I had heard her name before, I read articles about her Polaris prize winning performance and interviews where she seemed confident and proud. I thought about watching the video of said performance as I heard it was incredibly powerful.
But I am going to be honest and say that throat singing is not something I have ever been interested in. I have heard it before and I have understood its relationship to culture and the land. Aboriginal peoples form distinct nations with their own practices, songs, languages and art. Just because I am Native does not mean that I automatically identify with the cultural practices of other Nations. I thought because I did not like the throat singing I had heard before, that I wouldn’t like Tanya’s music.
Tanya performed two sold out shows at the Chan Centre in Vancouver with Severn Suzuki. Severn is someone a lot of us know on Haida Gwaii, she is a local. I think that this collaboration between Severn and Tanya peaked our interest in Tanya’s work. I found out that Tanya was going to be performing at the Haida Heritage Centre. I asked if I could cover this event for the HHC blog- I wanted to challenge my own pre-conceptions. Before I got to the Centre I thought about reading up on Tanya and watching the Polaris prize video. I decided that I wanted to write this blog as a true review. A first impression- my thoughts as I had written them down during the performance. My true, raw, un-edited, reactions to Tanya’s music.
Armed with my camera equipment and notepad I arrived for soundcheck. A few hours into set-up she arrived. Small, bubbly, sweet and excited. A woman in moccasins excited to be in a beautiful building and excited about life. I thought about asking her questions before the performance, or taking a posed photograph of her, but decided against it.
She is small in stature.
Beautiful, enigmatic and powerful.
Her crew is loud as they sit in the kitchen eating dinner.
There are people attempting to get in the door as I write. Damned glass doors.
The people’s chatter is filling the Welcome House and it is only 6 pm.
There are so many people in here that I am soaked in sweat from running to grab more chairs.
I haven’t seen this many people pack the Performance House since the night of the Kay Anniversary. This is incredible. People are chattering, excitement is in the air, I can hear people mentioning the performance at the Chan Centre. There are so many people in the room, most of whom I have never seen before.
The excitement lingers in the air as the lights dim.
Jenny Cross started off the night. Wow, what a powerful voice. I rarely hear her singing alone.
Un-microphoned she fills the room.
Her voice did not waver, as she elegantly delivered two songs.
Up next was the opening act. Willy Russ aka “tycoon”. A little local hip-hop to start off the night.
I have heard Willy recorded before, but never live.
With a black hoodie on he took the stage. His lyrics are incredible, beautiful, powerful and strong.
He walks the stage with determination.
Eyes closed the rhymes flow from his lips.
In a cute moment Willy’s niece climbed around the stairs beneath him, Shyanne stole the audiences hearts.
What an amazing start to the night!
We sat talking, waiting for Tanya to arrive.
When she did she looked incredible in a flowing black dress and moccasins. Tanya sat down on the bottom step and said hello to everyone. She told us that she was nervous as she usually plays big venues and isn’t used to such an intimate setting!
Before she began she warned us that:
“I am always alright- throat singing is an emulation of the land and its animals and its life, as you all know that is not always pleasant”.
Severn was introduced and she walked down to the floor. I am guessing she was also more uncomfortable in this intimate setting, full of her family and friends, than she would have been at the Chan Centre. She sat down and talked to us, “you all know me”. Severn began speaking in Haida, for those of you who don’t know Sev attends S.H.I.P., the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program and is a student of the Haida language.
Severn described to us the first time she met and later heard Tanya.
“I was surprised”. She says a word in Haida and then explains that it translates to “my bones left me”.
The performance begins. Severn speaks, her voice powerful, her stature strong and her presence stunning.
Jesse, Tanya’s violinist plays softly, as Severn’s voice resonates within the cedar walls.
“Who am I? Who are we?”
Tanya makes indescribable sounds that hit my heart, sending chills down my body.
She has taken off her moccasins and her foot twitches to the beat of her own voice.
Severn is speaking Haida while Tanya sings.
I can see the S.H.I.P elders in the crowd watching over her.
I look at the faces around me. Everyone is fascinated.
Sev leaves the stage joining her family to watch the show.
Tanya is unfazed.
The looks on the crowds faces are a mixture of confusion, fascination and delight.
It is hard to keep my eyes off of her long enough to scribble notes.
She is gorgeous and the sounds she emits are scary and phenomenal.
Standing beside me she had barely reached my chest.
I did not expect this.
This is spiritual.
She sits with all of her limbs on the ground.
Grunts turn to sweet songs.
Her voice does not stop giving.
I can see people becoming uncomfortable or amazed, I can’t quite tell.
She wails and looks up to the sky.
Stomps her feet and grabs her hair.
The audience is full of furrowed brows and confused faces.
The sounds of animals in trees screaming out, operatic sounds and loud grunts.
Her body convulses to the sound of her own voice.
A little boy in the crowd unaware that anyone can see him mimics Tanya’s movements.
Sweat beads down her face. She has yet to stop, it must be twenty minutes in now. The audience stares intently.
Sensual, sexual, uncomfortable and stunning.
She thrusts her body, I am sure some men in here are uncomfortable and intimidated.
I grin at the thought.
Observing the people around me I notice the fascination in the faces of the young kids.
I then notice the pre-teen attempts to be cool.
Happiness and sadness, emotions through sound.
Growls and warrior stances.
Sweet cries and women’s sounds.
Some people are being put to sleep and cushioned by her voice.
While others stare intensely.
And then it is over.
She stops singing.
There is confusion in the crowd as she leaves the room.
We aren’t used to an hour long song, so we aren’t quite sure if she is done.
Behind me I hear someone say to their friend “It’s so original, I have nothing to compare it to”.
Neither do I.
Tanya Tagaq is a force to be reckoned with. The strength of her voice is blood curdling, stunning, magnificent and unbelievable. I get it now. I really do.
I caught myself staring at her enchanted instead of taking photos or notes.
She painted vivid pictures of nature and human interactions with her voice.
I wanted to be anonymous. To be an audience member.
To take her performance in completely unbiased and I am glad that I did.
Tanya Tagaq is a work of art. I am so glad I got to witness her brilliance live.
Blog written by Michaela McGuire, Photographer, Project Officer at GNC & HHC, & new-ish Skidegate resident.