With a style perpetually galvanized by darkness and haunting northern beauty, sisters, Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay, come together to create Inuit style throat singing duo, PIQSIQ. Performing ancient traditional songs and eerie new compositions, they leave their listeners enthralled with the infinity of possible answers to the question “what is the meaning of life.”
With roots in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot and Kivalliq Regions, the sisters grew up in Yellowknife, NWT, where endless sunlight shines for two short summer months and deep, wintery darkness consumes the rest of the year. These environmental extremes had a huge impact on Tiffany and Kayley’s overall aesthetic and the pair have always engrossed themselves in creating soundtracks to life that reflect this natural phenomenon.
Kayley and Tiffany loved to practice throat singing during long trips out on the land, but keeping connected to their Inuit culture was challenging in Yellowknife where they did not always have access to the cultural teachings they craved. The sisters have often reminisced about the feelings they would get when receiving cassette tape parcels by mail sent from cousins living in Nunavut. Each tape a carefully recorded lesson containing precious, ancient throat songs delivered by brown, paper package. After years of forging hard won skill, they developed their own form blended with their love of haunting melodies and otherworldly sounds.
As the sisters approached adulthood they continued to learn about Inuit history and the abhorrent laws instituted by the Canadian Government under Colonization. They were devastated to discover how throat singing was regarded as an evil practice by the church, along with many other cultural Indigenous practices. By the 1960s, through shaming, banning and punishment by law in the forms of fines and detainment, 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. The sisters’ journey has culminated in a dynamic, modern expression that is born out of the ancient practice of a living, changing, growing culture of an incredibly resourceful people.
PIQSIQ’s name stems from the sisters’ shared feelings of confusion regarding their identities growing up. In Inuktut, a “piqsiq” is a type of storm where winds blow in a very specific way, making it look like the snow is falling back up towards the sky. Being children of blended backgrounds, born into two very different worlds, Kayley and Tiffany always felt they had to navigate strange cultural waters, but have learned to embrace the joys and challenges of mixed Indigeneity today. The sisters have found comfort in the thought that “two halves make a whole.” Whatever way it’s falling, snow is snow and true to their name, PIQSIQ is dedicated to mixing things up.
Kayley and Tiffany have performed many traditional style sets over the last two decades, and in more recent years have taken the dive into blending their style with new technology. Their live performances, in alignment with throat singing’s original form, take inspiration from the world around them combined with their own thoughts and feelings and an invitation to the audience to help steer the journey songs will take. Creating performances this way allows the audience to experience spontaneous compositions that are unique to each individual show.
As PIQSIQ, they perform improvisational looping live and have incorporated that haunting, ethereal feel into their debut album Altering the Timeline. The direction for the album sparked during a spontaneous jam session with Ruby Singh next to the Bow River at the Calgary Folk Music Festival in the summer of 2018. As the sisters throat sang, Ruby beat-boxed and with this first collaboration ideas began to flow. Two short months later the trio found their way back together and converged at Vancouver’s Afterlife Studio. It was here that they began putting together the sounds that would become Altering the Timeline.
PIQSIQ continues to perform both nationally and internationally. Kayley and Tiffany are excited for the magic to continue as they seek out new collaborations and further develop their entrancing style.