Published in the Fall 2007 issue • Arts Profile
Spoken word artist Taqralik Partridge raps on why Inuit women fill her with awe
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Partridge has been writing all her life, but after she heard spoken-word artist Ian Kamau perform on K-OS’s track “Papercuts,” she finally had a name for what she wanted to do. “I heard this guy come on doing something that was sort of like rap, but not, and it totally seized me,” she says. “I Googled him and found out it was called spoken word, and I knew that was something I wanted to do.” Since then, Partridge has performed for a range of audiences. Sometimes she takes the stage with a DJ or her newly formed band, Descendants. Sometimes it’s just her subterranean voice and a microphone.
Spoken word — the style of performance poetry where the rhythm of the piece carries the words — is associated with beatnik cafés, not remote settlements with teenagers in pickup trucks hanging out in parking lots. Even hip-hop was entirely foreign to kids who, like Partridge, grew up in rural northern villages. “In the north, before the Internet, we didn’t have access to that kind of music. I didn’t grow up listening to hip-hop — I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and Iron Maiden,” she laughs. But Partridge makes the style work for her, negotiating the rocky terrain of rhythm and words. It would be a stretch to call her an MC — her pieces are slower, more lyrical and less beat-oriented. But she credits positive hip-hop for her inspiration. “The whole idea of people being downtrodden and having to get up and do something with themselves really appeals to me,” she says.
Writers often talk about the importance of listening to their inner voice. Sometimes, though, writing is more about getting that voice to shut up and let you work. “I was so worried for a long time about writing about where I come from,” Partridge says. “First of all, I thought that I didn’t have much to say or that I wasn’t the right person to say it; all these excuses of why I wouldn’t be good enough.” As a teenager, she wrote self-described bad poetry, the memory of which makes her shudder audibly over the phone. She was just an ordinary kid from Kuujjuak with everyday worries and hopes. But what she calls “an unstoppable urge to write” finally made her confront her demons and start producing serious work.
Partridge doesn’t shrink from heavy subjects like sexual abuse, violence or poverty. To her, they’re as much a part of reality as rush-hour traffic and big mitts in winter, and just as important to talk about. But sometimes the line between the personal and the universal gets blurry. “At first when I was writing I thought, ‘I’ll never show this to Inuit, because someone’s going to think it’s about her,’” she says. Partridge’s stories don’t plaster over the grittier side of the life she knows, and they don’t romanticize or pity their subjects. “I see Inuit women who are professionals, who have big fancy jobs,” she explains, “and then others who have social problems, or they’re dirt poor, but they’re good storytellers. It’s just a big mess that I love. It doesn’t really matter what her social status is or what successes she’s had, materially. I’m just totally in awe of Inuit women.”
You can hear Partridge’s work at www.myspace.com/taqralikpartridge..
Anna Leventhal lives in Montreal, where she hosts a radio show (Venus on CKUT 90.3 FM) and runs a zine library (Bibliograph/e). She is a seasoned contributor to Shameless.