Tanya Tagaq Commands Retribution

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Inuit throat singer and improvisational artist Tanya Tagaq demands awakening, and defies categorization with her post-colonial masterpiece, Retribution, to be released by Six Shooter Records this month.

For Tagaq, there is no separation from her body and the earth, life and art, or motherhood and music. Whether it’s her 2014 Polaris Prize win, where she scrolled thousands of names of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous women during the gala performance, or posting a “sealfie” of her baby in the snow beside a dead seal on Twitter, she addresses the inherent connection between the rape of women,  and the rape of the land.

Retribution is a harrowing sonic accusation.

“We live in a world where my daughters and I are four times as likely to be murdered. And that’s not okay,” she says, calling from a Toronto grocery store.

In the next breath she instructs her kids to “pick out some fruit.”

Tagaq doesn’t put on airs. Her advocacy stems from the living land, and its tundra of trauma. Tagaq’s life experiences chart growing up in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, surviving Canada’s genocidal residential school system – which she described as “strict,” to studying at Nova Scotia’s College of Art and Design in Halifax, and multiple accolades, including a Juno Award and the 2014 Polaris Prize.

“Get some apples,” she instructs her daughter. “We’re soon gonna be at the check out. Hold on a sec?”

Life isn’t separate from art, and neither are groceries. Tagaq overthrows stereotypes and erasure, touring nationally and internationally, and insists Indigenous peoples, climate change and art aren’t a thing of the past.

With this knowledge, Tagaq, who performs at the Arts and Culture Centre October 10 as part of Inuit PiusituKangit (20th Biennial Inuit Studies Conference), insists, “Retribution will be swift.”

“I don’t give a shit about what anyone thinks. This isn’t personal gain,” says Tagaq. “I am not trying to placate, it’s just a fact of life. It’s how we live. I want there to be good things around for my children. I want a good environment. I want them to be able to go out on the land like I am able to. I want my great-great grandchildren to go out on the land.”

Retribution is a 10-track musical penance, landing somewhere beyond doing and undoing harm. It’s an unearthing, a retelling of trauma’s seasonal cycles. Tagaq concludes, the land will outlast us all.

She leads the project with unflinching power, harnessing the contemporary and ancient depths of oceans, the sky, stars and moon, while Jesse Zubot acts as producer and masterful violinist. Jean Martin’s on drums, Tuvan throat singer Radik Tulush, rapper Shad, traditional Inuk singer Ruben Komangapik, and Tagaq’s daughter, Inuuja, who serves as Retribution’s protagonist, representing both past and future generations, are on the opening track, “Ajaaja.”

“Art is whatever you want,” says Tagaq. “A lot of people are starting to care about voices, Canadian and non-Canadian voices. We are taking in the world, and how we interact. The dawn of the Internet made us more aware of global politics. Humanity is waking up, as opposed to going to sleep. Luckily, I am alive at this time, and I’m going to do my best to ensure the survival of the planet.”

Retribution ends with a cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” shifting the narrator from a third to first person, and embodying Kurt Cobain’s legendary anti-rape song from 1993’s In Utero.

“My idea of feminism is wanting women to be safe, and unharmed physically, mentally, and spiritually. I hate that it has to be explained in this day and age,” she says. “I loved Kurt Cobain, and his band. I think he’s an incredible human being. I wanted to take that song out of third person, into first person.  I hope I did that song justice, and that he’d be proud.”

Catch Tanya at the Arts & Culture Centre on Oct. 10th in St. John’s or the 12th on Corner Brook.

About Author

Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell is an award-winning Mi’kmaq poet, writer, and curator. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015), recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award, is her first collection of poems. She was Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, and is a board member. Shannon holds a MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and currently studies and teaches English Literature at Memorial University. Her work is anthologized in IMPACT: Colonialism in Canada (Manitoba First Nation Education Resource, 2017), Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane, 2015), This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2015), and others. She curated “Screening the Offshore” at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and currently works as a curatorial assistant at Eastern Edge Gallery. Shannon is poetry editor at Plenitude Magazine. Her play Neither Love Letters Nor Moonlight, premieres at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 2017. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

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