Not enough, says Inuit reaction to American choir’s statement on throat-singing use

A debate on social media over the appropriation of Inuit throat singing—and the larger issue what constitutes of intellectual property—continues.

That’s despite an effort by the American vocal group Roomful of Teeth to diffuse a dispute over throat singing use earlier this week.

A statement they issued Tuesday did not have the desired effect on their Inuit critics who still accuse them of cultural appropriation.

“This statement smells of lip service and inaction,” said Tanya Tagaq, the award-winning Inuit performer, tweeting about the group’s Oct. 22 public statement.

Tagaq and other Inuit women, including filmmaker Althea Arnaquq-Baril, continued to post comments on Twitter, after they had read the group’s Oct. 22 response to their earlier criticism about the composition, Partita for 8 Voices.

In this composition, which has received Grammy and Pulitzer awards, throat singing, or katajjaq, can be heard.

They said the statement from Roomful of Teeth missed the point: that throat singing, which comes from a long oral tradition among Inuit women, belongs to Inuit as part of Inuit intellectual property rights, which the World Trade Organization defines as “the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds.”

Arnaquq Baril said on Twitter that while the statement from Roomful of Teeth contained some well-worded thoughts, it was “followed by zero commitment to stop performing one of the most famous and beautiful Inuit throat songs ever.”

In their statement, Brad Wells, artistic director, and Caroline Shaw, singer and composer, both from Roomful of Teeth, said they studied with master singers and teaching experts to learn new styles.

Some styles were specifically culturally-rooted, katajjaq, Tuvan throat singing, Korean p’ansori, and others were less so such as yodeling, belting, death metal singing, they said.

“In all cases, the intent is not for the Roomful of Teeth singers to become expert performers in any of these styles—or even to literally perform these styles in our music—but rather, in the process of learning to move the voice in widely different ways, to open up new sound possibilities as we build our repertoire,” they said.

In 2010, Roomful of Teeth invited (with compensation and travel, lodging and expenses covered, they said) Nunavik throat singers Evie Mark and Akinisie Sivuarapik to the group’s summer residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in Northampton, Mass.

In a performance program, the Nunavik throat singers were acknowledged as “vocal coaches.”

“We learned what we understood to be basic katajjaq techniques. We also learned about the genesis and purpose of these techniques and aspects of the Inuit culture,” Wells and Shaw said.

“As we began to construct music informed in part by our study, we included some katajjaq patterns (as we understood them.)”

They said they understood their music “nested in these patterns to be sufficiently distinct from katajjaq to constitute something new.”

“But thanks to the many voices we have heard in the past two weeks we understand that we cannot be the arbiters of that distinction. We have work to do,” they said.

And they promised various steps to recognize and support Inuit and other indigenous contributions.

But Tagaq said that wasn’t enough because the third movement of Partita for 8 Voices is entirely based on the Inuit throat singing piece, “the Love Song.”

“The Inuit who taught you that song are the composers of that section of your piece,” Tagaq said in a long thread on Twitter. “Intellectual Property is real. Do you understand this? Why are Indigenous songs reduced to mere gibberish and/or vocal techniques?”

Tagaq, said Roomful of Teeth didn’t cite any concrete ways their “teachers” would be compensated.

“I just would like to see people credited and paid. I want us as Inuit to be able to feed our babies and pay rent by having our songs known as what they are,” she said.

Tagaq remained critical, as well, about the Roomful of Teeth’s promise to acknowledge Inuit.

“So you will read aloud before every show that you are appropriating songs? Or will you just speak of Inuit being generous or give an anthropology class at the top of the show,” said Tagaq, who, like some other commenters online, suggested future proceeds from Partita for 8 Voices could go to a charity that focuses on helping Inuit artists.

You can read more in an updated story on Nunatsiaq News.

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Like an iceberg: reprise

Did you miss my Like an iceberg series on being a journalist in the Arctic during the 1990s?

It’s been five years since I started this Date with Siku girl blog, and I’m sure many have no idea this series which I wrapped up in the spring of 2013 exists.

In Like an iceberg, I talk about an exorcism, brain surgery with a hand drill, robins in Iqaluit and a visit to the High Arctic’s fossil forest — as well as some big issues like censorship of the press, sexual abuse and violence.

There are also many photos you won’t see anywhere else…

So, here are all the links — and relive those times with me.

Like an iceberg: on being a journalist in the Arctic

Like an iceberg, 1991…cont.

Like an iceberg, 1991…more

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Shots in the dark” 

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1993, “Learning the language of the snows”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Spring”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., more “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1994: “Seals and more”

Like an iceberg, 1994, cont., “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., more “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., “A place with four names”

Like an iceberg, 1995, “More sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “No place like Nome”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “Greenland”

Like an iceberg, 1995, cont. “Secrets”

Like an iceberg, 1996, “Hard Lessons”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “Working together”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, more “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, cont. “Choices” 

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, more “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq” cont.

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Qaggiq and hockey”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Brain surgery in POV”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont.: “Masks on an island”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Abusers on the pulpit”

Like an iceberg, 1998, “Bearing gifts”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “At the top of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “A bad week” 

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont.: more from “A bad week”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “Memories”

Like an iceberg, 1999, “The avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “An exorcism, followed by a penis cutting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., more on “the Avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Robins in the Arctic”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Fossil hunting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Where forests grew” 

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont.,”And then there was Nunavut”