Vocalist Jeremy Dutcher, Polaris Prize Winner, Amplifies the Songs of His First Nation People

Nov 9, 2018

While the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have shaped the debate in the United States, our neighbor, Canada, is going through its own cultural awakening and moment of reckoning. Rising stars like Jeremy Dutcher are giving its mistreated indigenous population a voice through music.

 


Four of the last five recipients of the Polaris Prize, one of the highest honors bestowed on a contemporary Canadian musician, have gone to artists reclaiming their indigenous heritage. In the case of Dutcher, a self-taught pianist with classical vocal training, he’s revitalizing the music and traditions of his Wolastoqiyik people.

 

There are only 100 or so individuals who still speak the Wolastoq language, and so those cultural traditions are in danger of being lost forever. For the last five years, Dutcher has committed himself to bringing a spotlight to his ancestors, first by dusting off some folkloric field recordings made by anthropologist Jim Paul and others over a century ago.

 

Album art for Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa

Those crackling recordings provide the framework for Dutcher’s critically-acclaimed recording Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, an album that adopts his First Nation melodies and reimagines them in a contemporary setting. At his live performances, Dutcher actually plays samples from those archival recordings in the context of new arrangements, compositions written for his angelic voice, piano, and sometimes orchestra.

 

Although Dutcher doesn’t consider his music "jazz," per se, he sees some parallels. “It really cuts to the core of what we are calling jazz music," he says. "What Mingus, Monk and Miles understood was that jazz music was taking people music and letting it be free. What I think this record does is just that, taking the music of my people and my nation and freeing it, and letting it expand and live in a different way than it’s been traditionally heard.”

 

Jeremy Dutcher comes to Mundial Montreal, North America’s World Music Summit. He will perform in Montreal’s Le Gesù on Nov. 15.

 

Subscribe to The Checkout on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Assistant Producer: Anthony Nieves