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Inuit throat singer kicks off Colorado College's Cornerstone Arts Week in Colorado Springs

January 24, 2018 Updated: January 24, 2018 at 11:09 am
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Cartoonist Lynda Barry will speak during Colorado College's Cornerstone Arts Week. She'll deliver a free talk called "What It Is" on Thursday. Courtesy Lynda Barry.

The sounds that emit from Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq are like nothing you've ever heard.

"It feels very tactile, like I'm in a dark room and it's all black but you can feel the walls," Tagaq said from her home in Toronto, "and you're going along feeling the walls, and they all have a different texture. I'm feeling what's happening around me and processing it into vocals. Sometimes it's color, sometimes it's visual, sometimes it's emotional."

Tagaq grew up in the Inuit town of Cambridge Bay, an arctic village in Nunavut, Canada. She learned the indigenous female tradition as a teenager and has gone on to craft an award-winning career out of her chants, growls, gasps and moans. She'll open Colorado College's annual Cornerstone Arts Week on Monday with the performance "In Concert With Nanook of the North."

The 1922 film "Nanook of the North" is one of the world's first major works of nonfiction filmmaking. Tagaq and her band will perform a live accompaniment to the film's silent images of an early 20th century Inuit community in northern Quebec.

Cornerstone Arts Week is Monday through Saturday at Cornerstone Arts Center on the CC campus. Events are free and open to the public.

This year's theme "What is the Creative Brain?" features two keynote lectures by Robert Sapolsky, a science and nature writer, biologist, neuroscientist and stress expert, who will talk about "The Biology of Human Creativity: Are Our Tools That Much Better Than Chimps'?," and Lynda Barry, a painter, cartoonist and writer who will discuss "What It Is."

Music, student installations and a reception, a theater performance and a screening of the 2004 film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" will round out the event.

Tagaq thrives on improvisation on stage; the knowledge that the show will never happen in quite the same way again allows her a sense of freedom and abandonment. The limelight is her safe space.

"We typically don't use lyrics. The improv is like throwing a paper airplane - we don't know where the wind will take us," she said. "It's an adventure we have as a band. Everyone can be terribly insecure. On stage is the only place where I don't care about anything - what I look like, what I'm supposed to be like. I'm not ashamed of anything I feel or who I am. That allows the audience to get a taste of freedom, which ultimately, if we were a higher species, we'd be living in that state the whole duration we're blessed with our bodies."

Now in its 18th year, the week was designed as a way to celebrate the idea of interdisciplinary teaching through speakers and events.

"We looked at what classes were being offered in any given block, and it was neuroscience," said Tom Lindblade, event organizer and CC theater professor, about this year's focus. "Everyone is talking about the brain. Oliver Sacks had died, and people were interested in how neuroscience and creativity were linked."

Tagaq, who won Canada's prestigious Polaris prize for her third album "Animism" in 2014, seemed an ideal match. In 2016, she released her fourth studio album, "Retribution," which contained a cover of grunge band Nirvana's 1993 song "Rape Me."

"As a musician, Tanya is unbelievable," Lindblad said. "Not only is she an Inuit performer, but she's just fierce. She's all about creativity."

JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM

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