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Be Specific: Tanya Tagaq explains Inuit throat singing

What's the sound? Just Tanya Tagaq singing. (Photo courtesy of Tanya Tagaq)

By Allison Stewart

You’ve probably never wondered just what the deal was with Inuit throat singing, but it’s kind of strange, and beautiful, and vaguely resembles that thing that Bjork does.

Canadian singer Tanya Tagaq, who plays at National Geographic Live next Friday, March 12 is one of the masters of the form, which originated as a contest between Inuit women who would sing into each other’s mouths while their men were off finding food. (Here's a great example of Tagac at work.)

Tagac appeared on Bjork’s “Medulla,” released “Auk/Blood” (which features an appearance from Faith No More’s Mike Patton) in 2008 and talked to us about the perils and pleasures of Inuit throat singing.

The way you sing seems very physical. Does it hurt?

Yes. You have to be really strong. I keep myself in top physical condition to do what I’m doing. Not Olympic condition or anything, but traditional throat songs are only about three minutes long, and it’s like that for a reason.

(Like Bjork, not Bush, after the jump.)

How would you describe what you do for the uninitiated?

Almost more than what I do with my voice is the sort of social cleansing, almost. I think we’ve stopped being in touch with how we feel. Everyone’s so scared of looking like a jerk, and we swallow our emotions and it’s really sad because we’re such beautiful creatures. Hopefully when I’m singing and someone sees me being myself and not caring, maybe they could touch themselves, too, and maybe open up a bit?

Inuit throat singing was originally intended for two women. What sort of allowances did you have to make to do it solo?

It’s a vocal contest between two women to see who could last the longest. And it’s really difficult because it’s like a call and response and it gets faster and faster and it’s really, really hard and I was forever losing at it. But it is quite regimented, and I find when I put my emotions into it, it has a different feel.

I’ve read that you sometimes feel like you leave your body during the show.

It happens sometimes. I can’t remember the show [after]. It’s difficult to explain…I love when it happens.

Do people lump you in with Bjork?

Yeah, but I don’t mind that. She’s awesome. It’s not like people are saying, "Whoa, you’re a lot like George Bush."

By Allison Stewart  |  March 5, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Tonya Tagaq  
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Tanya's interesting and all, but for my money, I far prefer the style in its traditional setting.

She takes the obvious sexual sounds and super charges them. It is titillating and fun and VERY much worth going to see.

I love the nuance of the traditional style, and the fact that, as a game between two woman, it almost always ends in a laugh and a smile.

Posted by: josh18 | March 5, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

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