Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tagaq at Bluesfest

Tanya Tagaq Gillis is perhaps the most alluring, terrifying, and downright intriguing performer I have ever seen. Last night on the Blacksheep Stage was the second time I’ve seen her and though this show was a little less intense than at the small venue I saw her at previously, it was still truly remarkable.

Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer, originally from Ikaluktuutiak (Cambridge Bay), Nunavut. When she went away to art school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she sought to cure her homesickness by emulating her mother’s throat singing recordings. Having nobody to practice with, she learned alone, even though traditional throat singing is done in pairs as a type of game, where the first to laugh loses. Since being discovered by two of Bjork’s videographers in 2000, Tagaq has been a global musical sensation, though she still remains relatively obscure in Canada, even though recently CBC’s Zed called her, “possibly the most unique performer of truly traditonal, Canadian music in our country.” While Tagaq refuses to label what she does as traditional, this is no doubt high praise for someone who sort of fell into the music scene.

Being at one of her shows, it’s not unusual to see a bunch of bewildered faces watch her crawl, grovel or beg about onstage, while growling, wailing, flailing her body in all directions. She layers her voice to mimic any number of sounds. Not only was I left wondering how she’s able to make so many sounds all at once, but I kept asking myself how any human voice can produce such an array of surreal sounds. At once she’s singing like a diva, and next she’s grunting the lowest and deepest grunt you have ever heard from a human being. Her performance keys into so many emotions that it’s at times hard to watch without feeling some discomfort. It’s almost like watching a car wreck on the side of the highway. “Should I be watching such bloody carnage?” But then Tagaq smiles that million dollar smile of hers, she has such a charismatic stage presence, and we’re reminded that it’s a performance, and most importantly, that she’s having fun, as she makes abundantly clear.

Besides her opening piece where she sang for nearly 35 minutes accompanied by her collaborator Michael on turntables, she performed some traditional throat singing with her cousin Selena who happened to be in the crowd.

The two of them rocked slightly from side to side as they performed three pieces. The love and caring emanating from their voices and the way they caressed each other was touching. This was a highlight of the show, the opportunity to hear so many hauntingly powerful sounds all at once only comes around so often, and most in the crowd realized this and showed their appreciation accordingly.

I have little else to say about the show last night, except that I still feel Tagaq’s voice piercing my inner being. Seeing her is a little like taking a ride on an emotional roller coaster. It’s well worth the entrance fee if you don’t mind, or perhaps even enjoy, the temporary upheaval.