Throat-Boxing and Rap – How Music is Transforming Lives in the North

May 28, 2016

CALGARY, MAY 28 2016 — “I am sharing my words to show you, you’re special to the world. You mean something to everyone around you.” These words are from the song Broken Window by Nelson Tagoona. As a throat-boxer and rap artist, Tagoona’s words of hope are being listened to and are having an impact on the lives of youth in Canada’s North. 

Raj Singh of York University in Toronto is looking at how Hip Hop culture is empowering social change for Inuit youth in Nunavut and will be presenting the study at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary.

In particular, Singh is looking at the impact that Tagoona is having by combining traditional throat-singing with rap.  Throat-singing, unique to the Inuit, creates rhythm by controlling breathing and the passage of air through inhaling and exhaling.

Tagoona, who is from Baker Lake, Nunavut, taught himself to play guitar at age seven and started writing his own music at age 15. Through his music, he shares his experiences with suicide and his struggles with depression. Nunavut has the highest suicide rates in Canada and Tagoona lost his father and many friends to suicide.

But it is through connecting the tradition of throat-boxing to the experiences of youth today through rap that intergenerational healing can begin.

“There aren’t many outlets for youth, often in isolated and fly-in communities, to find ways to deal with what’s happening in their lives,” said Singh. “Children and youth sometimes find it difficult to connect with their heritage. Hip Hop is the most popular form of music in the North. And throat-signing is a way to connect the past with their lived experiences.”

It’s not surprising that throat signing has been paired with rap, a music that has its origins in disenfranchised communities. Tagoona, through his music, is creating a forum for communities to discuss the larger issues of intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools, substance abuse, violence, poverty, depression and suicide.

Broken Window continues with “When your vision is shattered, you can’t see clearly. But life will lift once again, life will lift for you… These are my own words, from my own heart, from my own pain.”

Through music, Inuit youth are expressing their own pain, their own lives and their identities.

Raj Sing will be presenting this research on May 29 at the 2016 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary. This presentation is called “Between Tradition and Innovation: Throat-boxing to Embody and Empower Social Change” and will take place at 4:15 pm at Murray Fraser - 160 at the University of Calgary.


About the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

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About the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences promotes research and teaching for the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. With a membership now comprising over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 91,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. The Federation organizes Canada’s largest academic gathering, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, bringing together more than 8,000 participants each year. For more information about the Federation, visit

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