By Lily Goodman
Growing up in Cambridge Bay of Nunavut, the largest and northernmost territory of Canada, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq described the small community of 2,500 people as a “land of 24-hour Sun in the summer and darkness in the winter, 300 miles from the magnetic North Pole.
‘[There were] no roads in or out, [and it was] only accessible by plane,” she said.
Tagaq attended high school in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, where she began to practice throat singing. She then went on to study visual arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and during her time there, her practice with throat singing blossomed into a solo, much more contemporary form of the traditional practice.
Tagaq has taken home the Polaris Prize for best Canadian album in 2014 for her third record, Animism. More consciously political than any of her earlier work because of its themes revolving around fracking and the destruction of the Earth’s resources, many critics thought this was her conclusive artistic statement, but in reality, she was just getting started.
Tagaq released her fourth album, Retribution, in October 2016. Described on her website as “even more musically aggressive, more aggressively political [and] more spine tingling,” Retribution is a cohesive and complete statement about rape — rape of women, rape of children, and rape of the traditional native lands. When asked why she thought it was important that people hear Retribution strictly in terms of its dark content, Tagaq answered simply: “Climate change and human rights cannot be ignored.”
And for Tagaq, the two go hand in hand.
“Considering the fact that over the last few hundred years, the government has done so much to destroy our culture, I’m in no way surprised that the land is facing a similar fate,” Tagaq said.
As an Inuit woman who has witnessed firsthand the destruction of the Arctic ecosystem and its way of life because of the Canadian government and global warming, Tagaq takes it upon herself to inform the world of such injustices.
Her voice combined with her powerful stage presence have allowed her to effectively convey the message of her people, as seen through the immense success of her two most recent albums and slew of sold-out shows. One of these shows, taking place today in Hancher, will combine Tagaq’s performance with a viewing of the 1922 silent documentary film Nanook of the North. Considered groundbreaking by some and in later years found to be rife with stereotypes by others, Tagaq explained the reasoning behind incorporating such a controversial film into her act as “it’s important to dissect [these] stereotypes by having a contemporary sound on top of a silent film that has been so influential in creating those stereotypes to begin with.”
Except when she’s not playing major music festivals around the globe or raising awareness about the indigenous communities of Canada, Tagaq maintains a fairly normal life, one that is full of cooking and hanging out with her children. But it’s hard for one to ignore Tagaq’s magnificent work and captivating voice. As one critic stated: “Catch her at all costs if you possibly can.”