POLITICS

An explanation of Inuit throat-singing

03/29/2015 10:00 EDT | Updated 05/29/2015 05:59 EDT
IQALUIT, Nunavut - Here are a few facts about Inuit throat-singing:

What is it: Originally a game between Inuit women when men were away hunting. Two women face each other and trade off short, sharp, rhythmic inhalations and exhalations and sounds. The winner is the one who keeps it up the longest.

How it works: The leader starts chanting a syllable, word or name, leaving a gap for her partner to respond. The meaningless syllables generally portray sounds of nature, cries of animals or birds or sounds of everyday life. The two singers trade off introducing sounds and rhythms until one gets tired or can't keep up. Many throat-singers now perform solo.

Technique: Pitch is not an element, although accurate production of sounds and rhythm is crucial.Good breathing technique is required. Some learn a form of circular breathing, which allows a performer to breathe in through the nose while exhaling through the mouth.

Who does it: Canadian Inuit, the Tuva people of Mongolia, the South African Xhosa, Russian Chukchi, Ainu of northern Japan.

Where to hear it: Once banned by Christian missionaries, throat-singing is enjoying a comeback. Numerous examples are posted on the web. Canadian singer Tanya Tagaq uses it extensively in her own albums and on her collaboration with Icelandic singer Bjork. Nelson Tagoona combines throat-singing and beat-boxing, derived from hip-hop. Throat-singing appears occasionally in popular culture, from "The Simpsons Movie" to the theme music for the CBC-TV series "Arctic Air."