Tanya Tagaq Reclaims Stories of her People

For those who missed Tanya Tagaq on stage at music festivals in Dawson and Atlin, the

Available Light Film Festival (ALFF) is giving Yukoners another chance to experience this acclaimed musician’s work on February 10 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Tagaq rocketed onto radar-screens last year when her newest album, Animism, won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. The Polaris is a prestigious annual award in which Canadian albums are judged solely on “the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history”.

The Inuit throat singer’s amplified her win with an unforgettable gala performance at the award show. She was paying tribute to Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Her victory has been heralded a turning point in Canadian music and culture.

“I think that they were just excited to hear something they hadn’t heard before,” she says about her Polaris win.

“Traditional throat singing is done with two women and it’s not typically… improvised. I think our improvisational work on the album is very strong.”

Tagaq joins the ALFF program with a presentation of Nanook of the North.

She and her collaborators, violist Jesse Zubot and drummer Jean Martin, will perform alongside Robert J. Flaherty’s legendary ethnographic 1922 film, providing the old film with a new soundtrack.

In Nanook of the North, Flaherty paved the way for the modern documentary. The film is a contentious but momentous chronicle of a year in the life of Nanook, and his Inuit family, near the Arctic Circle. Tagaq draws on her family’s history in the far north of Quebec, and her own Nunavut childhood to reclaim Flaherty’s masterpiece.

She’s recognizes Flaherty’s love and respect for the Inuit, and says the film does depict the incredible resiliency of her ancestors.

“There are moments in the movie where my ancestors, they’re so amazing…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.”

But she also stresses, “It’s a film by a non-Inuit man depicting the traditions of the North; it’s a film as seen through 1922 goggles.”

In 2012, Tagaq got an opportunity to add a 21st century filter to the out-ofdate classic. She was commissioned by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to create a soundscape to accompany the film.

When the performance was over, she wasn’t ready to let it go.

“I just didn’t want to stop doing it, so we got permission from TIFF and we’re touring it, which I’m very, very happy about,” says the singer, who has worked with both Bjöšrk and the Kronos Quartet.

Andrew Connors, festival director of the Available Light Film Festival, saw Nanook of the North presented at the Northern Scene festival in Ottawa in May of 2013.

“It’s a powerful performance and a compelling re-visioning of Flaherty’s iconic ethnographic film by a contemporary Inuk artist,” he says.

“It’s a natural fit for our festival audience and our programming section of films from the circumpolar world.”

Tagaq will present Nanook of the North at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse on Tuesday, February 10, at 7 pm as part of ALFF. The Festival runs from February 6 – 15. 

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