto Symphony Orchestra commissioning the performance as part of Canada’s 150 anniversary of Confederation, which is problematic given Indigenous Peoples have lived here for hundreds of years, Qiksaaktuq is deeply decolonial. Both as an act of resistance, and retribution, Tagaq’s performance embodied hundreds of years of genocide, yet offered healing.
Experimental vocalist and artist Tanya Tagaq won the Polaris Prize for best Canadian album in 2014, for Animism. Those who thought she had then made her definitive artistic statement are in for a surprise.
Also in for a shock are those who thought international success, playing to major festivals and packed houses all over the world, would lead to a mellower sound, or a more laid back approach.
Tagaq follows up Animism with Retribution, an even more musically aggressive, more aggressively political, more challenging, more spine tingling, more powerful masterpiece.
2017 TOUR DATES
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
The Waverley Hotel
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Montreal Jazz Festival
Wayhome Music & Arts Festival
Calgary Folk Festival
Inuksuk High School
Tanya Tagaq – Ajaaja
From her album “Retribution” released on October 21, 2016 on Six Shooter Records.