Acclaimed Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, is currently touring a performance that reclaims and re-imagines the deeply stereotypical 1922 silent film, Nanook of the North, with a new score and live musical accompaniment.
Begun as a commission for the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Tagaq is currently performing a remixed version of the piece in festivals and concert halls across Turtle Island that channels her frustrations against stereotypes and takes that energy to transform it sonically in order to "reclaim the film".
As the PuSH Festival describes it: "In this concert for film she fuses her voice and musical talents to create a mesmerizing, original soundscape for Nanook of the North, perhaps the most famous (and perhaps most infamous) film ever made about indigenous people. Tagaq’s haunting throat singing combines with Jesse Zubot and Jean Martin’s improvisatory genius and Derek Charke’s original film score to frame film pioneer Robert Flaherty’s 1922 semi-documentary in a new, contemporary light.
Experimenting with and honing her personal style in Inuit throat singing since she was a teenager in Nunavut, innovative vocalist Tanya Tagaq can capture the most ethereal moments of desire, or find the deepest, huskiest, beating pulse, with her voice and breath. She creates soundscapes from inhalation and exhalation, summoning powerful emotion from the smallest movement of lips, throat and lungs."
Here's an excerpt of Tagaq's recent chat with Holly Gordon for CBC Aboriginal:
You were commissioned to do this project for TIFF in 2012. Are you pushing it forward now with this iteration?
It’s the same thing but it’s also different every time because of improvising with my band. We have a beautiful backing track composed by Derek Charke, and he is a brilliant composer and I was really lucky to be able to work with him. And how we did that was, I watched the film four times, and responded vocally and composed my own melodies and stuff like that to the film. And then sent that all off to Derek and he took that and put field recordings over it from Nunavut. And he processed my voice and it’s just a really nice kind of bed that we get to, like a sonic bed we get to lay on while we’re improvising on top of it. It’s fun.
You said you thought the movie was perfect to work with. How so?
There are moments in the movie where … my ancestors, they’re so amazing. They lived on the land and I just still can’t believe that. Growing up in Nunavut and just the harshness of the environment itself, the ability for people to be able to survive with no vegetation, and just the harshest of environments, it’s just incredible to me. I’m very proud of my ancestors.
So that’s one facet of it, but I’m a natural presenter, like I went to arts school, so I watched it and I was just like, "They put a bunch of bullshit happy Eskimo stereotypes," you know what I mean?
So I can respond to that as well, with finding some hardcore punk, kind of that feel, kind of put that sound all over it to make it clear. It’s really nice because I can take my frustrations of stereotypes all over the world and take that energy and put it in sonically. I reclaim the film. Even though I have no doubt in my mind that Robert Flaherty had a definite love for Inuit and the land, it’s through 1922 goggles. It’s just nice to be a modern woman, well modern Inuk woman, taking it back.
You said you first saw the film when you were a kid, was that through school?
I think so, yeah.
Do you remember anything about how you felt when you saw it that first time?
I remember being really, really embarrassed and annoyed when he was biting on the record [there's a scene where Nanook laughs at a phonograph and bites on a record, as if he's never seen one before]. And there were a couple of scenes like that where I’m embarrassed and annoyed. Like I said, that’s why it’s great to sing over it.
I read that the record-biting scene was fake, too.
Yeah, like, “Look at these savage people that have no idea what this is, oh isn’t that funny, they don’t know.” And it’s like yeah, why don’t we take someone living in England and put them on the land and laugh at them for dying in the cold? “Oh, he’s being eaten by a bear.”
Read the rest of the interview here: Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq on reclaiming Nanook of the North
Here's a list of Tagaq's upcoming 2014 performances in Canada and the U.S through the winter and spring.
Tanya Tagaq 2014 Tour Dates
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 Nanook Of The North - Calgary Venue: Festival Hall
Thursday, January 30, 2014 Nanook Of The North - Edmonton Venue: Canoe Theatre Festival - Garneau Theatre
Friday, January 31, 2014 - Saturday, February 1, 2014 Nanook Of The North - Vancouver [SOLD OUT] Venue: PuSH Festival
Saturday, February 1, 2014 Nanook Of The North - Vancouver [SOLD OUT] Venue: PuSH Festival
Free panel discussion presented with Tides Canada: February 1, 3:30pm at The York. A panel discussion on the representation of Inuit life and culture oon film. Moderated by Michell Raheja, associate professor at the Unversity of California, Riverside, with panelist Tany Tagaq and invited guests. Everyone welcome.
Saturday, February 8, 2014 Duo Performance (w/ Michael Red) - Guelph, ON Venue: Hillside Inside
Thursday, May 8, 2014 Tanya Tagaq with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Performing: Thirteen Inuit Songs by Derek Charke Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City
Performance information and ticket info available at: tanyatagaq.com