Monday, August 19, 2013

Tourists (and Tagaq)

Nothing happens in a small town that goes unnoticed.  One night, four Sea-doos with bright headlights pulled into the harbour of the bay, accompanied by a larger motor boat.  We all watched from our living room windows and discussed who they could be, and what they were doing.

I heard several stories stories:

1. Someone had found a human skull and now the police were bringing it back to investigate.

2. Whalers.

3. Invaders. (Space invaders?)

4. They were adventurers going through the Northwest Passage by sea-doos, traveling from Inuvik to Greenland then Iceland and then on to London, England.

5. They are Americans filming a show called Dangerous Waters, having arrived here from their last stop in Kugluktuk.

The correct answer for these particular arrivals were #5. As a side note, Dangerous Waters, pshaw.  I go kayaking in these waters all the time, and I don't use a motorized vehicle to travel.  If they think this is dangerous, wait till they come across that swimming grizzly bear no one's caught yet. Personally, I liked the human head story better.

Elements of most of these guesses end up being true to some extent or another though. The Coast Guard was docked in the Bay, perhaps investigating the human skull. There was also a film crew in town who wanted to shoot a bar scene - I guess they were stuck with the Elks, which is the closest thing to a bar. At a party, I met Swedish sailors were were sailing a sailboat through the Northwest Passage from Alaska to Greenland.  One of them looked like the exact replica of Mr. Clean, down to the bald head, white eyebrows and earring.  He claimed to be a sailor but I'm pretty sure they were pirates.

The truth is, it's tourist season and there are a lot of visitors in town. That's right, Cambridge Bay is a popular tourist destination. For those with adventurous spirits, bird-watching tendancies, or a passion for exploring typical Arctic communities, Ikaluktutiak is a pretty great spot. As a result, we're a popular stop for cruise ships making their way through the Arctic.

The local businessfolks go through a lot of work to make sure the cruise ship tourists have a good time when they stop here for the day.  The artists sell their craftwork and carvings at the Artisan Market, Inuit guides hire themselves out to take tourists out on the land and show them around, and the town even organizes Arctic games and sports that the tourists can watch.  I've played the tourist for so long that it's kind of neat to watch it all from the other side of things.  Watching the tourists wander down the streets in fascination, taking photos of random things like the ATVs, trucks, and me (does this mean I look like a local?).

This week the MV Bremen was in town, making their way through the Arctic Ocean from Germany. It was pretty amusing to watch the grey-haired Germans with matching coats walk around, asking where they could find the closest grocery store so they can snap photos here.  They were all wearing coats and snowpants that made me want to sweat just looking at them, because, you know, it's summer for us here right now.

The town put on for them a cultural show, showcasing artwork and Inuit fashions.  I stepped out of work to catch some of it.
traditional hunting outfit for the fashion show


Inuit throat singers

The German tourists looked a little nervous at the bannock that the volunteers were passing around as free samples.  Little did they know that these free samples weren't anything terribly exotic like raw beluga, but just fried dough...originally brought to the Inuit from Europe.

a video of traditional Inuit throat singing!

I love this middle piece by Tanya Tagaq

My favourite portion of the evening was the headlining performance of Tagaq, which came as a big surprise for me.  Tanya Tagaq Gillis is a well-known musician that has recorded and performed with Bjork, one of my favourite musicians.  She's also on the theme song for the CBC TV show Arctic Air.  I knew she's from Cambridge Bay originally, but it just seemed surprising and unusual that she was here now, in her hometown, performing in front of a bunch of mostly elderly German tourists.

As Tanya explained to her audience, her music is not traditional, but is all about being Inuit now, in the present day.  Her music therefore contains elements of throat singing, but it's also different, evolved in the way that music does develop over time. I have really enjoyed her music for a while now, but this performance really took me by surprise.

Tanya performed with a violinist who had his instrument electrified through an amplifier. The result was a haunting avant-garde performance with an electroacoustic style,  Tanya's vocals providing both a fluid rhythm and context that rippled against the violin, which was at times a counter-melody and at other times ambience. I loved it. I didn't know if everyone else appreciated it as much as I did, but I was enthralled.

you gotta hear it for yourself

It reminded me of this one time in high school where all the arts departments held an art night, displaying paintings. performing plays, and playing music.  My musical partner and I performed an installation in the lobby.   Our performance consisted of my playing repeating riffs on a piano while my musical partner provided ambient sounds on an ARP, a really amazing vintage 1970s analog synthesizer that my school had kicking around for some reason. We took ourselves to be pretty avant-garde because we were listening to a lot of Steve Reich at the time.  I guess the janitor didn't really care for it through, because he started vacuuming in the middle of our performance.  He didn't realize that this was an exhibit; he thought we were just goofing around. Oh well, sometimes a true artist is just not fully appreciated at home.