. : : April 20th, 2017 : : .
Arguably the biggest draw of the night, the crowd was now at capacity and stood shoulder-to-shoulder for the third performer of the evening, Canadian Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
This observation would be much less note-worthy if Tanya wasn’t constantly contextualized with phrases like “Experimental vocalist” and “Avant-garde” — hardly large selling points for the masses.
Check Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, or your local record store for an Inuk Throat Singing genre — you probably won’t find it represented anywhere. So, what is it about Tanya that has managed to find cross-over success, earning her feature pieces on 60 Minutes, NPR, the New Yorker, the Washington Post and the Guardian?
I won’t pretend to be qualified to throw my opinion out there, but the fact remains: Tanya’s a hit. Her albums have won Juno Awards, the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, Canadian Folk Music and Western Canadian Music Awards. Her debut novel, Split Tooth, similarly was well regarded: it was shortlisted for the 2019 Amazon First Novel Award and won the 2019 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English.
She’s going to need a bigger trophy case.
Her shows are usually improvisational and, from what I can tell, the live performances may borrow from her recorded output but are generally free flowing and change from performance to performance.
And it is a performance. There’s no doubt that the story telling in the songs are theatrical; as Tanya groans, moans, grunts and yelps, she writhes around the stage, her face twisting from emotion to emotion, and her body interacting with unseen characters, often of ill intent.
Although steeped in generations of tradition, there’s no two ways about it: as a white male born and raised on the southern border of Canada, I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.
It wasn’t just the performance that was unbelievable: at the outset of the set, Tanya asked everyone put down their cell phones, stop their conversations, and pay attention — and the usually chatty, Instagram-happy Toronto crowd complied! Seriously; listen to this tape next to the Amelia Curran or NQ Arbuckle tapes. The crowd noise is basically non-existent. From where I stood, there wasn’t a backlit screen to be seen for the entirety of her show. And there was something like 1,000 people packed into the club by this point!
I guess that speaks volumes about the ability of Tanya to captivate and engage a crowd.
Normally, I’d be concerned if the interpretive visual element of the performance is too essential to the enjoyment of an audio recording such as this, but her string of successful albums eased my initial concern. I also seeded this tape over at Dime while the blog was down, and Tanya’s set outperformed headliner Whitehorse’s interest 3:1 — and Amelia Curran and NQ Arbuckle’s sets by an even greater margin.
If you’re here to listen to standard verse-chorus-verse, pop-structured music, you’re going to want to skip this one. But if you’re intrigued by the notion of a cultural storytelling set to unstructured improvisational music performed in an incomprehensible (but guttural and perhaps even instinctive) language, you’ve come to the right place.
(This torrent originally appeared on DimeADozen.org while this blog was offline. This download is unchanged from it’s original release)