Music Notes – November 2014

Tanya Tagaq

Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq wins Polaris

Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq not only won the prestigious 2014 Polaris Prize on September 22nd for her album Animism, but she stole the show with a stunning performance. Inuit throat singing is usually performed by two women, but Tagaq, who grew up in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has taken it to the world over the past decade, collaborating along the way with artists like the Kronos Quartet and Icelandic singer Bjork. In her performance at the Polaris Awards she was joined by a talented group of musicians, including electric violinist Jesse Zubot, drummer Jean Martin, DJ Michael Reed, and the all-woman 24-voice Element Choir. The names of the 1200 Aboriginal women, murdered or missing since 1980, scrolled on the screen behind the singer, projecting a powerful political message. Introducing her at the awards ceremony, Vancouver musician and novelist Geoff Berner declared “there is no artist working today more emphatically herself, more incomparable than Tagaq”. View Tagaq’s Polaris performance on YouTube and judge for yourself. For more about Tanya Tagaq, as well as the complete text of Berner’s introduction, visit

Halifax baristas sing a union song

An upbeat musical video has been released to promote the drive to organize coffeehouse servers in Halifax. “Hey Baristas!” features a catchy doo-wop tune set in a coffee shop. Although reinforced by a few actor/musicians, the performers are mostly servers. They sing about their precarious and low-paid working conditions, and call for baristas to unite and join the union. Last year Halifax baristas at the Just Us! Coffeehouse, members of SEIU Local 2, negotiated a first contract. The agreement increased the number of full-time positions and added benefits, job security, better scheduling, and a cost-of-living clause. Now, workers at another coffee shop, Coburg Coffee House, have applied for certification, and there have been organizing drives at several Second Cup outlets. Increasingly, baristas are seeing their jobs as more permanent than temporary, and they’re seeking the respect and security in the workplace that a only a union can provide. Kudos to all involved in the video, including co-producer Margaret Anne McHugh, co-producer/composer/musician Mike Chandler, camera operator/photography director/editor Deedee Slye, director/writer Kevin Russell, and a cast of performers too numerous to list here. Look for Hey Baristas! on YouTube.

A Tribe Called Red cancels Rights Fest gig

Acclaimed First Nations electronic band A Tribe Called Red drew attention to the unacknowledged genocide of Aboriginal peoples when it withdrew from a scheduled September 20th performance at Rights Fest, the weekend long program of music, dance, and art, accompanying the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. In its statement the Juno Award winning band said that it was canceling because of “the museum’s misrepresentation and downplay of the genocide that was experienced by Indigenous people in Canada by refusing to name it genocide”. The museum issued a statement in response that called on the band to tour the museum so that they could see “the full breadth of exhibit content dedicated to Indigenous perspectives and issues”. Several other Aboriginal artists performed at Rights Fest but declared their full support of the band’s position. Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, in an interview prior to her concert, said that the museum’s directors still do not understand what the United Nations recognized in 1948: the forcible transfer of native children to residential schools is genocide. For more info:

Emily Yates: Iraq war vet songwriter

Since her return to civilian life, Iraq war veteran Emily Yates, who served a six-year stint in the U.S. Army as a military journalist, has taken up songwriting. The 32-year-old native of Syracuse, New York, is also an activist with Iraq Veterans Against the War (, and she’s emerging as an important voice in the anti-war movement, as well as a sardonic critic of American life. Her sharp wit and political satire can be experienced on two albums: I’ve Got Your Folksongs Right Here (2012) and Folk in Your Face (2014). Her songs can also be sampled online at YouTube. Look for such evocative titles as “Try Not to Be a Dick”, “I Don’t Want to Have a Baby”, and “Foreign Policy Folksong”. Best of all, check out the brilliant “Yellow Ribbon”, with its chorus “take that yellow ribbon off your car”. Here, accompanying herself on the banjo, Emily performs in front of a U.S. Armed Forces recruiting station. While her chops on the ukulele and banjo are so far pretty rudimentary, she gamely asserts that she’s on a quest for “eventual world domination” (including ukulele “superstardom”). One of her dreams is to form a band of U.S. Iraq war vet musicians and go back to Iraq to collaborate with local artists on a musical project. Emily Yates is a bold new voice who deserves a wider audience. For more info:

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