Tanya Tagaq & ROSALÍA: The Keepers of Culture

This year I haven’t felt as connected to music as I usually do. Music has always been a huge part of my life, and when I was a teen I spent countless hours in my room scrolling through iTunes and music websites discovering new types of music, new artists in styles I already liked, and music from artists I already loved. This was, of course, before iTunes became a piling heap of steaming shit. I use Spotify for music discovery now. No regrets. Here is my account if you want to follow along.

I was feeling rather bad about my lack of music exploration in 2018, so I did what most normal people do. I checked out some Best Of 2018 lists. As I was working through NPR’s top 10 albums of the year, I became completely bewitched by ROSALÍA. Her new album El Mal Querer is #8. ROSALÍA is a Spanish-speaking singer from Catalonia, Spain and lends her stunning voice to haunting and beautiful flamenco guitar. Her earlier album from 2017, Los Angeles, shows a rather straight forward approach to flamenco, a style of music not usually being played on mainstream music radio.

As a fervent fan of the Gipsy Kings, who also perform Andalusian-style music, I immediately fell in love with ROSALÍA. While her new album still holds much of the classic flamenco style, it adds more modern and inventive production skills to amp up her sound. The effect is an interesting modernization of a very old and rich musical style. Flamenco is several centuries old and originates from Andalusia, Spain. It is itself born of an interesting blending of multiple cultures, including the Romani, Moors, Castilians, and Sephardi Jews. It is a performance of music, vocalizations, dance, and rhythm. ROSALÍA’s music is obviously not the full package, but I’ve never seen her live so maybe she has dancers or dances herself. I don’t know! I was not surprised when I saw her name pop up next to the likes of Solange and Cardi B on show tickets, but I was a bit surprised that flamenco has made its way to this particular arena.

What ROSALÍA seems to have done reminded me of another female artist: Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer whose music is haunting, aggressive, and incredibly visceral. Its jarring nature is not for everyone, but her music was recently featured on the soundtrack for the indie film Thoroughbreds. This well-deserved spotlight has highlighted her work and brought it to many people who probably have never heard of throat singing before. The unique thing about Tagaq’s music is that is is very modern. You could seamlessly play it in a club without anyone skipping a beat. But Inuit throat singing is an art that has been in existence for hundreds of years. It was banned for decades by religious communities and is only recently making a wide resurgence.

The amazing thing about Inuit throat singing is that it is primarily a women’s game. It was not originally seen as a type of music or performance, but as just interesting vocalizations and breath work. Traditionally, two women will face one another, and one will start off the roll of singing while the other repeats her as a kind of mimic or an improvised round. The sounds are continuous from both women and the game only stops when one of the women starts laughing or runs out of breath. It is meant to be a silly bit of fun, but can you imagine how metal and witchy it would be to see two women facing off, making what can only be described as primordial grunts and gasps? It’s incredibly badass.

When I consider both Tanya Tagaq and ROSALÍA, I see two young women fully embracing their culture and bringing it into the modern mainstream global culture. This culture has been dominated by American styles for a very long time, and both the elements of Flamenco and Inuit throat singing don’t fit those moulds…and yet they are some of the most beautiful forms of art I have had the privilege to enjoy thanks to Spotify (this is not supposed to be an ad for Spotify, it has its issues too).

Women usually do this work. Much like how our genes carry the exact data of our mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers etc., we tend to carry on our family and culture’s traditions. We tell the stories, make the food, teach the crafts and skills. We preserve and amplify. We pass it down to our children. This has generally been the case for thousands of years in human civilizations. Men have been known to do this work as well, and I don’t want to slight men like my father, who gathers and cares for his family’s genealogy, but overall on a grand scale this is a woman’s work. While it might seem unfair or a burden, I take it as a privilege, an honor, and a duty.

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