That's Tanya Tagaq, Inuit throat-singer and painter, musing on the strange destiny that has propelled her away from the isolation of Nunavut into the clubs, concerts halls and galleries of the urban white south. We were sitting in a crowded coffee bar on Toronto's Bloor Street, and her awe-filled account of life and death in the north made her tiny polar community seem fantastically exotic, and intimately close.

That's pretty much how it feels when you hear Tagaq sing. Her repertoire of grunts, screams and panting vocalizations is a world away from most kinds of singing in the Western world, and yet the basis of it seems as near as your own pulse.

She seems to be dying, having sex, giving birth and enacting somebody's creation story all at once. It's intensely erotic, and unsettling too, like looking in the mirror and seeing the animal buried within us staring back.

Probably a lot of people who have heard the 31-year-old singer perform with Bjork or the Kronos Quartet imagine that she's a traditional musician, giving us the raw goods from the far north. In fact, although Tagaq's music is based on the techniques of Inuit singing, she learned none of it in her home community. She had to go to an art school in the south to discover herself as a musician. She learned about throat-singing from tapes her mother included in parcels she sent to Halifax, where Tagaq studied at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design after two years at a high school in Yellowknife, which, compared to Cambridge Bay, had seemed to her like a huge place.

"Throat-singing just automatically made sense to me," she said, remembering how desperately dislocated she felt after a year and a half in Halifax. It didn't matter that throat-singing really wasn't part of her home environment. She had never heard it before, nobody in her community did it, but she knew right away that it belonged to her.

In that sense, she was just like those white city musicians who discover the sea shanties and ballads of their ancestors, and realize that it's the music they've got to sing. The difference was that Tagaq had lived the life that gave birth to the music she heard on those tapes. She had killed caribou, and seen the narwhal rise a few metres from the prow of her family's boat, and heard dogs howl in the endless night of an Arctic winter.

But you can't really do Inuit throat-singing on your own. It's a two-person thing, a game, the object of which is to be the last person to laugh or run out of breath. With no way of approaching the social side of it, Tagaq concentrated on figuring out how to make those guttural, polytonal sounds. It was her secret little sound-art project, or so she thought.

Her shows and recordings have included live electronics and improvised encounters with musicians from very different traditions. Sinaa, her fiercely concentrated debut recording released by Jericho Beach Music last year, included a reworked piece written with Bjork, traditional Inuit songs, and other new pieces performed with txalaparta, a Basque drum (played by her then-partner Felipe Ugarte, with whom she has a three-year-old daughter). Last winter, she did a project with the Kronos Quartet that was supposed to involve a commissioned score, but which evolved into a largely improvised piece based on a colour sequence linked to the passage of the seasons in Nunavut.

Black for her meant the 24-hour night of winter in Cambridge Bay. Red stood for blood, which for her is a symbol of life, even when coursing from a newly killed carcass.

She deeply resents the international campaign against the seal-hunt, especially as promoted by celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson. They don't understand what the hunt means to the Inuit, she said, and confuse the commercial killing of seal pups (which she abhors) with the traditional ways of hunters.

The sounds of the northern environment will be a part of her next recording, which she'll complete during gaps in a touring schedule that takes her across western Canada (with Kinnie Starr) and to Austria (with the Kronos Quartet) before she begins The Night Project, a two-month winter art collaboration with several other transpolar visual artists. Vancouver musician Michael Red, who has provided live electronics for many of Tagaq's shows, went with her to Cambridge Bay recently to record such things as the crunch of snow underfoot, the Arctic wind and the howling of sled dogs.

The next record, she said, will be more diverse and more fun than Sinaa. That first disc was her "diary," she said, her compendium of everything she had felt and thought about in her vocal medium.

That's a telling image. Like so much in Tagaq's music, it implies that life, art and the body are all joined in a single flux of energy, that takes different forms and knows no boundaries, except those we choose to build in our own minds.

Tanya Tagaq performs with Kinnie Starr at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg tonight, at the Exchange in Regina tomorrow, at the Odeon Theatre in Saskatoon on Wednesday, at the Liberty Lounge in Calgary on Oct. 6, at the Myer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton on Oct. 7, at Capilano College in Vancouver on Oct. 8 and at the Central Bar and Grill in Victoria on Oct. 9.

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