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Homegrown Plus: PIQSIQ Inuit-Style Throat Singing

Two women sing into microphones with a console in front of them.

PIQSIQ performing in their Homegrown concert video, November 2020.

It’s been a while since we posted a Homegrown Plus post! In this ongoing series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with PIQSIQ, an Inuit style throat singing duo who characterize their style as being “galvanized by darkness and haunting northern beauty.”

PIQSIQ is composed of sisters Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay. These talented performers come together to create a unique duo, performing ancient traditional songs along with new compositions. The two grew up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, with roots in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory. After years of hard work on their music, they have developed their own form, blending haunting melodies and otherworldly sounds. As PIQSIQ, they perform their songs with live improvisational looping, creating a dynamic audience experience that changes with every show.

The sisters perform both nationally and internationally, and also incorporate their music’s ethereal feel into recorded albums. By performing ancient traditional songs, mythological stories, and their own eerie compositions, they say they “endeavor to leave their listeners enthralled with the infinity of possible answers to the question ‘what is the meaning of life.'”

A piqsiq is a storm where the winds blow in a specific way, making it look like the snow is falling back up towards the sky. Being of blended backgrounds, Kayley and Tiffany have had to navigate strange cultural waters and have learned to embrace that journey.

The Embassy of Canada was proud to be a partner with the Library of Congress in supporting the Inuit concert performed by PIQSIQ. The group makes a great contribution to Canadian culture, and the Embassy of Canada hopes that you enjoy this performance, as do we at the American Folklife Center. In the player immediately below find the concert, then scroll down for the oral history!

Two women sing into microphones

PIQSIQ performing in their Homegrown concert video, November 2020.

In the Oral History, we spoke about the roots of the Inuit throat singing tradition, its suppression during the long period of colonialism and the struggle for Native rights, and changing attitudes toward Indigenous arts. We discussed their lives and careers as musicians and as Inuk people in Yellowknife living at a remove from the central hub of their community in Nunavut. And we touched on the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it is affecting music and culture in their part of the world.

Watch the interview in the player below:

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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