September 07, 2010

Inuit throat singers bust stereotypes

Inuit women preserve unique tradition

Throat singing is a traditional game among Inuit women. Taqralik Partridge and Nina Segalowitz explain it here in its interlocking styleTaqralik Partridge:  Throat singing is a traditional Inuit game, usually played by women. The songs or sounds are made up by different women. They imitate sounds that you would hear in your environment in the North, including the wind, the river and there are some ladies that do one that's called the bumble bee and there's one we do called the saw. You have two people who play with each other and echo each other and the object of the game is to make the other person stop either by exhaustion, laughing or losing the rhythm.

When I was a kid, we used to see throat singing on TV. Although I lived in Nunavik, an Inuit region in northern Quebec, there was nobody in the community who still knew how to throat sing and it was not widely practised. So, we children used to pretend to throat sing and make weird sounds because there was nobody to teach us how to do it. Then, when I was at university in Montreal, I was lucky enough to have a friend who knew how to do it and I just thought I would give it a try. I wanted to learn throat singing to fulfil a childhood aspiration and Nina wanted to learn it because she was searching for different ways to connect with Inuit culture, from which she was completely cut off when growing up.
And:TP:  Throat singing gives us an opportunity to share our culture and meet many people from different backgrounds. We've been to many festivals. We performed at a Finnish church once. We were at a festival of world cultures in the nearby city of Sherbrooke late last summer. We saw Japanese drummers and all kinds of different performers. It's a way for us to open up our ideas about the world and for other people to open up about us.

NS:  It's also a way for us to show the contemporary and traditional sides of our lives, that we can do traditional activities and have traditional knowledge and language and yet also be contemporary in our lifestyle, where we live, what we eat and how we see the world. Throat singing is for me a way to bridge two worlds.
Comment:  Look! These Inuit women sing. They wear regular clothes, not parkas. They live in a city with trees and buildings, not in an igloo. One has a Jewish father and a Filipino mother. Amazing how different the reality is from the stereotypes, eh?

For more on the subject, see Inuit Throat Songs as Ringtones and Eskimos:  The Ultimate Aborigines.

Below:  Inuit throat-singers Taqralik Partridge and Nina Segalowitz. (Nachammai Raman)

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