Tanya Tagaq at Luminato 2014: deep, quintessential performance!

The Luminato festival in Toronto never fails to bring at least one revolutionary performance each June. Laurie Anderson, the Kronos Quartet, Einstein On The Beach are just a few.

This year, it was “Tanya Tagaq presents Nanook of the North”

Exhausted, hungry and thirsty after the performance, beautiful Tanya Tagaq took a moment to have her picture taken with myself (right) and friend Raz Constantine (left). Can you not love such an artist? Her new album, ANIMISM, was just released.


Here is what was promised in the festival’s program:

In 1922, filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty paved the way for the modern documentary with his contentious but momentous chronicle of a year in the life of Inuit Nanook and his family near the Arctic Circle, Nanook of the North. Now innovative throat singer Tanya Tagaq, known for her work with Björk and the Kronos Quintet, draws upon her family’s history in far northern Quebec and her own Nunavut childhood to reclaim Flaherty’s masterpiece. With music composed by Derek Charke, Tagaq unites with two equally celebrated musicians— violinist Jesse Zubot and percussionist Jean Martin—to reactualize the film’s silent images with emotive soundscapes.

Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North was commissioned by TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of its film retrospective First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition.

The setup for Tanya Tagaq's show at Luminato. The movie was projected at the back and also in front of the artists: Tanya, iolinist Jesse Zubot, percussionist Jean Martin and another percussionist (not named on the festival site).
The setup for Tanya Tagaq’s show at Luminato. The movie was projected at the back and also in front of the artists: Tanya, violinist Jesse Zubot, percussionist Jean Martin and another percussionist (not named on the festival site).

I knew Tanya is putting up a show on stage – I remembered her performance with Kronos Quartet at Luminato 2007, when she introduced the rather static group of string players to stage movement, to great effect -) They were moving around her, surrounding her, following her.

So here she was again: barefoot, free flowing long hair, gesturing and following the story in the movie, and liberating those unearthly sounds that became her trademark.

And then breaking the pattern with sweet, ethereal passages  – a fascinating score composed by Derek Charke.

The show went on without a break for an hour.

There are plenty of deep feelings in the movie even without the soundtrack: the life of eskimos – as it was described in 1922 when the movie came out – is a daily victory of life upon death. But when Tanya starts screaming and grunting at the killing of a seal, or howling when the alpha dog does in the movie….that’s powerful!

My friend Raz – an artist himself and son of artists – argued that the whole hour of concert was similar to 60 minutes of sexual climax, as it is with any artist reaching that far: it’s about  life winning over death, and sexuality is part of it. Totally agree.

As far as I’m concerned, starting today Tanya goes right up there with Meredith Monk in my list of essential artists.

Tanya surrounded by fans after the show
Tanya surrounded by fans after the show



Tanya Tagaq website.

Tanya Tagaq presents Nanook of the North

Nanook of the North wiki.


1 Comment

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  1. Nanook of the North. What many may not know, within the context of portrayal of Inuit living on the land, is Tagaq’s mother was born in a summer hut north Baffin Island. Kalluk (Tanyas grandfather) and Idlout (Lucy Idlout’s grandfather) with their families were the subjects of a lengthy documentary process by Doug Wilkinson in the 50’s. Some may recall the picture on the old 2 dollar bill where these land dwelling hunters were preparing to hunt narwhales (its from the doc ‘Land of the long day’ i believe). Years later the families were sent to Resolute Bay to assist the relocated Inuit from northern Quebec how to harvest marine mammals (the only source of food in the area). The post WW2 para military colonialist white ‘base’ in Resolute became a very difficult phase of assimilation for all the Inuit. Proud hunters and their families were employed at the lowest levels and social disrespect lead to many tragic events…..I say this in support of the North Baffin relocatees who were NOT offered compensation as were the ‘high arctic exiles’ from northern Quebec. Thank you.

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