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First Play: Tanya Tagaq, Retribution

Holly Gordon

Tanya Tagaq doesn’t appear on the first track of her new album.

Instead, on “Ajaaja” you hear the voice of Tagaq’s young daughter, Inuuja, before Inuk singer Ruben Komangapik recites a traditional Inuit naming song to the beat of a drum. With this track, Tagaq wanted to start the process of giving, laying the foundation for further album collaborations with Tuvan throat singer Radik Tulush and rapper Shad, as well as field recordings from her father and work by Christine Duncan and the Element Choir.

“I just wanted to give as much as I could,” says Tagaq. “And not in the hopes of receiving, but in the joy of giving. I know it sounds like f--king Christmas [laughs], I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about music.”

It’s maybe through Tagaq’s giving nature that she’s so effectively able to address what’s been taken. Retribution, her fifth and newest release, is, in her words, an album about rape — of women, of the land — while demanding justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as Indigenous peoples who’ve had their land and rights removed over centuries of abuse.

The album’s second track, also the title track, takes no half measures, beginning with a spoken-work piece Tagag wrote where she states, “Retribution will be swift ... we turn money into God/ and salivate over opportunities/ to crumple and crinkle our souls for that paper/ that gold./ Money has spent us.” It progresses into a rage-filled, throat-singing punk song, and there’s no question that Tagaq is looking for answers.

“My daughters and I are four times more likely to be murdered or have violent acts upon us,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’m OK with that; I don’t feel like you’re OK with that …. I don’t feel that anyone’s OK with that. So why not discuss it? Why not bring it out? Why not make it normal? … I just want equality. I want people to live an equal life, and I want safety for people. It’s not coming from anywhere else than that.

“So it’s pretty easy to address it and talk about it because people’s ears and hearts and minds are open. We have to utilize that.”

In addition to Retribution's nine new songs, Tagaq concludes the album with “Rape Me,” a Nirvana cover that she has altered to sing the first in-person verse repeatedly, swapping the word “rape” for “hate,” “kill” and “beat” each time. A slow, marching drum beat leads us to Tagaq’s sweetly sung lyrics, while she whispers “rape,” “kill,” “hate,” “beat” over and over in your ears. It’s a mind-numbing summing-up of what she has already spent an entire album: enough is enough.

“Considering missing and murdered Indigenous women; considering the Jian Ghomeshi case; watching Kesha go all through that legal battle; being honked at when I'm walking down the street with my kids. Just everything pointed to, ‘OK, you wanna make us uncomfortable? This is what it feels like,’” Tagaq says. “It’s the hurt that comes from what we're expected to endure on a day-to-day basis that isn't necessarily put on the male species.”

Listen to Retribution one week before its release, above, and pre-order it here.

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