Artists on Artists
On 27, Sep 2015 | In Artists on Artists | By jane
To say Tanya Tagaq’s new album Animism has been making waves would be a gross understatement. The album has stirred a storm both with audiences and media that will no doubt reach tsunami proportions before it’s done. Tagaq has become a household name overnight in Canada and America and it seems she’s just getting started. Rolling Stone recently named her in their “10 Artists You Need To Know”.
The New York Times credits the album as “artful and provocative”and the Huffington Post named Animism #5 on its ‘Top Albums of 2014”. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. You need only Google her to discover the flash flood of media attention she has been receiving.
It’s not that her career, which has spanned over a decade, was unremarkable until this point. The avant-garde Inuit throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut has already won numerous awards and nominations in Canada including five JUNO nominations (Canada’s Grammys), she has toured the world several times over and she has collaborated with some of the globe’s most respected musicians. Most notably perhaps, she has recorded, collaborated and toured with Björk. Last fall she was awarded Canada’s top musical honour, the Polaris Prize, which also comes with a substantial cash prize. Her appearance at the Polaris Gala was arguably the musical buzz moment of 2014 both for her seismic performance and the controversy that followed. It seems the mainstream is learning what musos and her mostly underground following (until now) have known for the better part of a decade—Tanya Tagaq is a force of nature.
Check out Tanya’s Polaris Prize performance here:
(Review continues below)
For Animism, Tagaq’s third studio album (she also has a live recording in circulation), she worked with producer, engineer, violinist and collaborator Jesse Zubot. She also enlisted friend, percussionist, and musical conspirator Jean Martin. The two bring a depth and urgency that would be difficult to match with Tanya’s virtuosic vocals, but both Martin and Zubot seem to have an instinctive link with Tagaq. What results is nothing short of breathtaking.
Mostly improvised, the album takes us places we never knew existed. Tagaq reimagines 10,000 years of tradition, exalting the art of throat singing in every breath. Animism travels across time, over tundra and ice, moving with astonishing force through untouched and unknown places, yet with a familiarity that makes us feel we know them too. Tagaq doesn’t linger in anything familiar though. She seems to fiercely summon the whole world to her with rhythmic guttural wails and then to swallow it whole, only to birth it fresh for us on delicate child like notes. At times her voice is frightening and feral, and often simultaneously, it is sweet and beautiful—and then technical, controlled and bordering on operatic.
It’s difficult to pick favorite tracks, as Animism is a true album project, to be experienced as a whole. It does have stand out moments though. The opening track ‘Caribou’ is a satisfyingly original take on the classic Pixies’ song. ‘Umingmak’—which in moments recalls Björk in her Homogenic era—means Musk Ox in Inuktitut. Tagaq describes the inspiration for the drums and bass as the sound of ‘hooves shaking the earth’. Other highlights for me include the other worldly ‘Rabbit’, ‘Fight’ and ‘Fracking’.
Though there may be moments of fearlessness here, in fact Tagaq gifts us with an exquisite courage. It seems that Tagaq offers herself to us completely, honestly, and unfettered by ego. The result is that as a listener I too felt honest and brave. I believe this is what urges even the most skeptical listener to follow her into the strange and unfamiliar world that her music occupies.
For all its strangeness and newness make no mistake, this is deeply intelligent, sexy as hell and an incredibly listenable record. Confronting as it is engaging, Animism is a study of seemingly opposing forces, a manifesto, a testimony. With unapologetic honesty Tagaq strikes at the heart of racism, ecocide and violence against women, without ever leaning on rhetoric. The compositions, in fact, rarely employ words to articulate the ideas as though language might tether the music to a smaller place. Part of its power is that both an innocence and wisdom are at work here. Animism at its core, is a healing piece. As much about healing the earth and ourselves as it is about healing the bonds we have with the natural world. These notions aren’t typically sellable in popular culture but with Tagaq anything is possible. One year ago few would have predicted the relatively unknown experimental artist would take home Canada’s most prestigious music prize, beating out heavy weights like Drake and Arcade Fire.
For those who have had the privilege to see and hear her perform though, success has always been an inevitability—her talent and vision are undeniable. To witness a Tagaq performance is to be forever changed. She transforms herself, and in doing so she also transforms us. Gently taking us by the hand Tagaq leads us deep into the subterranean and cradles us in darkness—roots and soil and damp compost. Simultaneously, she pulls us from ourselves like tendrils of unconscious desires reaching for the light, thoughts scattering like seeds, opening us to previously unknown possibilities.
There are claims and suppositions that Animism receiving this prize marks a cultural shift. It’s no surprise that she should be reshaping our cultural fabric. Rarely does an artist offer us something so artistically substantial and utterly original. Listen to the record. Go see Tagaq live. It will be unlike anything you have ever seen or heard. Geoff Berner, Vancouver based accordion player (himself an accomplished artist and innovator), who introduced Tagaq at the Polaris Prize Gala perhaps stated it best, ‘There is no artist working today more emphatically herself, more incomparable than Tagaq. There is no musician in this world more powerful.’
Review written by Sho-Shona Kish (Digging Roots) for Mojo Junction – ‘Artists on Artists’