Tanya Tagaq was born Tanya Tagaq Gillis in Cambridge Bay, Canada, in Nunavut
, the self-governing indigenous territory that is Canada's largest and most Northern. She grew up surrounded by Inuit culture and music, as well as plenty of contemporary pop and rock music. While attending high school in Yellowknife
, she began learning Inuit throat-singing, and continued exploring the tradition while studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University.
Though Inuit throat-singing, a form of overtone singing
, is traditionally performed by two women, singing face-to-face (an older style found the women with their faces so close that they used each other's mouths as resonating chambers), Tagaq has transformed traditional elements into a modern solo style. Adding elements of free jazz
and a postmodern performance art aesthetic, her performances are often entirely improvised.
Tagaq has collaborated with a number of artists, most notably Icelandic post-pop princess Bjork (on 2004's Medulla
and in many concert tours and other live shows), as well as the avant-garde classical shapeshifters the Kronos Quartet and Scottish contemporary traditionalists
Shooglenifty, among others. Tagaq also acted in the short film Tungijuq
, which explores the role of seal-hunting in Inuit traditions.