sat 19/10/2019

CD: Tanya Tagaq - Animism | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Tanya Tagaq - Animism

CD: Tanya Tagaq - Animism

Throat singing meets contemporary pop with compelling results

Popular culture, but not as you know it: Tanya Tagaq

It’s not obvious, listening to her work, just how funny Tanya Tagaq is. Her modified version of Inuit throat-singing-for-one, introduced to a wider audience on Bjork’s Medulla, has been called many things: intense, powerful, primal. But just when you’re ready to put her work in a box condescendingly labelled “world music”, to be trotted out at middle-class dinner parties as a way of showing off just how capital-A Alternative you are, you might figure out that the pulsing, all-encompassing opening track to her Polaris prize-winning third album Animism, is in fact a cover of Pixies’ “Caribou”. Yes, Tagaq chose to open her album with a cover of perhaps the best-known song about a staple part of the Inuit diet.

Of course, as with much of Tagaq’s work, there are two layers to the choice of cover: an in-joke, yes, but also the calling card of a performer who has made a living out of putting her own spin on the traditional. Throat singing is traditionally performed by two Inuit women but Tagaq has trained herself to perform solo, meaning that even when her music sounds at its wildest it is a masterwork of control and restraint. Beyond the Pixies cover, few songs here have a recognisable vocal but each is challenging, immersive and compelling as Tagaq twists her inhales and exhales into animalistic growls and tender, soft yelps; into resonant whispers and death metal howls.

In fact, it’s surprising just how versatile what would seem a very specialised skill can be. There is horror here, as on “Uja", where Tagaq’s breathless, inhuman growls cannot escape an ominous, electronic pulse; and on the disturbing, insistent “Umingmak”, itself a fusion of minimalist vocals and heady electronica. But there is beauty, too, like the gorgeous melody line that opens “Rabbit” and the otherworldly “Tulugak”; and breathtaking paired compositions called "Flight" and "Fight". Open your mind, and open your ears.

Overleaf: hear Tanya Tagaq take on "Caribou"

Even when her music sounds at its wildest it is a masterwork of control and restraint


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.