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Inuit throat singing

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The Nunatsiaq News, a newspaper of the Nunavik region of Arctic Quebec since 1973, reports on throat singing among the Inuit.

Unlike the throat singers in other regions of the world, particularly, Tibet, Mongolia and Tuva, the Inuit performers are usually women who sing only duets in a kind of entertaining contest to see who can outlast the other. However, at least one notable performer, Tanya Tagaq Gillis, performs throat singing as a solo artist and as a collaborator with pop musicians such as Björk.

Contents

Migration

The Ainu people of Japan had throat singing (rekkukara) until 1976, when its last practitioner died. It resembled more the Inuit variety than the Mongolian. If this technique of singing emerged only once and then in the Old World, the move from Siberia to northern Canada must have been over Bering Strait land bridge some 12,000 years ago.

New World Terms

The name for throat singing in Canada varies with the geography:

The Indians in Alaska have lost the art and those in Greenland evidently never developed it.

Inuit Throat Singing

When the men are away on a hunting trip, the women left at home entertain themselves with games, which may involve throat singing. Two women face each other usually in a standing position. One singer leads by setting a short rhythmic pattern, which she repeats leaving brief silent intervals between each repetition. The other singer fills in the gap with another rhythmic pattern. Usually the competition lasts up to three minutes until one of the singers starts to laugh or is left breathless.

At one time the lips of the two women almost touched, so that one singer used the mouth cavity of the other as a resonator, but this isn't so common today. Often the singing is accompanied by a shuffling in rhythm from one foot to the other. The sounds may be actual words or nonsense syllables or created during exhalation.

"The old woman who teaches the children corrects sloppy intonation of contours, poorly meshed phase displacements, and vague rhythms exactly like a Western vocal coach." (Nattiez 1990:57)

Source

  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 0691027145.
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