Skip to main content

Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq performs from her new album during an intimate private event at the Fehely Fine Art gallery in Toronto, May 20, 2014

"We sacrificed everything for sound."

The Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq was speaking about Animism, her wordless protest album, semi-improvised sonic sculpture and confronting, grunting, living, breathing, channelling, whirlwind piece of art. On Monday, at a ceremony held in Toronto's elegant Carlu theatre, Animism was chosen by a jury of music journalists as the winner of the ninth annual Polaris Music Prize.

It deserved to win.

Story continues below advertisement

At a showy gala hosted modestly by the actor Jay Baruchel, most all of the artists shortlisted for the $30,000 prize put on mini live sets. (Drake, Arcade Fire and the Montreal-Toronto experimentalists Yamantaka // Sonic Titan did not perform). Backed by a youth choir and armed with out-there ideas on how to further traditional music, Tagaq avant-garded a crowd not easily gobsmacked. By design, she was the last of the acts to perform. "It would have a disservice to the other artists to schedule anyone after Tanya," Polaris founder Steve Jordan told The Globe. "It was the only time during the whole night that the audience was quiet," added Baruchel.

The audience wasn't quiet for long. A standing ovation happened. (At a press conference afterward, Tagaq was asked if the ecstatic reception had surprised her. "No," she said. "We're kind of used to it.")

As part of her performance, a list of missing and murdered aboriginal women was scrolled on a large video screen. Animism is formally dedicated to Loretta Saunders, a murdered Inuit university student from Labrador. In the week of Tagaq's victory in Toronto, the case of the suspected killers of Saunders returns to court in Halifax.

"It's a record for now," said Polaris grand jurist Stephen Cooke of The Chronicle Herald. Cooke's office in Halifax overlooks the apartment building where Saunders was living at the time of her disappearance. "The album couldn't be timelier or more profound. It's a powerful win for Canada."

It is a win, too, for Toronto's Six Shooter Records, an indie label run by women and a new home for Tagaq. As well, Taqaq is the first Polaris winner based west of Ontario.

Animism, Tagaq's fourth full-length, is also a victory for the art of album-making, as opposed to the album being a practical marketing vehicle for a certain number of songs.

Produced by the B.C. violinist and music man Jesse Zubot, Animism (with songs Caribou, Howl, Fracking and Damp Animal Spirits) is a hymn to the human struggle and the sound of Tagaq's politics. There's a line from the outstanding rapper Shad's album Flying Colours that gets to Tagaq's artistry: "It's history, never her story and prophets get crushed / Tough topics get hushed and life is often unjust."

Story continues below advertisement

Shad's disc and the shortlisted albums from Arcade Fire and Basia Bulat will all age well. That being said, for this moment, Tagag's Animism has the sound of sacrifice and the only-album-that-mattered smell.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