Reclaiming a Cultural Tradition

Inuit Throat Singers perform in Horizon

image1-e1471373442590Throat singing is an Inuit tradition passed down from woman to woman over generations. It involves making guttural sounds — much like growls and gasps —that imitate animals and the natural world. Put in a cultural context, it’s a contest of sorts with two or more women, competing to outperform each other and the one to stop or laugh first, loses.

Sounds like a pretty great tradition right? But sadly, it wasn’t always viewed that way. For decades, it was banned by missionaries and residential schools and considered an act of rebellion. The ban was lifted in the 1980s and now, after years of repression, throat singing is officially recognized as part of our nation’s cultural heritage. Quebec even granted it special designation as ‘intangible cultural heritage.’

Horizon crew were lucky enough to watch and film it in person when pre-teens Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre performed for us at Ottawa’s Remic Rapids Park. The girls, also known as Tarniriik (meaning two souls), first learned to throat sing at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, but are best known for their performance at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony, charming the nation with rounds of song that erupted into giggles.

Now Tarniriik is getting lots of attention on social media — even from their idol, Polaris Prize-winning throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Their popularity is a true sign that this once dying art is making its comeback and helping a new generation reclaim their cultural identity.

Look out for Tarniriik’s performance in our 360° film Horizon.