Inuit Throat Singers visit Eiteljorg

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By Kerry Davis
Indianapolis, Indiana (NFIC) 3-09

The sound of mosquitoes filled the air in Indianapolis not too long ago when Charlotte Qamaniq and Kendra Tagoona (Inuit) visited the Eiteljorg Museum and demonstrated the traditional art of throat singing.

Also known as katajjaq, throat singing is a musical performance found only among the Inuit (though similar overtone singing can be found in Tibet, Mongolia and other places). Performers are generally women who sing duets as they stand facing each other.

One singer develops a short rhythmic pattern with brief intervals and the other fills the silence with another rhythmic pattern. The sounds produced by singers can be actual words or merely syllables created during exhalation.

When done years ago, the lips of the two singers almost touched, allowing each singer to use the other’s mouth cavity as a sound resonator. Inuit throat singing is sometimes accompanied by a rhythmic shuffling of feet.

Historically, throat singing was done by women while the men were gone hunting for periods of time.  Each song has a story behind it and many include sounds that imitate wildlife or other aspects of nature such as the wind.