Inuit throat singing

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Traditional throat singers

Inuit throat singing, or katajjaq, is a form of musical performance uniquely found among the Inuit. The traditional form consists of two women who sing duets in a close face-to-face formation with no instrumental accompaniment, in an entertaining contest to see who can outlast the other; however, one of the genre's most famous practitioners, Tanya Tagaq, performs as a solo artist. Several groups, including Tudjaat, The Jerry Cans, Quantum Tangle and Silla + Rise, also now blend traditional throat singing with mainstream musical genres such as pop, folk, rock and dance music.[1]

An analogous form called rekuhkara was once practiced among the Ainu of Hokkaidō, Japan.


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


Originally, katajjaq was a form of entertainment among Inuit women while men were away on hunting trips, and it was a regarded more as a type of vocal or breathing game in the Inuit culture rather than a form of music.[4][5]


Two women face each other usually in a standing position and holding each other's arms. Sometimes they will do some kind of dance movements while singing (e.g., balancing from right to left). 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. The sounds used include voiced sounds as well as unvoiced ones, both through inhalation or exhalation.[6] The first to run out of breath or be unable to maintain the pace of the other singer will start to laugh or simply stop and will thus be eliminated from the game. It generally lasts between one and three minutes. The winner is the singer who beats the largest number of people.[7][8][5]

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 is less common in present day. 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.[5]

The old woman who teaches the children [throat singing songs] corrects sloppy intonation of contours, poorly meshed phase displacements, and vague rhythms exactly like a Western vocal coach.[9][10]

Notable performers[edit]

Notable performers include Tanya Tagaq, who performs in a contemporary style, and The Jerry Cans, who incorporate throat singing by band member Nancy Mike as a musical and rhythmic element in a conventional folk rock sound and style. Traditional performers include Qaunak Mikkigak, Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merritt, as well as Alacie Tullaugaq and Lucy Amarualik who perform in the Katajjaq style.

Inuit throat singing in popular culture[edit]

  • John Metcalf's 1990 opera Tornrak features throat singing by the Inuit characters.
  • A scene of Inuit throat singing appears in the 1974 Timothy Bottoms film The White Dawn.
  • The 2003 film The Snow Walker contains a scene of Inuit throat singing.
  • The 2001 film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) has a scene with Inuit throat singing.
  • The 2007 film, Wristcutters: A Love Story, features a "mute" character named Nanuk who practices this style of throat singing.
  • A rather imaginative variation on throat singing is featured in the 2007 Dan Simmons novel, The Terror.
  • In a scene of The Simpsons Movie (2007), Homer Simpson is shown throat singing with an Inuit woman in order to have an epiphany.
  • Rick Mercer, in an episode of his self-hosted show Rick Mercer Report, attempted to throat sing with an Inuit woman when he visited the 2008 Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife.
  • An August 2008 an AT&T radio commercial references kadajjat/throat singing in reference to the speaker's roommate.
  • In 2005, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra recorded The Four Seasons Mosaic[11] CD and DVD documentary. A reinvention of Vivaldi's Four Seasons by Mychael Danna featuring Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Jeanne Lamon, violin; Aruna Narayan, sarangi; Wen Zhao, pipa and throat singers Aqsarniit (Sylvia Cloutier and June Shappa).
  • The electropop band Row of Cookies incorporated a sample of Inuit throat singing in their version of the song New Girl Now by Honeymoon Suite.
  • The British ITV documentary Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World features Billy Connolly in the Canadian Arctic. In the second episode, he visits a pair of women demonstrating the finer points of throat singing.[12]
  • The 2012 CBC TV drama series Arctic Air features a theme song written by Tim McCauley and performed by Tanya Tagaq, incorporating elements of traditional Inuit throat singing over a modern dance beat.[13]
  • A task in the seventh leg of the first season of The Amazing Race Canada required teams to listen to a traditional Inuit throat singing performance.
  • Tanya Tagaq won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize for her album Animism.[14]
  • The Inuktitut language children's program Anaana's Tent has featured performances of Inuit throat singing by Celina Kalluk as part of cultural education about Inuit traditions.
  • In November 2015, incoming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet were sworn in by the Governor General. A pair of eleven-year-old Inuit girls, Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre, performed throat singing at the ceremony.[8]
  • In January 2019, performers Eva Kaukai and Manon Chamberland premiered the short film Throat Singing in Kangirsuk (Katatjatuuk Kangirsumi) at the Sundance Film Festival.[15]


In 2014, Nunavik throat singing (katajjaniq) became the first cultural item to be given the intangible cultural heritage designation by the government of the province of Quebec, Canada.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Inuit pop, Algonquin rap, Innu reggae aim for mainstream". Agence France-Presse, 8 October 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d Iirngaaq, Nunavut Arctic College – Interviewing Inuit Elders, Glossary Archived 8 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1983), "The Rekkukara of the Ainu (Japan) and the Katajjaq of the Inuit (Canada) A Comparison", Le Monde de la musique, 25 (2): 33–44, JSTOR 43560906
  4. ^ Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987), "Musicologie générale et sémiologue", Translated by Carolyn Abbate, 1990 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press), ISBN 0-691-02714-5
  5. ^ a b c Deschênes, Bruno (1 March 2002). "Inuit Throat Singing". Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  6. ^ First Nations?.. Second Thoughts by Thomas Flanagan (2008) – 2nd ed. (ISBN 0773534431)
  7. ^ Music in Canada, capturing landscape and diversity by Elaine Keillor. Montreal McGill-Queen's University Press. (1939) (ISBN 0773531777)
  8. ^ a b "Inuit throatsingers steal the show at Justin Trudeau's swearing-in ceremony". CBC News, 4 November 2015.
  9. ^ Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1990) [1987], Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, p. 57, ISBN 978-0-691-09136-5
  10. ^ Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987), "Musicologie générale et sémiologue", Translated by Carolyn Abbate, 1990, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-02714-2
  11. ^ "" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "".[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Arctic Air Theme Song".
  14. ^ "Polaris Music Prize 2014: Tanya Tagaq wins $30K prize". CBC News, 22 September 2014.
  15. ^ T'cha Dunlevy, "Dunlevy: Throat-singing Nunavik teens are stars of Sundance". Montreal Gazette, January 31, 2019.

External links[edit]