An intense and utterly captivating blend of traditional Inuk throat singing and experimental pop, Canadian musician Tanya Tagaq first became known for her collaborations with Björk in 2004. Over the decade that followed, the Nunavut native earned widespread acclaim for solo releases like 2008's Auk/Blood and her Polaris Prize-winning 2014 album Animism, which pitted her eerie mix of guttural and ethereal vocal tones against a backdrop of eclectic pop and modern orchestral composition. Also a painter and published author, Tagaq has collaborated with a variety of unusual acts across multiple genres including hip-hop, classical, metal, folk, and aboriginal.
Born in Cambridge Bay in Canada's sparsely populated northern province of Nunavut, Tagaq's mother was a native Inuk while her father was of Anglo descent. During her difficult childhood and teenage years, she endured sexual assaults, substance abuse, and even a suicide attempt while attending high school in Yellowknife. Tagaq eventually left Nunavut and earned a fine arts degree from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. During this period, her mother gave her a cassette of traditional throat singing. Captivated by the otherworldly sounds of the two women on the tape, she developed her own unique solo throat singing style and would sometimes perform casually for friends at parties. Although she'd been pursuing a career as a painter, Tagaq began appearing at Canadian folk festivals and was eventually brought to the attention of Icelandic pop star Björk, who asked her to appear on her upcoming album. Tagaq's experimental take on throat singing dovetailed perfectly with the mostly a cappella nature of Björk's 2004 album Medúlla.
In 2005, Björk returned the favor by appearing on Tagaq's debut album, Sinaa, a spare and haunting collection which earned her three Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards and a Juno nomination for Aboriginal Recording of the Year. Having established herself on the world music stage, she undertook a variety of eclectic collaborations over the next year, singing with the Kronos Quartet, fellow throat singer Okna Tsahan Zam, and Finnish yoiker Wimme. Tagaq's second album, 2008's Auk/Blood, was similarly experimental in nature and featured collaborations with Faith No More's Mike Patton and Canadian rapper Buck 65, earning her two more Juno nominations.
Her next release, 2011's Anuraaqtuq, featured an entirely improvised live appearance from the 2010 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. She was also commissioned in 2012 to compose the theme music for the CBC television drama, Arctic Air. Released in 2014, Tagaq's third album, Animism, proved be her most artistically ambitious and commercially successful. A sophisticated mix of experimental pop, modern composition, and throat singing, Animism was more political in nature than any of her previous work and won not only a Juno Award for Aboriginal Album of the Year, but the coveted Polaris Prize, beating out mainstream artists like Drake and Arcade Fire. Released by Toronto indie Six Shooter Records, it also marked Tagaq's first U.S. release. The following year, she resumed a long-running collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, singing on the Derek Charke-composed suite Tundra Songs. She also composed a piece for the quartet's Fifty for the Future project. Her fourth solo album, Retribution, appeared in 2016 and earned widespread acclaim; she was again longlisted for the Polaris Prize. In 2017 Tagaq guested on Canadian folk legend Buffy Sainte-Marie's single "You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind)," a song inspired by legendary dog sled racer George Attla. The following year, Tagaq made her debut as an author with Split Tooth. Published in late 2018 by Penguin/Random House, the book was part fiction and part memoir. It was followed in January 2019 by the single "Snowblind" from the Toothsayer EP. ~ Timothy Monger