Tanya Tagaq’s powerful new album ‘Tongues’ brings hope amid difficult truths: NPR

Tanya Tagaq.

Thomas van der Zaag / Courtesy of the artist

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Thomas van der Zaag / Courtesy of the artist

Tanya Tagaq.

Thomas van der Zaag / Courtesy of the artist

When Tanya Tagaq sat down at her house near Toronto for an interview with NPR’s Morning versionshe immediately describes an aura: The pioneer musician experienced the visual sensations of a migraine.

“They were beautiful, and they blinded me in the right eye,” she said. “It was like a giant crescent moon that was alive and spinning. It flashed in your eyes for about 20 minutes, and then you got hit by a Mack truck.”

Tagaq’s music comes with impact – listening to her describe that glaring headache, you can begin to see how she takes painful experiences and turns them into beautiful sounds. “Pain is beauty,” she quipped.


Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer, composer and author who has been honored as a member of the Order of Canada and the National Polaris Music Awards. She thought about how growing up in Nunavut, a remote Canadian territory near the Arctic Circle, had forced her to respect the land.

“There were some close calls,” she said. “I remember opening my bedroom window and there was a very large polar bear very close by. I could smell it, and it was gnawing on the seal skin it had pulled right under my window. .”

As part of her upbringing, she says, are artistic parents who are willing to discuss difficult topics with their children. That influence is obvious – Tagaq doesn’t shy away from anything in his work. Her new album, Tongue, addressing the subjugation of the indigenous peoples of Canada. The album’s single of the same name, she said, is about aphasia, a cultural theft carried out through the country’s so-called residential schools.

“The Canadian government has been removing Indigenous children from our families for generations in the boarding school system,” she said. “We all know who hasn’t come home.”

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has report that boarding schools have become the crime of cultural genocide: It identifies abuse, neglect, and thousands of student deaths. Communities continue to search for graves on the site of the old schools, the last of which closed in 1998. Tagaq himself attended a school, in an era when enrollment was voluntary. .

She says she makes music about that trauma “to repair the damage” – to raise awareness in the hope that change will follow.

“When you look at the abuse we’ve been through and the horrible statistics we’re dealing with, there’s also […] maximum strength and fun. The Inuit are so strong, so amazing, so funny, so warm and so genuine. “

Throughout the album, Tagaq’s voice commands absolute attention; her impromptu vocals come from katajjaqThe Inuit tradition of throat singing is practiced with two women, but she performs solo.

She remembers starting to sing after leaving home for college, “because I could feel the land in it.” She calls the technique “very powerful.”

“I find here, as a woman, that sometimes I’m a bit disappointed that I’m not being treated the way I should be treated.”

She paused for a moment.

“There’s no other choice. Treat me with respect or that’s it. And I don’t need to prove myself anymore. But with my throat voice, it allows me to embrace my authority. .”

To listen to the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player above.

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