"So how was it?" asked a friend. "Orgasmic," I replied. Then I toned down my description. "Or primitive."
The truth is that Tagaq's performance reminded me of child birth. When an Inuit woman is on her hands and knees violently sucking air in with her throat and howling like a wolf, then the delivery room comes to mind. I should know, I have been there twice.
At the same time, fellows tend to lose their lunch at any reference to child birth or even the female body. But during the concert, a woman seated beside me whispered in my ear, see on nii erootiline! So my arrow did not miss its mark.
Tagaq is a solo performance artist who specializes in Inuit throat singing. She is unique in that she has married a folk tradition with a new means of expression -- throat singers typically sing in pairs, she sings alone; and with modern technology -- she was accompanied by a percussionist (Kenton Loewen) and a "DJ," that is, to say, a guy (Michael Edwards) standing in front of a laptop.
She performed two dates in Estonia over the weekend: the first at the MTÜ Eesti Pärimusmuusika Keskus in Viljandi and the second at the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn. I chose to see her in Viljandi because it's closer and I had a feeling the audience would be a bit more down to Earth. I mean, who wants to sit next to Edgar Savisaar at a throat-singing concert?
Tagaq is small but fiery. When she began to warm up, I wondered if I could stomach an hour plus of throat singing. There were no words I could understand, except when she knelt in the spotlight like a demon and began grunting, "aitäh, aitäh, aitäh." Interestingly, her two releases have Estonian names. The first, Sinaa (2004), means "the edge" in Inuktitut, but could mean "you" in some Estonian dialect. The second, Auk (2008), means "hole" in Estonian, but "blood" in Inuktitut.
Which leads us to a big question: what the heck was Tagaq doing in Viljandi on a Friday night saying "aitäh" to people? My Estonian companions assured me it was because of Viljandi's place in the pantheon of folk music centers, but I proposed a more personal hypothesis.
Simply put, Tagaq worked with Björk on Medulla (2004). Björk worked with Michael 'Arvopoeg' Pärt, born in Tallinn, on Volta (2007). Arvo Pärt, born in Paide, is respected in all avant-garde circles and is a "friend" on the pages of many a MySpace musician. Estonia thus is one of the places where cool people who dig throat singing might hang out. Case closed.
"I'm not sure," said my friend. "I mean, I don't even like Arvo Pärt." She caught herself saying it and cupped her hand over her mouth. "I'm sorry," she blushed. "You're not allowed to say that in Estonia."
"It's not just his music," I said. "He looks awesome. He looks like a mad monk or a science fiction character. People want to come and play in the country of his birth, hoping that his essence will rub off on them."
And so our conversation drifted into the night fed by glasses of wine. But Tagaq? She was a no show at the performance center cafe. She had probably gone home to rest her throat.