In the Inuktut language, a “piqsiq” is a type of snow storm where winds blow in a very specific way, making it look like the snow is falling back up towards the sky.
For sisters Inuksuk Mackay and Tiffany Ayalik, who make up the Inuit style throat singing duo PIQSIQ, the name is representative of their style – perpetually galvanized by darkness and haunting northern beauty.
The sisters, whose roots are in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot and Kivalliq Regions, grew up throat singing together in Yellowknife N.W.T., where keeping connected to their Inuit culture was challenging because they didn’t always have access to the cultural teachings they craved.
Ayalik and Mackay loved to practice throat singing during long trips out on the land, where endless sunlight shines for two short summer months and deep, wintery darkness consumes other months of the year.
These environmental extremes had a huge impact on Ayalik and Mackay’s overall style. The duo have always engrossed themselves in creating soundtracks to life that reflect these natural phenomenons.
“These ethereal, magical and other-worldly phenomenons are what we like to re-create in our music,” says Ayalik.
As the sisters approached adulthood and continued to learn about Inuit history, they discovered that by the 1960s, through shaming, banning and punishment by law, throat singing had all but gone extinct. This realization lead them to study throat singing not only as music, but as a radical, political act of decolonization and cultural revitalization.
PIQSIQ have performed many traditional style sets over the last two decades, and in more recent years have explored blending their style with new technology. Their live performances, in alignment with throat singing’s original form, take inspiration from the world around them. They combine this with their own thoughts and feelings and invite the audience to help steer the journey songs will take.
“Our singing is very improvisational, so no audience will hear the same show twice!” Mackay says.
Their journey has culminated with PIQSIQ emerging as a dynamic, modern expression born out of the ancient practice of a living, changing, growing culture of an incredibly resourceful people.
PIQSIQ continues to perform both nationally and internationally, and has recorded several albums , including Live From Christ Church Cathedral, which was created in response to the recent discovery of mass graves at residential schools.