The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #231: Uja by Tanya Taraq (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

***NOTE: This post was originally written on September 30, 2021. In Canada, Sept. 30th was declared as being the first ever day of “National Truth and Recognition. This is a day of reflection enacted by the Federal Government in order to help citizens of Canada come to terms with our colonial past and how it affected Indigenous Peoples who were already here when Canada first came to be “settled”, as it were, by Europeans.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #231: Uja by Tanya Taraq.

For our second song honouring Indigenous musicians of note, we are going to take a look at Inuk throat singer, Tanya Taraq. When we speak of Indigenous Peoples in this geographic region that we call Canada, we are speaking of three distinct but, related groups: First Nations Peoples, Metis and Inuit. Throat singer Tanya Taraq is Inuit, meaning she comes from a larger community of people who live in the far north. But, when I refer to her, specifically, I call her an Inuk because that is the term used to refer to individual members of Inuit society.

Tanya Taraq is an Inuk throat singer who has gained international recognition for the absolutely incredibly intense manner in which she uses her breath, vocal cords and throat to convey a world of meaning. We, as non-Indigenous people tend to define singing as using words to convey meaning and tell a story. Well, words are, indeed, a form of sound but, as Tanya Taraq makes abundantly clear, words are not always necessary to make a point or tell a story or touch a heart.

If you were to “Google” Throat singing, what you would be most likely to find are videos of pairs of women, facing each other closely, often holding each others arms and making rhythmic sounds with their throats. These sounds were usually meant to reflect important elements of Inuit culture such as the sounds of animals found there, the sound of wind, of ice cracking and so on. Throat singing can be a collaborative affair or else, it can be a competition where the first person to fail to keep up the pace of the song (by laughing or getting sounds mixed up), “loses” and is out of the game. Inuit Throat singing is usually performed by females and was practised, culturally, when the men of a given community were off hunting for whale or seals or caribou.

Tanya Taraq is a solo Throat singer. She has worked extensively with other musicians (such as Bjork) who accept the notion that to be a singer is to not necessarily require the use of words. Tanya Taraq won the 2014 Polaris Music prize in Toronto and has won numerous Juno Awards for Best Aboriginal or Indigenous Recording. One of the things that Taraq seeks to do with the public platform afforded her is to raise Indigenous issues with non-Indigenous audiences. Consequently, she is a strong ally in the quest to find a solution to the deaths/disappearances of over a thousand Indigenous women. She is, also, a strong proponent of explaining the importance and the necessity of the Seal Hunt to Indigenous communities, who, Taraq forcefully points out, have built their whole communal philosophy on being as one with Mother Earth and, as part of that, never taking more than one needs from the Land or the Water.

As a performer, Tanya Taraq brings it every night. She is noted for the intensity of her performances. Some speaks, without words, for those elements of her culture that are wordless, as well and she suffers no fools as she does so. As you prepare to watch, what is likely to be your very first Throat singing performance, you may be asking yourself how best to prepare. Well, all that I can say is to buckle up! You will be amazed at Taraq’s breath control, her ability to change up the pitch and tone of the sounds she is making and to do so in an instant, without losing pacing or beat. Her voice is an instrument, not unlike the traditional instruments that accompany her. I am always amazed at how easily all of the sounds integrate themselves so seamlessly.

So, if this is your introduction to Throat singing as an integral part of Inuit culture then, I hope you enjoy it. There are many, many videos on YouTube of her performing lots of songs. Please feel free to check them out. Here is Tanya Taraq with “Uja”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Uja” by Tanya Taraq, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Tanya Taraq, can be found here.