This collaboration between Tanya Tagaq and Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the first of back-to-back sold-out nights as part of the Chan Centre's Beyond Words series, combined activism and music in a powerful fashion. Noting that they were going to start with the head before moving to the heart, Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of David Suzuki and cultural/environmental activist since the age of nine, took the stage first to deliver a speech compellingly tracing the evolution of humanity, from its naked roots, armed only with hands and brains capable of analysing the past to predict the future, to the contemporary imbalance of earth's ecosystems as we push the planet towards its sixth mass extinction event.
2014 Polaris Prize-winning, seal-eating, modern interpreter of Inuit throat singing Tagaq came onstage for a brief sit-down discussion between herself and Cullis-Suzuki, moderated by UBC journalism professor Candis Callison. This allowed the speakers to delve further into the event's major themes of identity and relationships. Ever a beacon of unfiltered honesty, Tagaq threw down a couple of classic mic-drop zingers, noting how insane the news media is and that we need protect our land from greedy assholes, but her primary focus was on moving forward together, as a species, and how the intrinsic wiring of women for empathy should lead the way.
Joined by Drip Audio boss and Juno winning experimental violinist Jesse Zubot, Cullis-Suzuki assumed her position at the opposite end of the stage, recounted the time she saw her sister giving birth, returned to her earlier question of who we are, and finished with some Haida slam poetry, while Tagaq remained seated in the back. Zubot and Tagaq supported her words with appropriate ambience, but as Cullis-Suzuki left the stage, Tagaq arose from the shadows and entered her zone. She uttered guttural groans, polyphonic grunts, wheezes, sighs, cries and other ineffable, seemingly impossible vocal manipulations that made her seem seven feet tall on stage.
With Zubot's treated violin filling in the atmosphere with delicate layered schizophrenic flourishes, plumes of rosin from his bow evaporating into the darkness, Tagaq ran the gamut of human emotion, an ecstatic expression of profound empathy. She clawed at her chest, drew circles in the air, pumped her fist high and clambered around on the ground, looking as if she was crazed, climaxing and crying from one moment to the next. This raw vulnerability was all over her award-winning Animism, but to see it firsthand and feel her trust is pure catharsis, hardly contained by any recorded medium.
This performance hit you on all levels. Cullis-Suzuki represented the philosophy of awareness, of research-based decision-making, while Tagaq demonstrated the release of conscious thought, going back to our essential human-animal survival instincts. With the performers and the audience joined by our common breath, one felt a sense of community, of trust, the very things we were supposed to take away as our beacons of hope. In many ways, it was a healing ceremony for all those in attendance, with hope for affecting the world at large.