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Polaris Music Prize Winner Tanya Tagaq on Nunavut and Collaborating With Björk

An interview with the Nunavut-born singer-turned-author.

Tanya Tagaq

Hometown Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

Home Base Toronto

Claim to Fame Polaris Music Prize- and Juno Award-winning throat singer

Current Project Promoting her first book, Split Tooth, a mix of prose and poetry, published on September 25

Recent Getaway Tasmania, Australia. “I performed at the Dark Mofo festival. It was surreal to discover such a faraway place so similarly affected by colonialism.”

How was working on Split Tooth different from throat singing and writing music?
I’ve never felt nervous on stage, but I was terrified to write this book. It’s been in the making for over 20 years, and it lays bare my secrets about events I’ve finally been able to heal from. It was also an interesting process to combine fact and fiction: I included childhood memories that are still crystal clear, like the crunching of truck tires on shale rock in Cambridge Bay, and I mixed in fictional elements, like personifying the northern lights.

What do you hope readers will take from this book?
I would like non-indigenous readers to get an idea of what’s behind the statistics and to raise awareness about the everyday realities that lead to high suicide rates and violence in the North. I hope the story humanizes us and helps to start implementing goals, like providing proper mental health care.

Do you keep reminders of Nunavut around?
My house is full of them – I have a huge muskox skull on the wall. I also bring a little something with me when I travel, like bowhead whale and walrus bone earrings. I take my kids up north every year – it’s important to me that they know who they are.

You’ve worked with some powerhouse female musicians – any standout experiences?
I’ve loved Buffy Sainte-Marie since I was a kid, so it was great to work with her on Medicine Songs. I was also so impressed with Björk when we collaborated on her album Medúlla in Spain – her brain is incredible. She kept switching between producing, playing and doing computer work. She’s also the kind of person who would make sure your wineglass is full.