Taima woos Quebeckers and Nunavimmiut alike

Elisapie Isaac braces for fame during southern Quebec concert tour


With a growing pile of industry nominations and awards for her recent CD, Taima, singer and songwriter Elisapie Isaac seems bound for even more national and international recognition.

Taima was nominated for a prestigious award from the Quebec music industry association, known as ADISQ, for the best Quebec recording in a language other than French – although it didn’t win at the ADISQ gala held earlier this week in Montreal.

But one thing is certain: as Taima continues to rise, the road to fame won’t be easy. Isaac’s enormous talent won’t be enough – she will also need to continue focusing her energy on every moment and opportunity along the way.

Last Saturday night, Taima – that is Isaac, her musical partner Alain Auger and their back-up band – performed at the 580-seat Centennial Theatre at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, one of the many dates the band is playing in Quebec this fall.

Performing in front of a crowd is supposed to look like fun, but it’s the result of hours of preparation. For Taima, this starts with a two-hour drive from Montreal, a set-up and sound test, and winds up in the dressing room, where at about 7:30 p.m., Isaac is brushing her teeth, just half an hour before the show.

There’s no gang of makeup artists, personal assistants or managers to help Isaac get herself ready for a show. She’s totally on her own as she applies makeup and chooses a top to wear.

Isaac is dressed simply, in blue jeans and a brown print shirt. Her hair has a stylish, new blunt cut that flatters Isaac’s features. She’s wearing an ivory and baleen bracelet from Alaska and an ivory necklace with a whale tail that looks Greenlandic. Where’s the sealskin bustier she’s been photographed in before? That was just for the launch of her CD, she explains.

While she dresses, Isaac warms up by singing scales into a small tape-recorder. This is something she says she recently started to do, because performing four times a week requires a voice that stays in shape.

Isaac paces back and forth as her scales go progressively higher and become stronger: mammamamamaaaa, she sings.

The band’s manager comes in and, so as not to disturb her concentration, he simply shows her his fist with a “10” on it, to show there’s just a few minutes left until show-time.

Even as she concentrates on the concert ahead, Isaac cracks a smile as she describes the welcome that Kuujjuamiut recently gave her and the band when they performed at the cultural centre in Kuujjuaq earlier this month.

“It was great! Everyone was so proud of me,” she says. “And there were people who wouldn’t usually come to hear my music, but they said ‘Rock on!'”

All too soon, it’s time for Isaac to move up to the artists’ green room where Auger and the three members of the band are sitting, having checked and adjusted their equipment.

Before they go on stage, Isaac, Auger and the band members hold hands in a circle: “Bon spectacle!” (let’s have a good show), they say.

The audience of about 250 is mainly francophone. Many have a past connection to Nunavik through their work. There’s a judge from the travelling court, a former social worker from Kuujjuaq and some familiar looking nurses.

Carl Pépin, who was with the Kativik Regional Police Force and is now an officer with police in the nearby city of Magog, comes to the show with his wife, Eva Papigatuk, who, like Isaac, is also from Salluit.

It’s a polite audience that listens attentively to Taima. Taima’s songs combine a variety of styles, reflecting a fusion of rock, pop, New Age music and jazz, and during the show, Isaac moves from one style to the next, one language to another, speaking in English, French and a bit of Inuttitut between the numbers.

Isaac’s patter is natural, spontaneous and unpolished – for now, anyway. That’s a rarity on any stage – and she charms everyone.

Isaac is clearly at home in French, a uniquely Quebec phenomenon because she’s a singer who is Québécois and Inuk. She doesn’t sell herself as an aboriginal performer, but as a singer and a person who is also an Inuk. It’s as if she’s saying, ‘enjoy listening to me because I am who I am.’ This stance brings strength and originality to Isaac’s stage presence.

In some songs, Isaac is soft, in others, she’s a belter. She often sounds stronger and even better in person than on the CD, a sign that Isaac’s first release wasn’t overproduced, and this makes it well-worth seeing her perform in person.

But the back-up band sometimes overwhelms her voice, and one of the most successful pieces in the entire show is one that features Isaac and Auger as a duo standing in a spotlight in the middle of the dark stage.

Among other songs, Taima performs “Les voyages,” a moving French-language poem Isaac wrote about her late father, “Inuusivunga” about spring and life, the plaintive “Nalligigumavagit,” that talks about desire, the sensual “Illunnut” meaning “into your flesh” and, as a second encore, after a standing ovation from the crowd, her very first song, “Sugami,” about the bittersweet emotion left after a break-up.

Then, this show ends as well, and after packing up its equipment, the band heads back to Montreal after another long day.

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