Sunday, January 29, 2012


Jennie Williams and Nathalie Frost
24" x 12". oil on wood, 2012
Jennie Williams and Nathalie Frost are Inuit girls from somewhere in Canada's sub-arctic region. In the image above they are engaged in a game of throat singing or katajjaq as they call it locally. A katajjaq is always performed by two females, any age, who stand very close together, much closer even than in the painting above.  (I opened up the space between the two singers in the painting only for the sake of the design—it just looked better that way.) They then sing until one of the women skips a beat or starts to laugh. The other is then the winner and she will take on the next singer. The songs they sing are rhythmic throat sounds mimicking sounds of nature or of everyday life, all improvised. Sometimes, but not often, the songs have words in them.
Jennie and Nathalie seem very different from all the other characters that occupy the paintings in the Top 100 series. They're not stars, not exotic, or icons, or historical figures, (they may consider themselves not even musicians—katajjaq is a game, not an art), they're just regular people (hence my use of their first names) and they probably look like someone you know. They could be neighbors who play soccer in High School, who you run into in the mall, the kind of girls who you expect to have great careers when they grow up.

The katajjaq sound recording in the Top 100 list is anonymous, it is much older than the video Jennie and Nathalie posted of themselves on YouTube. Theirs is very nice too, for sure, they all are, the videos of throat singing Inuit pairs, they all could have been it. The tradition defies choosing between one performance or another, the one song is not better than the other. It's like preferring coffee served in blue cup above coffee from a red cup. Ironic it is that it's a competitive style of singing, it's about who wins the song. Ironic too is that I write about it in the context of my music ranking system. But it's really the style, the tradition itself that's in this year's list, a tradition exemplified by this one anonymous sound recording, and a painting of Nathalie Frost and Jennie Williams.

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