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This is a public statement by Brad Wells, artistic director, and Caroline Shaw, singer and composer, both

of Roomful of Teeth. We would like to address issues that have been brought to our attention over the
past two weeks by several Inuit artists. ​The emotional and intellectual labor of shining light on these
issues should not have to be the sole responsibility of members of the Inuit community. We hear the
criticisms and are committed to addressing them.

We have learned that some of our music has offended several fellow artists, some of whom are custodians
of ​katajjaq​, the singing tradition of the Inuit people, and they are deeply concerned that we have:

● Failed to properly credit and adequately compensate our teachers (with whom we studied
katajjaq)
● Quoted an Inuit song without proper attribution
● Disrespected the Inuit culture by performing ​katajjaq​ as non-Inuit singers

Below we explain some immediate, concrete steps that we are taking in response to the criticisms and our
plans going forward.

Background

From our beginning in 2009 we have regularly studied with master singers and teaching experts in a wide
range of singing styles with which the singers in the group have no experience. Some styles are
specifically culturally rooted (​katajjaq, ​Tuvan throat singing, Korean ​p’ansori​, for example) and others
are less so (yodeling, belting, death metal singing). In all cases, the intent is ​not​ for the Roomful of Teeth
singers to become expert performers in any of these styles – or even to literally perform these styles in our
music – but rather, in the process of learning to move the voice in widely different ways, to open up new
sound possibilities as we build our repertoire.

In 2010, Roomful of Teeth invited – with compensation and travel, lodging and expenses covered – two
accomplished Inuit singers to our summer residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
We learned what we understood to be basic ​katajjaq ​techniques. We also learned about the genesis and
purpose of these techniques and aspects of the Inuit culture. As we began to construct music informed in
part by our study, we included some ​katajjaq​ patterns (as we understood them).

Over the past two weeks we have received multiple messages from members of the Inuit community
explaining that our singing in some passages comprises ​katajjaq​ and is, therefore, offensive. This was not
our intent. In fact, we understood our music nested in these patterns to be sufficiently distinct from
katajjaq ​to constitute something new. But thanks to the many voices we have heard in the past two weeks
we understand that we cannot be the arbiters of that distinction. We have work to do.

Next steps

As artists with deep respect for the Inuit musical tradition and who support recognition and valuation of
every artist and tradition, Roomful of Teeth will ​immediately d​ o the following:
● Credit our teachers and coaches more explicitly in public and in print
● Find opportunities to amplify and support performing artists of ​katajjaq​, and other indigenous
musicians with whom we work, in concrete and monetary ways
● Read aloud a source acknowledgment at the beginning of every Roomful of Teeth concert,
honoring explicitly named traditional cultures’ essential contributions to our music
● Be alert to and proactive about these important issues in all our future work
● Continue to listen to and learn from other members of the musical community, and take seriously
concerns such as those raised recently
● Explore new or alternate ways of performing our repertoire

Again, the work of illuminating these issues is not the responsibility of Indigenous artists alone, who are
often tasked with educating others about their own histories and cultural practices. We firmly believe in
the importance of broader conversations about the issues of cultural co-optation and artistic license, of
mutual recognition and understanding, of growth, of risk-taking, reconciliation, and repair. In the months
and years ahead, we will be a part of the discussion of how composers, new music ensembles, and
Roomful of Teeth in particular can support the important work of Indigenous resurgence.

Roomful of Teeth is dedicated to the celebration of vocal music and its endless capacity to express direct
and powerful emotions. Vulnerability, risk-taking, and a willingness to change have been central to our
work from the start. We are grateful for these opportunities to learn and grow in ways we might not have
anticipated but which we welcome.

Thank you again to the many voices who worked to bring these issues to our attention, especially Tanya
Tagaq.

Brad Wells Caroline Shaw


Founder and Artistic Director Singer and Composer