Art is, in itself, an intersection. The lyrics of the poetry come from past songs, evoking powerful imaginations of stories being told.
One of the current artists who understands this deep connection between art, life, myth and tradition is award-winning Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq.
An emotional powerhouse of femininity, motherhood, community, recovery and embracing your roots, TONGUES is perhaps Tagaq’s best album to date.
With nods to past albums, particularly on interlude-like tracks like “Birth” and “Nuclear”, TONGUES is itself an intersection, both standing firmly on its own as a solid solo piece and reading as program music Tagaq’s 2018 award-winning mythobiography SPLIT TOOTH.
From the opening of TONGUES, the opening tones of “In Me” indicate the album’s own intersection – and Tagaq’s core sound – of current electronic music and traditional throat singing.
Just as the program’s music is designed to portray the action and emotion of the lyrics, songs like “In Me”, “Teeth Agape”, “I Forgive Me”, “Do Not Fear Love” and “Earth Monster” all borrow their lyrics from Tagaq’s SPLIT TOOTH, with the music skillfully painting the emotion, struggle or thoughts of the layered lyrics.
Even the tracks developed exclusively for the album convey this musical brushstroke. The title track, “Tongues”, addresses the rebuilding of the mother tongue after its assault by the Christian missionary work of residential schools.
The song’s traditional drums are taken up by electronic beats that accompany the words “they tried to take our tongues […] you can’t take this from us […] you can’t take my tongue”, mixing resurgence and regeneration of tradition through current musical tools.
“Tongues” is aptly followed by the song “Colonizer,” an electronic dance number that constantly repeats “you’re guilty, colonizer.” The melodious backbone of the song conveys anger just as much as Tagaq’s vocals.
“Colonizer (Tundra Remix)” is a more traditional alternate version of the song that serves as a fitting ending to an album that combines and weaves together the intersections of tradition, present and future.
TONGUES deals with uncomfortable topics. The sixth track, “I Forgive Me”, focuses on rape and the ongoing and relentless focus in society on the victim of assault to forgive the abuser.
Tagaq insists: “‘Forgive them’, they say, ‘forgive those who hurt you’, ‘don’t cling to the past’, they say”, before pushing back: “I don’t forgive and don’t don’t forget, I protect and prevent.” In Tagaq’s own words from SPLIT TOOTH, “It’s not violence against women [i]It’s violence done by men” — his song asks why the abuser should be forgiven.
Additionally, the song melodically depicts the mental struggle with past trauma, with conflicting tones depicting the brain fog of thoughts as the mind continues to process violence against the body.
Lovingly aligned with SPLIT TOOTH, which is dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and residential school survivors, the album’s crown jewel is “Teeth Agape”, both musically and visually.
One of the most powerful tracks on the album, “Teeth Agape” seamlessly blends Tagaq’s poem from SPLIT TOOTH with the music – an electronic beat that grows louder as the lyrics speak powerfully of motherhood and the responsibility of women to protect and support other women.
Most evident in SPLIT TOOTH, mixing media is a favorite Tagaq pastime, with the beautiful music video for “Teeth Agape” depicting the poem about women through a wolf mother who learned to defend herself through survival. .
Director and host David Seitz exemplifies the theme of the song by vividly animating animism – the wolf turning into spit, blood and placenta who turns into a woman who turns into a rock who turns into a wolf, whose shadow transforms into a pack of wolves, ready to defend the next generation.
Tagaq’s other visual representation from his album is for the title track “Tongues”. The tundra landscape, brought to life by Afro-Indigenous artist Omar Rivero, shows how the land created languages, and while the sharp Christian crosses of residential schools attempt to destroy native languages and traditions, the land itself will always restore and regenerate what was once torn.
A journey of pain, love and healing, TONGUES as an album, intertwined with SPLIT TOOTH multimedia and paired with visual accompaniment, is an intersectional feat of art. A must-listen and must-watch, Tagaq’s latest project is stirring up eager anticipation for his upcoming compositions.
Tanya Tagaq’s new album, LANGUAGES, hits all music platforms on January 21. Her novel SPLIT TOOTH is available at major retailers.