09. April 2006

Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche

Katajjaq & Txalaparta (The songs of the Inuit women from Nunavut)

In change of the originally planned programme.
Following the unexpected cancellation by Tanya Tagaq Gilles at short notice, we are pleased to be able to offer the visitors to Imago Dei a particularly attractive alternative.

Sylvia Cloutier and Akinisie Sivuarapik (katajjaq)
Ttukunak: Maika and Sara Gómez (txalaparta)

At times, when nature still was inhabited by demons and ghosts and people tried to banish the adverse conditions of their environment with rites, for which women were often responsible, musical forms of expression emerged that have been maintained up to the present day through centuries-old traditions.

In the coldest part of the earth, where a feeling of community had to be developed for an individual to survive, the Inuit created a singing technique, a play on sounds and rhythms as a competition in throat-singing by handing down the observations of their natural surroundings necessary for survival and turning them into acoustic images.

At the other end of the world, in the Basque region, the great distances made it necessary for people to find a way of communicating with each other. Their instrument was the txalaparta; the banging of two wooden boards against each other penetrated the valleys and gorges and became a means of communication by coding content in rhythmic messages.

Where we would say "Let us see what we can hear", the Inuit would say "Let us hear what we can see" – whereas the Basques in their turn would prefer: "Let us hear what we shall see".

Now for the first time these different world views confront each other. The txalapartaris and katajjait revive archaic sound pictures. Whether these opposing traditions can meet and reach an understanding, the evening with katajjak and txalaparte will reveal.


In the time of the Roman Empire the txalaparta was used as a means of communication over great distances in the sparsely populated mountain areas – a direct legacy of the shepherds who used those wooden boards in previous centuries for passing messages between different farms or while tending their herds in the mountains. Rhythms were beaten out on trunks or stones to alert the countryside to battles, celebrations, funerals or the making of Sidra (cider), which had been produced with the aid of these boards. In the course of time rhythm and percussion technique were refined and noise became music. The txalaparta are wooden boards of cherry, chestnut or alder wood, 2 metres long, 20 cm broad and 2 to 7 cm thick, at the ends supported by rough wooden racks or baskets filled with grains. Two players, the txalapartaris (or jotzaileak) face each other holding a wooden stick about 4 cm thick (makilak) in each hand, with which they beat the boards in various rhythmic patterns.

Ttukunak, the twins Maika and Sara Gómez, are two of the best txalapartaris. They try to revive the ancient Basque roots and enrich the original rhythms with innovative variations and improvisations.

Katajjait –Inuit throat-singing

Beside Venus, Sedna is the second planet of our solar system named after a goddess. Discovered 2003, what is probably the tenth planet is named after the Inuit goddess of the sea, with whose myth the origin of the katajjaq is connected: some Inuit think that katajjaq is the language of the tunnituarruit, those half human, half bird beings from the time when humans and animals spoke the same language. At that time, Sedna, the vain daughter of a hunter, was married by her father to a tunnituarruit who resembled a raven. While attempting to escape she drowned in the sea, and her frozen limbs became seals and whales.

Animism (a religious faith of indigenous peoples that assumes that personalised or hypernational beings or souls inhabit objects and animate beings) and shamanism have long influenced the life of the Inuit in Canada. The katajjaq, a particular style of throat-singing, is also part of their tradition. Two women face each other and create various sound combinations with their throats or by unvoiced inhalation and exhalation. Rhythm, tempo and timbre create traditional vocal motifs often merging in unexpected variations into stereophonic effects – thus producing acoustic images describing the environment of the Inuit. Katajjaq is a game, almost a sport, the end of which is never predictable; the winner of the competition is the singer who does not run out of breath, the loser the one who cannot keep the pace or just starts to laugh.

Throat-singing is typical of the Inuit groups in the Central Arctic (Netsilik Inuit, Igloolik, Inuit Caribou Inuit) and in the Eastern Arctic (southern Baffin Island, Labrador, northern Quebec). Outside the Inuit region, a similar virtuosity is found among some Siberian peoples (Tuva, Mongolians, Kazakhs, Ukagirs) as well as among Tibetan monks and the Ainu, the original inhabitants of Japan.

Sylvia Cloutier and Akinisie Sivuarapik are internationally renowned throat-singers. The two Inuit women come from Iqualuit, the capital of the Nunavut Territory, founded in 1920 as the commercial centre of the Hudson Bay Company. Here a particular musical form of expression has been preserved: the katajjaq. Whereas the katajjait were once forbidden by missionaries, they are now even taught in school. They are the audible evidence of a regained cultural identity and of the maintenance of the cultural heritage of the Inuit.

© Inuits

© Inuits