Photographs by Randall Vasquez.
“Thank you, Toronto. I hope it wasn’t too fucking weird for ya.” This was how experimental throat singer Tanya Tagaq ended her Panamania set an hour before The Roots arrived in Nathan Phillips Square. The most recent Polaris winner (for her album Animism) has attracted the attention of the wide masses ever since she beat out big names like Arcade Fire, Drake, Mac Demarco and more. She drew a big crowd from the beginning, and her set brought in even more people. Understandably, such a diverse performance was a bit too out there for some people as Tagaq had predicted. However, she apologized to the wrong people. Everyone who stayed (and there were many) was blown away and astonished by what may end up being a Panamania highlight.
If you ever want to experience the extent of what vocal chords can do, see Tanya Tagaq live. Aside from the practice of throat singing (which in itself is tiring), Tagaq hit the whistle register, growled like a metal vocalist, enacted various audible emotions (laughing hysterically, sobbing theatrically) and even mimicked animals (most notably the howling of a wolf for extended periods of time). She was backed by a choir, another throat singer disguised as an evil entity, a percussionist and a violinist. Tagaq collapsed onto the stage, shook frantically as her eyes rolled into the back of her head, paced around like a possessed child and more. There was a moment where this demonic dancer proceeded to sing into Tagaq’s groin as if she were performing fellatio on her.
It was a raw and humanistic experience. Tagaq didn’t stop for one second, and it was tiring seeing her go. When she wrapped up her art piece of a set, she seemed as energetic as an athlete that may as well have been a part of these games. She was a presentation of how far one can go vocally and mentally, and she displayed a classy representstion of perseverance. It won’t be soon enough that I can watch a set of hers again.
After Tagaq’s performance, there was dancing, DJing and even three slam poets. There wasn’t a second to relax, and the hype build up led nicely into the charismatic set The Roots ended up giving. For the next hour and a half, Toronto was graced by sheer talent, the love of music and the figurative roots of who we are as song afficionados. The Roots themselves are hugely into music, as can be seen by their array of influences every night with Jimmy Fallon. At Panamania, we heard a variety of covers ranging from Sweet Child of Mine to the Super Mario theme song. There were even Soulquarian tributes tossed in, including Eryka Badu and a throwback to the late producer J Dilla.
Yes, The Roots love music, but not as much as they loved being there. Every member marched and danced around the wide stage with the giddiest of smiles. Each member showed off their capabilities with blistering solos. Touring musician Mark Kelley started things off with a speed test on his bass that evolved into a funky slapping frenzy. Key member Questlove and his pal, percussionist Frank Knuckles, had a drum off as they competed with a drum pad that blurred all sorts of styles together (including a drum pad solo that involved it being played via chin and face). Blackthought and Captain Kirk Douglas kept it all together as they backed in and out of the set via rapping and singing (Douglas displayed his own flare via his guitar playing).
For the Pan Am games, The Roots were a great pick to represent the events as they bring both talent and diversity into one professional package. It was a fun set and one with pizazz. Tanya Tagaq may have show how far music can go, and The Roots replied by showing how far we have come with the artform, too. This was a great pairing within one evening, and it felt good to see how accomplished music can truly be.