Posts Tagged ‘tanya tagaq’

Get up, stand up! Music of resistance and revolution

Posted on January 24th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Trump’s to blame. Or at least, he’s one of the reasons why we’re devoting the latest issue to the power of music and its ability to unite rather than divide people. The music we cover in Songlines is often far more than pure entertainment. Yes, it can make you smile, want to dance, or reduce you to tears. But there’s also a galvanising force about music that means it can be used as a powerful weapon in political and social activism – precisely why oppressive regimes tend to ban or censor it.

This month on the Songlines website we’ll be championing and celebrating those musicians who have stuck their necks out and sung out about social injustices, crimes and civil rights. We’ve gathered together several classic features from the Songlines archive that shine a light on a few of today’s most compelling voices of resistance. The revolution begins here!



The Western Sahara has been the subject of  dispute for many decades. One of its most eloquent activists and singers, Aziza Brahim, talks to Violeta Ruano about life in exile and how music and politics are inseparable.

Read: ‘Aziza Brahim – voice of the resistance’



Only the bravest artists take on the biggest enemies. Chris Moss singles out the main role models for today’s young, wannabe revolutionary musicians.

Read: ‘Essential 10: protest singers’



Nigel Williamson introduces Fela Kuti – a true original: ‘Never have life, politics, art and music been so inextricably linked together in one incendiary, insurrectionary and highly danceable package’.

Read: ‘Fela Kuti – a beginner’s guide’



In Burkina Faso music is at the heart of a movement that last year chased an autocrat from power. Bram Posthumus finds out how hip-hop artist and activist Smockey used rap and reggae to change the country’s political course.

Read: ‘Smockey and the rap revolution’



Two pivotal anniversaries in democratic history have been marked in a song project called Sweet Liberties. Julian May gets a history lesson from singers Maz O’Connor, Nancy Kerr and Martyn Joseph.

Read: ‘Sweet Liberties – the voices of democracy’



Canada’s most famous Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, has been stunning audiences since first collaborating with Björk. Marc Fournier witnesses the unforgettable live experience and finds out about her revolutionary ideals.

Read: Tanya Tagaq – Polar Storm’



The current turmoil in Ukraine is providing a fertile ground for some of the country’s musicians. Peter Culshaw travels to Kiev, the stricken capital, and talks to DakhaBrakha, one of the leading players.

Read: ‘DakhaBrakha – sound of a revolution’

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Tanya Tagaq – Polar storm

Posted on January 24th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Canada’s most famous Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, has been stunning audiences since first collaborating with Björk. Marc Fournier witnesses the unforgettable live experience and finds out about her revolutionary ideals

A couple of hours before her appearance onstage closing the festivities at the Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver and I am sitting with Tanya Tagaq, a big chunk of seared tuna between us. “You cannot write this piece if you don’t see the show,” Tagaq says. The show is sold out and has been for a while. The event was scheduled in September and then, a month later, Tagaq won the prestigious Polaris Prize (the Canadian equivalent to the Mercury Prize) for her album Animism (reviewed in #105) and if there were any tickets left, they were gone the next morning. “Even if you have to sit on a chair by the side of the stage, you have to see it. Otherwise you can’t write about it.’’

Tanya Tagaq is a force of nature. A small, soft-spoken woman with caring eyes. But I wouldn’t mess around with her. She could transform any moment. When she is onstage, for example. “It’s an involuntary thing. It cannot be controlled. It’s a chemical reaction to sound. I can release my body completely. It is true peace.’’ So what happens onstage? I ask. “I watched one of my performances on video once and I had a hard time understanding what I was seeing. Because what I feel inside is completely different, it’s very nuanced with nice colours and soft paths. And outside, it’s like a monster! No wonder I scare some people. I almost scared myself!” While she first came to many people’s attention in the early 2000s when she toured and recorded with Björk, she is now in full possession of her creative process. Born north of the Arctic Circle in a town called Ikaluktutiak (Cambridge Bay), Nunavut, Tagaq is arguably the most famous Canadian Inuk (the singular form of Inuit) artist. Traditionally, the Inuit were hunters and gatherers who moved seasonally from one camp to another and Tagaq herself followed a nomadic artistic path. She first began to practice throat singing at 15, after she left her community to study in the Northwest Territories. She later studied visual arts in the eastern maritime province of Nova Scotia and while there developed her own solo form of Inuit throat singing.

