Inuit singer unleashes a musical storm

Tanya Tagaq

You are looking at a performance from our archive

Seeing Tanya Tagaq perform is like watching a force of nature unleashed. The Canadian Inuit singer is known for her intense, physical performances, creating an atmosphere verging on that of a shaman ritual. Taqaq has worked with the likes of Björk and Mike Patton and in 2014 she pipped Drake and Arcade Fire to the post for the prestigious Canadian Polaris music prize, with her album Animism. Self-taught in throat-singing, she takes traditional Inuit music to another level, stretching its boundaries and crossing over into jazz and heavy metal. Performing at the Bimhuis with a violinist and a drummer, you can expect to experience a musical storm.


Background information

The world is globalising rapidly, threatening the survival of several centuries-old local traditions. It's a development which is all the more troubling for long-oppressed cultures such as the Inuit in North-Canada. Last year a truth and reconciliation commission set up by the Canadian government found that the Inuit had for centuries been the victims of 'cultural genocide', forced to relinquish their culture and assimilate into the Canadian mainstream.

 For an ethnic minority finding themselves in such a predicament, it is understandable that they hold fast to their traditions, cutting themselves off from modern ways in the hope that their own culture does not disappear. The Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq however has chosen a very different strategy to champion the cause of her people. Rooted in centuries-old vocal technique, she mixes her songs with a variety of different musical styles, ranging from jazz, heavy metal, punk and hardcore to electronic and classical music. Since the release of her debut album Sinaa in 2005, she has reached an audience of millions.


To Tagaq throat singing is strongly connected with her cultural identity and her sense of home. Having grown up in Canada's far north, she moved more than a thousand miles south to study Visual Arts in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When her mother sent her an audio tape with throat singing by two Inuit women, she started to imitate the women to combat her homesickness. Gradually teaching herself these special throat singing techniques, she eventually regained a sense of being at home.


The music Tagaq listened to on that audio cassette is called katajjaq. It involves two women standing close together, facing each other and responding to each other with throat sounds. It's a competitive game, but also a form of social entertainment. The throat sounds require very complex and intensive techniques using the whole of the body and producing a series of fast, rhythmic patterns alternating between deep growling sounds and more lyrical sounds in a high register. Katajjaq is one of the few musical traditions in the world that use overtone singing − the simultaneous production of multiple tones by one voice.


Using similar techniques, Tagaq has transformed throat singing into a solo art. Nevertheless, the interaction and duelling with her fellow performers play an important part in her music. In her performances with the Kronos Quartet − she will be joining them at the Holland Festival Proms as well − she frequently provokes them with predator-like ferocity. Within the smaller setting at the Bimhuis, the focus will be on her interaction with violinist Jesse Zubot, with Jean Martin's drums adding to the music's rousing spirit.


No matter how impressive her CD recordings, there's nothing like seeing Tanya Tagaq perform live, taking the stage with her powerful presence. Using every inch of her body and putting her heart and soul into her music, she is not only a virtuoso and intriguing performer, but an artist who can deeply affect her audience.




Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq (1975) was born to an Inuit mother and a British-Polish father. Her Inuit background plays a significant part in her work. Tagaq has breathed new life into the Inuit's ancient throat singing techniques by combining them with other genres such as jazz, heavy metal, punk, hardcore, electronic and classical music.


While studying visual arts in Halifax, she developed her throat singing technique and started performing. Icelandic pop singer Björk picked up on her talent and asked her to collaborate on her album Medúlla in 2004. In 2005 Tagaqs solo debut album Sinaa was released, winning her the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. In 2006, Tagaq worked with the Kronos Quartet for the first time, as part of their Nunavat project. Their collaboration was captured in the documentary A String Quartet in her Throat, which was released in 2007. Since, Tagaq's work with the Quartet has continued with several collaborative projects. These include their CD Tundra Songs (2014), featuring compositions by Derek Charke. and the Kronos Quartet's Fifty for the Future project.

Tagaq has won several prizes for her solo albums as well as her soundtracks for films on Inuit culture. The short film for her song Tungijuq won Best Multi Media at the Western Canadian Music Awards in 2010. In 2014, she received recognition from the Globe and Mail newspaper as Artist of the Year, and from Now Magazine for Concert of the Year. That same year, her album Animism fought off competition from Drake and Arcade Fire to claim the prestigious Canadian Polaris Music Prize. In 2015, Tagaq won the Juno Award for Best Aboriginal Recording of the Year.



music performed and composed by
Tanya Tagaq, Jean Martin, Jesse Zubot