Tanya Tagaq's March 9 concert in The Appel Room as part of American Songbook will mark her third appearance at Lincoln Center. In 2009, the Inuk vocalist performed on a hot August day as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and in 2013 she and her trio accompanied a screening of the 1922 silent documentary Nanook of the North in the David Rubenstein Atrium. Over the last eight years, New Yorkers have caught up to Tagaq's unique work, which grows out of the tradition of throat singing in her native Nunavut. Her energetic, haunting vocalizations have also been featured on recordings with Björk, the Kronos Quartet, and Mike Patton. Rolling Stone named her 2016 album Retribution one of the 20 best avant albums of the year. But to really experience her talent, you have to be in her presence.
Kurt Gottschalk: While your audience has grown in New York City, many people might not be sure what to call your music. What advice would you have for young performers who don't easily fit into any one mold?
Tanya Tagaq: For young performers, hopefully, eventually, people will begin to celebrate the individuality of your music rather than looking to you to provide something they've seen before. People who are brave and want to experience something new will be drawn to you. Celebrate your difference. Not everyone can be mac and cheese.
KG: You've had a fruitful relationship with the esteemed Kronos Quartet, who recently premiered your composition Sivunittini. How do you go about composing for an ensemble? What has working with Kronos meant to you?
TT: I love Kronos Quartet so much. Composing for them was one of the highlights of my career because David Harrington decided that instead of being an ingredient to someone else's stew, I could actually make my own stew. He believed in me. We went into the studio, and I did one vocal take for one viola and then did a second and a third and so forth until we had the composition for everyone. Because I don't read music, David hired Jacob Garchik to notate it, with specific bowing techniques for different sounds. It was a finely tailored language, and it was a huge honor to hear what came from my mind executed with instruments.
KG: In the past few years, you've received multiple Juno Awards, the esteemed Polaris Prize, and the Order of Canada. Has that recognition made it easier for you to speak out about issues confronting First Nations people? Did you make a deliberate decision to be more vocal because of your higher profile?
TT: Over the years we've been discussing these topics around every meal, every dinner table. Every country we go to, we learn about its political system. It's become more and more apparent that we don't need to be suffering so needlessly, and if we're not going to speak up about it then no one will. I lost my Canadian politeness and gained a little bit more bravado.
Tanya Tagaq, Jesse Zubot, and Jean Martin perform "Retribution." Published October 14, 2016, by CBC Music.
KG: What do you think people in the States don't understand about First Nations people? What message, if any, do you hope to bring to your New York audience?
TT: The number one thing people don't understand is the treaty system, the years of oppression, the land and resource grabbing that resulted in poverty that results in socioeconomic crisis. What do I hope to bring to my New York audience? Music. People tend to forget we're musicians. I don't go to New York hoping to teach people the ways of my people. I go to New York because people understand music there, and I don't have to put on airs.
KG: Do you have a fantasy collaboration or project?
TT: So many. Too many.
Kurt Gottschalk writes extensively about jazz, classical, and pop music, and is the host of the Miniature Minotaurs program on WFMU.