Tagaq rocks

by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, reposted from InfiniteBody

Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit born in Nunavat, the extreme Northern Canadian territory she describes as “little islands at the top of the map.” She is also one of the most famous throat singers in the world, having collaborated with Björk and the Kronos Quartet. Barefoot, bare-shouldered, and barely wearing a black satin dress that looked like huge interlocking fish scales, this sassy ocean goddess of formidable weather and her accompanying musicians performed for one hour, last evening, at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Diker Pavilion-a space the oft-controversial singer, loathe to censor herself, could not resist calling “sterile.” She also opined–twice–that New York’s current muggy heatwave was hateful, and I really can’t disagree with either argument.

Now, one hour doesn’t sound like much, but that’s only if you don’t yet know about Tagaq and were not among the lucky crowd. One hour, in this case, represented two songs. Yeah, I know…but they were lavish, mind-blowing songs, more like sonic shamanic journeys as led by an Inuit Diamanda Galas. Are you scared yet? You ought to be.

Part of what makes Tagaq controversial is how she has taken an Inuit tradition–two women facing each other and performing the primal, sometimes eerie sounds of throat singing–and turned it into a solo virtuoso trance session supported by a range of contemporary music. The other part is how sexual she makes it all. Why, it’s more sexual than hard rock because it is specifically, abundantly woman-sexual. Tagaq sources her voice in “the babymaker,” as she calls it, and very much within the context of her culture’s deep engagement with nature, red in tooth and claw. (Let’s not get into her anti-PETA rants. Don’t go there.)

She pants, hoots and howls, keens and babbles, turns gruff or flutey, all the while writhing and crouching, one hand splaying and articulating, eyes closed in ecstasy. With her viola player and percussionist keeping a steady, stately din, she throws back her head and simply yells. A promised “sweet little song” might indeed start out that way but quickly morph into something that makes your  skull vibrate and try to lift away from your brain.

Song #1 clocked in around 40 minutes. The second–the “sweet little song”–was perhaps 15 minutes. One hour is probably enough Tagaq Therapy. But one more natural wonder awaited me outside the museum–a brilliant sunset over the nearby Hudson.  Afterglow?

Learn more about Tanya Tagaq in on Innerviews and check out her Myspace. And don’t miss her next time!

(c)2009, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody