For those unable to experience experimental Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq’s sonic contribution to National Maritime Museum’s “Polar Worlds” exhibit in situ in London, UK, Tagaq has announced that the work will be released as a digital EP titled ‘Toothsayer’ via Six Shooter Records on March 1st, 2019.
‘Toothsayer’, a 5-track soundscape created for the exhibit, expands Tagaq’s prestigious compositional work with ambient electronic and piano-driven textures. With ecological precision and a crypto-travelogue narrative, ‘Toothsayer’ features Tagaq working with long-time percussionist Jean Martin, who produced the EP. UK experimental electronic artist Ash Koosha, who met Tagaq for the first time when the artists were invited to work together for a BBC Late Junction session in 2017, also performs on “Snowblind” and “Submerged.”
“Snowblind,” the first song shared from the collection, expresses the sensory experience of snowblindness, a condition that can produce colourful pulsating shapes amidst darkness. The contrast of brightness and darkness, a recurring theme in Tagaq’s work, is at once environmental, physical and emotional and political.
“I named this Toothsayer because I always liked the term soothsayer, to look into the future and to speak wisely,” says Tagaq of the title. “Teeth represent protection and hunting in nature. We are going to have to get our fists up and our teeth out to carve our way to survival in this world.”
Organized as a categorical assessment of the different and extreme elements of the Nunavut winter, where “it’s so easy to succumb to death in the north purely by the elements, including the socio and political elements,” (cue the closing track, “Hypothermia”), the EP also connects in title and theme with ‘Split Tooth’, Tagaq’s debut novel.
The book, a powerfully permeative mythobiography about a girl growing up in Nunavut in the 1970s, was released in September 2018 and immediately found a place on the Giller Prize Long List, Canada’s top fiction prize. The work also appeared on year end Best Of lists including NPR, Globe and Mail, CBC, Toronto Star and more. Apple Music named the work Canada’s Best Canadian Audiobook; narrated by Tagaq with improvised vocal elements, Split Tooth’s fact-fiction-dreamscapes come alive in this spoken word form, which moves between silky hypnotic poetry and carotid-ripping song. Toothsayer travels a similar path to Split Tooth through poles of exquisite delicacy, frenzy and fury. More about ‘Split Tooth’ here.
‘Toothsayer’ EP track listing:
- Snowblind (YouTube)
More about Tanya Tagaq:
Tanya Tagaq is an improvisational singer, avant-garde composer and bestselling author. A member of the Order of Canada, Polaris Music Prize and JUNO Award winner and recipient of multiple honourary doctorates, Tagaq is one of the country’s most original and celebrated artists.
In 2014, Tagaq sent shockwaves through the music world with ‘Animism’. The album’s Polaris Music Prize victory disrupted the music industry and contributed to a change in conversation about Indigenous artists. The follow-up, 2017’s ‘Retribution’, brought Tagaq’s inimitable and powerful artistic vision to even broader audiences.
Tagaq’s improvisational approach lends itself to collaboration across genres and forms. Her work includes numerous guest vocal appearances (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bjork, Weaves, A Tribe Called Red, Fucked Up), original avant-garde classical compositions (Kronos Quartet, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra), commissions (National Maritime Museum in London, UK) and more. Her music appears in film soundtracks (Thoroughbreds, Searchers) and television (Vikings, Sirens).
In its many forms, Tanya Tagaq’s art challenges static ideas of genre and culture, and contends with themes of environmentalism, human rights and post-colonial issues. In interviews, Tagaq stresses the importance of considering her work in the context of contemporary – not traditional – art. This statement is not just about sound, although her music is decidedly modern and technically intricate, but about deep-rooted assumptions about indigenous culture in general.