Nunavut throat boxer Nelson Tagoona performs with Regina Symphony

November 30, 2021
Nunavut throat boxer Nelson Tagoona performs with Regina Symphony

Growing up in Baker Lake, Nunavut, Nelson Tagoona dreamed he would one day perform with a symphony orchestra.

Then an aspiring guitar player, Tagoona heard a guitarist performing with a symphony and swore that he would be up there sharing the stage.

After years of work, Tagoona has finally got his wish. 

Now famous as a throat boxer, someone who combines hip-hop beatboxing with Inuit throat singing, Tagoona performed with the Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO) on Saturday.

“I find it truly inspirational that everything I wanted in music came true,” he said.

“I’m not only performing with an orchestra, I’m the centre of the orchestra.”

Since 2017, Tagoona has performed in Adizokan, a collaboration with Red Sky Performance and Métis composer Eliot Britton. The show premiered in Toronto and has since travelled to Mérida, Mexico.

The show is centred around Tagoona’s throat boxing and also includes electronic and symphony music, as well as traditional dancing and projections.

The ambitious production brought the RSO out of its comfort zone.

“It’s a big production with lots of moving parts,” said RSO music director Gordon Gerrard.

“It’s not normally what we do. All the visual aspects — it’s not a normal thing for us to add all these things.”

Gerrard is glad that he brought the production to Regina, and said the piece breaks stereotypes of what symphony orchestras can do.

“I think that music, for us, is a way to start conversations,” he said.

“My hope is that we present things that make people think about things they haven’t thought before.”

Throat boxing

While writing the piece, composer Eliot Britton gave Tagoona a laptop computer and some USB drives to record his throat boxing performances in his home in Nunavut. The two also spent hours on the phone together, with Tagoona throat boxing and talking about what the piece would sound like.

Tagoona is proud he was able to bring his take on an Indigenous art form to people who may have never heard it.

He said it’s important for more Indigenous artists to be showcased in this way.

“If we want to grow as a country, we’ve got to be more inclusive,” he said.

“I think they’re playing a very, very important role by including Indigenous people, and it might help others grow and change their view toward things.”

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