'Can I have what she's having?" That line must have been going through a few minds as Tanya Tagaq grunted, panted and howled through her performance at a packed club in Halifax during JunoFest in April. She seemed to be making love, giving birth and enacting every creation story ever told. It was one of the most erotic performances I've ever witnessed, and she was fully clothed.
Popular music is always about desire in one form or another, and Tagaq has a way of touching the broadest and deepest desires we know, and maybe some we've forgotten about. Her adaptations of Inuit throat singing feel like the primal music of the Earth, even while she's subjecting them to a pummelling barrage of electronic beats.
Tagaq, who is from Nunavut, may be the only person ever to upstage Bjork, with whom she recorded and toured in 2001. Her appearance during a Toronto performance of Bjork's Hidden Place brought a shamanistic intensity that the woman in the swan dress couldn't quite match.
More recently, she has created music and toured with the Kronos Quartet, and released her second album, Sinaa. It's a mixture of traditional throat songs and original incantations, some with programming by Michael Red (who accompanied her during that Halifax show), others with txalaparta, a primitive Basque percussion instrument.
Inuit throat song is about game-playing and storytelling, and you can hear both those activities in Tagaq's music. Her games are more solitary than most: Lacking an Inuit partner while studying at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, she developed her own solo form of a genre normally performed by two women, standing close and face to face.
Listening to her recording, especially with headphones, it's easy to feel like you are the missing partner. She seems to be right in front of you, gripping your sleeve as some Inuit throat singers do while piling on the sounds and syllables, waiting for their partner to laugh or run out of breath. A better option: Run out and buy a ticket to one of Tagaq's live performances this summer, on Parliament Hill (June 29-July 1), the Winnipeg Folk Festival (July 7-9), the Vancouver Folk Festival (July 12-16), the Calgary Folk Festival (July 27-30) and the Guelph Jazz Festival (Sept. 6-8). Check for further dates at http://www.tanyatagaq.com.
Best of the fests
Sound Symposium: Canada's easternmost music festival is also the most far out, with gallery installations, a Harbour Symphony of ships' horns, and late-night soundscape improvisation at Cape Spear. (July 7-15, St. John's, http://www.soundsymposium.com)
Calgary Folk Music Festival: The country's best summer festival of folk 'n' stuff presents Neko Case, Macy Gray, Kris Kristofferson, Ani DiFranco, the Roches, Broken Social Scene, Feist and bluesy newcomer Ndidi Onukwulu. (July 21-23, Calgary, http://www.calgaryfolkfest.com.)
Ottawa Chamber Music Festival: With the politicians out of town, Ottawa gets down with an improbably huge (120-concert) chamber-music festival in churches around town. This year's crew includes Louie Lortie, Daniel Taylor, Emma Kirkby and Anton Kuerti. (July 22-Aug. 5, Ottawa, http://www.chamberfest.com)
The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix: The eighth part of R. Murray Schafer's Patria series of music dramas is a lavishly beautiful puppet opera, performed on and around a lake. The 2001 production was the closest thing to a miracle. (Aug. 31, Sept. 1-3 and 6-9, Haliburton Forest, Ont., http://www.patria.org).
-- Robert Everett-Green