Tanya Tagaq enthralls her audience

By Alexander Varty at Georgia Straight

If ever there was a revelatory performance, this was it—and the revelation that I had at the jam-packed York Theatre is that Tanya Tagaq’s music is deeply, thrillingly normal.

Now, before you assume that I’ve lost my few remaining marbles, let me explain. Normal isn’t necessarily ordinary: Tagaq and her accompanists Jesse Zubot and Jean Martin remain an extraordinary, even singular, force in Canadian music, and on-stage they go places most performers are afraid to even look at from afar.

For this Talking Stick Festival presentation, the Cambridge Bay, Nunavut–born singer and her band had us out of our comfy chairs in a matter of seconds. Not literally—this was deep listening rather than a rave—but metaphorically. Martin’s scraped cymbals and the light pressure of Zubot’s bow on his amplified violin invoked a chilly wind that morphed into an Arctic storm once Tagaq began to sing—and dance, an aspect of her work that has generally been overlooked.

Musically untutored, Tagaq has also, as far as I know, been untouched by any kind of choreographic training. Yet she has a profoundly intuitive grasp of how to amplify her voice with her movements, both serving to express the idea that all life is one. It’s not going too far to say that both sonically and physically she’s a shape-shifter, embodying male and female principles in her voice, animal and human in her feral, foxy crouching and birdlike extensions. And beyond that, her physicality is elemental; at times she became the storm that Zubot and Martin had conjured with their intense blend of acoustic and electronic sound.

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