There is something really amazing about a musical piece that can almost bring you to tears within the first minute of the first song, sung in a language you cannot understand. TAIMA, a duo including singer/song-writer Elisapie Isaac from Salluit and musician/composer Alain Auger of Abitibi managed to do just that in the second of two performances at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Taima is a well-used phrase among the Inuit. It means, loosely put, “enough already, lets move on.” The duo say it is also “the expression of visions that change according to the way you look at a person, an emotion, a culture or a place.” They see TAIMA as a bridge and a vision of a better tomorrow. TAIMA’s performance consists of Isaac and Auger, with three backup musicians on drums, bass and steel lap guitar. Their live performance is simple yet complex, much like the duo themselves.

Isaac was born of an Inuit mother and a non-native father, adopted by an Inuit family and grew up with the Inuit culture deeply ingrained. Interestingly, she has always maintained connections with her biological parents. It is her mixed background that has enabled her to cross over, to express the duality within her. She has always been interested in going beyond the boundaries and taking risks, and she went after it at an early age through communications, which is what brought her to Montreal.

It was only in 2000 that destiny introduced her to Auger. He was a professional guitarist who was interested in pushing the boundaries of music and soundscapes in the way music accentuates visuals and says so much without uttering a word. The two immediately knew that they connected on a musical level. They came out with an incredible self-titled debut album last year consisting of 11 songs that explore the relationships between men and women, between nations and between people and nature. They have been steadily performing ever since, including three performances at the prestigious Glastonbury Festival in England.

Their show is simple: no costumes, no grand elaborate props or decorations; the stage holds the four musicians and Isaac. The lights are something else though, playing a major part throughout the show. Together with the bare stage, the lights almost mimic the North, as if the light of the sun and moon are dancing and swirling all around, illuminating faces and realities.

The musicians are flawless. Together with the lyrics, they create realities that mix the past, the present and the future, transporting one to a place and time that is intangible on some levels, yet visible and audible and thus very tangible on others.

The songs and performance as a whole are testimony to the fact that you can take the girl out of the north but you can’t take the north out of the girl. Issac holds her heritage and culture closerthanthis to her chest and wears her emotions on her sleeve, while at the same time allowing certain hindering parts of the past to get left behind. While singing, she is in the zone where it is not simply about making music or putting on a good show, it’s about conveying emotions in words that most people won’t or don’t understand, often about a culture that many are not aware of beyond the common stereotypes. She sings in Inuktitut, French and English, switching with elegant ease.

Her voice is an interesting mix that combines little-girl innocence with mature anger, thoughtful calmness with stirring acceptance, a mixture of Niko and Margo Timmons yet always original. Isaac spins a web of audible mystery in the ears. Sure you may not know what she is saying half the time but it doesn’t matter, her body language tells you just as much. The emotions she lobs out sometimes tickle and are sometimes uncomfortable but always moving.

Isaac leaves no emotional stone unturned, challenging and inviting onlookers to feel with her. The songs include “So you say,” a rousing, forceful song that borders on anger about the demands people and nations make of each other and seems to be that point right before the phrase taima is uttered. “Inutuulunga” is about being alone to find the strength to take matters into your own hands. “Remaining for you” is a song of love from a woman to her father on the day he dies. “Hard to be,” another rocking song that was draining for both singer and observers with lyrics like, I wish I did not care/here I am back to reality/this rage has gotten to me/l wish I did not care. It’s about dealing with who you are.

While the performance was not for those looking to dance in the aisles, it was moving and as more than one observer put it, “haunting.” The audience sat in rapt attention from the start, exploding with rousing claps, whistles and shouts of appreciation as each song finished, with a standing ovation at the end. One could almost hear the shouts of bravo and encore as if we were at the opera.