January 16, 2016
“You are what you eat,” or so we’ve been told. Never has that seemed so vividly plausible before experiencing Tanya Tagaq respond to images of water buffalo trying to escape from Inuit hunters and seals being dragged up from the deep through a tiny hole in the snow. Her knees buckle as her head is thrust back in a howl. Her fingers curl imitating Nanook waving his gloveless fingers feeling for the direction of the wind, and then continue to dance, pulling her body into a crouch.
Tagaq is a chameleon who embodies the POV of everything animate and inanimate in the Arctic environment captured in Robert Flaherty’s 1922 film of an Inuit family in Northern Quebec. One minute she is a bellowing buffalo fearing for its life, thirty seconds later, she switches to the collective grunt of the Inuits trying to land their lunch. Her voice changes as fast and seamlessly as an editor of an action movie would cut from the whistles of the vast void, the fangle tooth snarl of dogs, and children giggling while sliding on their Daddy’s back down a snowy bank. She is wild, but, yet, her trance is never so indulged as to stray from complex rhythms, or break her keen connection to the emotional shifts evident in the film.
Two singers kept coming to mind watching Tagaq: the rock legend Janis Joplin and gypsy flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas. Raw, deep, and intensely personal, Tagaq’s artistry is a reminder of how domesticated most of us are. Unlike those two artists, however, Tagaq projects a sense of balance discovered between extremes. She charms us with her barefoot, girlish presence and her disarming playfulness.
Tagaq is an activist and innovator within the ancient throat singing tradition, which among the Inuits is usually performed as a women’s duet, an inhaling/exhaling game. According to the Smithsonian Folkways, throat-singing is a guttural style of chanting, in which the singer produces two or more notes simultaneously, with innumerable tricks involving precise positions of lips, throat, larynx, jaw.
Tagaq’s 70 minute improvisation had the back-up of her long time collaborators: percussionist Jean Martin, violinist Jesse Zubot, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler. We must applaud Mark Russell and Meiyin Wang for presenting such an thrilling event at New York’s Joe’s Pub, in their Under The Radar Festival.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers