Gig Review: Tanya Tagaq @ Borderline (London, Wednesday 27th March 2019)

You can get used to everything except for Tanya Tagaq and her art. The only constant element in the Inuk musician’s performances is indeed their unpredictability and instability. That’s how she lures her audience and keeps their eyes glued to her movements, their ears hanging on to her words, cries, screams, vocalises and silences, and their attention fully focussed on her performing acts.

Her recent show at the Borderline in London, introducing her new EP Toothsayer and book Split Tooth, was another example of her brilliant and whimsical artistry; it was another example of her being a singer, songwriter, activist, storyteller, show woman and one of the loudest voices of the 150k Inuits living in the Arctic region.

Before being a musician, Tanya Tagaq is an Inuk who brings forward (in her very own way) the culture and traditions of her people. If you find her music hard to approach and understand, that’s because her homeland is hard to approach and understand for strangers; it’s not about art but folkways.

And folkways, the personal and possibly everyday ones experienced by Tanya in her life, were the subjects of the first part of the show, when, while sitting on the stage, she led the 200 people standing in front of her through a few passages of her debut as a writer. With a tone leaping from the delicate to heartbreaking and fantastical to ultrarealistic, the Canadian artist read out loud narrations of stories of her small arctic village from her school days to the first encounters with drugs, and from Nunavut virgin landscapes to a dream she had “about a fox spirit and a blowjob”.

Despite showing some uneasiness in wearing the writer’s clothes, Tagaq looked natural, or at least thoroughly at one with the words she had written. Almost as natural as she looked during the second part of the gig, when she stood up and switched to the vocalist’s clothes. Accompanied by Jean Martin (drum) and Jesse Zubot (synths and violin), she brought on scene her latest composition, like “Snowblind”, included in Toothsayers ansoundtrackingng the Polar Worlds exhibition at the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Even if the new tunes are arguably less extreme than some of her past works, as is her habit, Tagaq went far out with the expressions, sounds, noises and harmonies peculiar of her music. Not only could you not possibly anticipate what she was going to do next, but you also had some hard times in following the trajectories of her vocal Pindaric flights characterised by a repertoire of throaty roars, jarring screams, piercing screeches, guttural growls, and almost inaudible hisses…

Tanya Tagaq’s shows are more than performances of a singer; she also wholly employs her body to convey and release her music. In an imperceptible way, she brings you on stage next to her, and you might not understand or like what she’s doing, but you can’t stand in front of her unperturbed and imperturbable as a passive bystander. She has the power to put you at ease and discomfort at the same time. She has the power to stir and provoke the audience.