Inuit throat singing is not what you would call accessible music. But anybody who has seen Inuit throat singers perform will remember that moment forever. This friendly competition – called katajjaq – involving two women who sing duets in an entertaining contest to see who can outlast the other, has a hypnotising power. Imagine two women facing each other, usually in a standing position, and holding each other’s arms. Sometimes they will do some kind of dance movements while singing (eg balancing from right to left). One singer leads by setting a short rhythmic pattern, which she repeats leaving brief silent intervals between each repetition. The other singer fills in the gap with another rhythmic pattern. The sounds used include voiced sounds as well as unvoiced ones, both through inhalation or exhalation. The first to run out of breath or be unable to maintain the pace of the other singer will start to laugh or simply stop and will thus lose the game. Tagaq brings this tradition to new levels and all by herself. Weaving her breathing and singing into a tapestry of sounds, she utilises technology in an instinctive way and viscerally demonstrates to what extent throat singing and other vocalising techniques can take the listeners. This soundscape is provided on disc and onstage by two veteran musicians she affectionately calls “my boys” – violinist and producer Jessie Zubot and percussionist Jean Martin. “We have a full language that we speak onstage. Our own language. It’s a real freedom.”

Sitting on a chair, by the side of the stage of the newly renovated York Theatre in an area of town nicknamed ‘Nativehood’ because of its important Aboriginal population, the vibes are friendly. It is the closing night of the Talking Stick Festival, a celebration of Aboriginal culture that showcases the new evolving contemporary work of today’s artists, may they be dancers, drummers, visual artists or musicians. Yellowknife singer Leela Gilday is opening the show, confessing her stories to the audiences with a gutsy voice and open stage presence. Tanya Tagaq appears from backstage. “I love Leela. She is like a mother. I feel humanity has made so many massive blunders. We have constructed a world where we believe we are above other creatures. We’re not. That’s the worst mistake. And then we consume in ugly ways and we think we can divide the land and own it. That’s foolish. We have forgotten how to be alive and we’re lonely and we’re sad. I am trying to give a little bit of – remember right now – living in the moment. Music is a beautiful way to build those bridges with people.” And then she disappears. It’s all very magical and quite grounded at the same time. During the interval, many friends and families of Tagaq and Gilday are exchanging greetings, sharing stories backstage, sidestage, even onstage. The usual hierarchy of the music business world is rather absent.

Sitting behind a drum kit composed of half acoustic and half electronic toms and pads, percussionist Jean Martin starts a rhythmic pattern, building a slow, wave-like ambiance. On the other side of the stage, standing in front of his mini computer and holding his violin firm by the neck, Jessie Zubot waits for the right wave and starts surfing the rhythm, providing an ethereal melody. The two musicians met in an impromptu jam session at a jazz-contemporary music festival a few years ago and have been collaborating ever since. Their ease with improvisation is the perfect musical soil for Tagaq to take root, momentarily. As an artistic nomad, Tagaq might not always be where you think you’ll find her… She appears from the back, moving in a sinuous motion. As she glides towards the front of the stage, her voice gushes forth and the rite begins. The transformation occurs. Her movements are punctuated by rhythmic breathing, gasping and growling.

The chemistry between her and her musicians allows each of them to give shape to it all. Zubot’s furtive strings and electronic soundscapes and Martin’s percussions create a living canvas on which Tagaq can freely paint with sounds. Some sounds, just like colours, can be primary, others, more nuanced. It’s that organic characteristic that differentiate Tagaq’s performance from other artists. One cannot really attend a Tanya Tagaq concert. One experiences it. And no one walks out the same afterwards. The connection between her and her musicians is so nuclear that the only time they stop, it’s at the very end. Ninety minutes of uninterrupted and intense creation and trialogue. During this trip, the audience is reminded why Tanya Tagaq’s latest album is called Animism. During her performance, there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world; between the human and the animal; between the musicians and the sound of nature. It’s breathtaking. Three minutes after the last note, the audience is silent. A little coughing from the back breaks the spell, and suddenly people realise they are in a concert hall and that the show is over. “I guess we must clap,” they seem to think. And they do. Thunderously. The stage manager, who’s seen it all in 40 years of show business, goes “Wow!” Nothing more.

It’s 1am and Tagaq is back to her former self. “I feel very hungry after a show. I am dying for a big piece of seal.” But we are in a southern city. Buying seal meat is not that common here. “The music of the Inuit people is a reflection of the landscape and climate. The music around the equator is more relaxed. People there are not trying to stay alive every second of every day. They can just go and pick up a fruit off a tree. In circumpolar regions we have to hunt. A diet of souls. It’s a harsh climate.”

