Tanya Tagaq World Music Festival Concert Review – Part Scat, Part Opera, All Inuit

In the program Tagaq says, "I love the ecstatic and extreme emotions I can convey on stage..."

 

Many of us were still awed and stunned by her other-worldly vocal performance when Tanya Tagaq startled us all the more by seamlessly switching to her normal persona, and then in her congenial, almost demure voice, thanked us for coming. 

 

"Nanook of the North" follows a hunter and his family to show Inuit life in the Arctic

 

We had just been mesmerized by her performance in front of a screening of what is described as the world’s first documentary film, “Nanook of the North”.  At times she sounded on the verge of an orgasm and at other times as if she were in a demonic possession doing an Inuit equivalence of speaking in tongues. Here or there was a wolf’s howl or the Inuit words for “it’s cold” which we could see on the screen behind her. 

 

Tagaq improvises each performance akin to jazz scat singers

 

This was Tagaq’s solo and interpretive Inuit throat singing, a form traditionally done by women pairs.  Creating sounds from the bottom of her throat and lower still she then reached to the upper registers of a soprano squeal, often times as quickly as from inhale to exhale.  Tagaq sometimes accompanied herself with hand dancing and at other times knelt on the floor as if to reach into her bowels for yet another sound.

 

Accompanied by two multi-instrumentalist musicians—Derek Charke and Jean Martin—Tagaq wore a stylish gown that at once said lumberjack and glamour.  As she sang in the semi-darkness with the film screening behind her you couldn’t help but notice the strength in her arms and torso.

 

Tagaq was creating a human soundscape unlike any most of us had ever heard. Like jazz singing this was a unique original improvised performance.  Like opera this was song that evoked strong emotion.   But this was more—not only in the mechanics of the notes that defined her vocal range but in her performance’s ability to emote and convey affect.

 

Before the screening of "Nanook of the North" and her performance began, Tagaq welcomed the audience and talked about her highly favorable impression of Chicago

 

With Nanook’s story behind her it seemed as if Tagaq was giving voice to the soul of the arctic landscape and the love of that land’s people--her people-- for their home. 

 

Richard Harkin and Denise Seibert had been to several World Music Festival concerts. Denise said, "Of all the many festivals in Chicago this is my most favorite. I am so thankful that the City continues to make this festival free." Seibert smiled with delight when it was announced that the ticket to this event, like all MCA stage event tickets, becomes a free pass to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art in the following week.

 

Wow!  At Chicago’s World Music Festival you can expect songs from another culture.

 

Bobby Joe Rey, now a Chicagoan, has spent much time in Vancouver and Toronto, living in many Canadian reservations with her mother as she was growing up. She said, "When I see something like this I feel like I am home."

 

This was more; it seemed to be music from another world. 

 

Dr. Anna Westerstahl Stenport, a native of Sweden and now professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the world's few experts dedicated to exploring the intersection of environmental impacts on Arctic cultures, with a focus on film and media research. Her family-- daughter Marta (right), son Jacob, and husband Olof-- had not heard a live performance of Inuit throat singing before. They had traveled from Urbana-Champaign specifically for the concert. After the performance Dr. Stenport beamed with satisfaction, describing Tagaq's performance as "totally engaging and amazing"

 

This is the sort of performance that cannot be truly captured on film or by the photos here that were taken in challenging lighting conditions, without benefit of flash.   But to get an inkling here are two Youtube videos of Tagaq

 

Here she explains the technique of Inuit throat singing--

 

Here is Tagaq giving a performance at another venue--

 

 

The World Music Festival continues through tomorrow, September 22.   For information on remaining concerts visit the World Music Festival web pages.

 

This concert was the launch of a new season for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Stage season that includes performances in music, dance, theater and more.  For information on upcoming performances at the MCA visit the MCA Stage web pages.

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