I thank Tagaq for allowing me to experience her performance and ask her what her next project is. “I have the next album already made up in my mind. I know all the songs. They are patterns of sounds. I have a book too. And a multimedia installation. And two films. I am not in a hurry. Time will find me.” A woman passes by and her dog barks at us. Unannoyed Tagaq says “I feel sorry for the dog. It’s when they are afraid that they are dangerous. All creatures are like that. This dog shouldn’t be in a city. Why are we all still subscribing to systems that we know are flawed? Comfort? Habit? What is it?” These are questions that I certainly cannot answer but if someone has enough power to start a small revolution, it’s her. Never one to remain silent, her activism is now legendary. Well aware of the power of media, she couldn’t care less about fame but she doesn’t hold back politically. The names of missing Aboriginal women scrolled behind her during her Polaris Prize gala show last October and a photo she Instagrammed created quite a stir. The controversy began when Ellen DeGeneres, working with Samsung, took a selfie with top celebs at the Academy Awards, and aimed for it to become the most retweeted post ever. In exchange for the publicity, Samsung offered to donate over a million dollars to the charity of her choice. She chose the Humane Society, one of the most prominent critics of Canada’s commercial seal hunt. In response, Inuit people who rely on seal meat and fur for subsistence posted ‘sealfies’ — photos of themselves wearing seal fur — in protest. Tagaq Instagrammed a ‘sealfie’ photo of her baby lying next to a dead seal. Soon after, Tagaq found herself in a Twitter firestorm, with people writing ugly things including death threats. “It became quite hurtful. It’s just complete harassment. It’s not OK. Sometimes a shameful act like that can echo through generations. We have to be very careful of how we behave day to day. So we don’t give that same shame to our children.”

There has never been a better time to have artists like Tagaq be part of our aural landscape. As Canadian musician – and long-time friend of Tagaq – Geoff Berner said in his intro speech for the Polaris Gala: “There’s no musician in this world more powerful.” I couldn’t agree more.

Photo by Shelagh Howard

This article originally appeared in Songlines #108. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, visit:

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Watch: Tanya Tagaq – ‘Aorta’

Posted on December 22nd, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .


Dark and haunting, Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq’s latest album, Retribution, tackles topics like rape and violence against the environment and the indigenous women of northern Canada through Inuit throat singing. Although ‘Aorta’ is mostly made up of vocal sounds rather than words, the award-winning singer is a master at conveying hard-hitting messages through her compelling performances. Read a full review of the album in the current issue (#124).

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Top of the World albums: issue #124 (January/February 2017)

Posted on December 7th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Here is our selection of the top ten new releases reviewed in Songlines issue #124 (January/February 2017). Tracks from each of these albums are included on the free cover-CD with issue #124. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:



Anda Union
Hohhot Records
Distinguished songs about nature, history and identity from this nine-piece Inner Mongolian group, featuring horse-head fiddles, beating drums and growly throat singing.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Gaye Su Akyol
Hologram Imparatorluğu
Steeped in Turkish culture, but with plenty of outside influences, songs focus on liberation of the self. Akyol creates an eclectic collection of global influences, music without borders.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Tanya Tagaq
Six Shooter Records
Based on a theme of exploitation and embracing a range of musical forms including rap, rock and Tuvan throat singing, this is Tagaq’s most ambitious and exhilarating work to date.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Various Artists
The Calais Sessions
Sessions of the World
This is an extraordinarily moving collaboration recorded in the now extinct Calais ‘Jungle’. A resilient testament to the human spirit will reduce you to tears, but also uplift your heart.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Luísa Maita
Fio da Memória
Both deceptively commercial and coolly cutting-edge, this masterpiece is full of post-modern lullabies and dubby samba deconstructions swathed in cavernous, minimalist production.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola
Dell Daisy Records
A fantastic showcase of Scottish and Finnish traditions by one of the finest folk duos around. A magical musical relationship.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo
Because Music
Slinky horn grooves, soukous guitars and simmering Afrobeat prove the group’s flame is still alight led by original member Vincent Ahehehinnou.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Çiğdem Aslan
A Thousand Cranes
Asphalt Tango Records
A beautifully haunting exploration of rebetika, and a magnificent gesture towards proving that Greek-Turkish culture is more similar than different. Aslan is at the top of her game.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Daoirí Farrell
True Born Irishman
Daoirí Recordings
Referred to as a Paul Brady for his generation, Farrell’s honest passion for the songs he’s collected, shines in what could be the most significant Irish release of recent years.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify



Bollywood Brass Band feat Jyotsna Srikanth
Carnatic Connection
Bollywood Brass Band
An energetic and cinematic journey to South India, with fuel provided by Jyotsna Srikanth’s Karnatic violin.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify


Pick up the latest issue of Songlines to enjoy our Top of the World cover-CD, which contains tracks from each of the albums above. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, visit:

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