Toronto-Based Singer/Composer Jeremy Dutcher Is Using His Music To Save His Language
Jeremy Dutcher is a Toronto-based performer, composer, and classically trained operatic tenor. He is also a member of the Wolastoq First Nation indigenous community and will release his debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonaw (Our Maliseets Songs), on April 6th, 2018. The album is a collection of "collaborative" compositions that blend Jeremy's ancestors archival recordings with both classic and contemporary influences. The result transcends musical boundaries: dramatic, infused with emotion and reverence for the songs of his home, sweeping piano solos and stunning vocals.
All of the songs are sung in the Maliseet language and there are less than 500 speakers of the language left in Canada. Jeremy feels strongly this album is an imperative tool to get younger generations engaged with and excited about Maliseet. "If you lose the language, you're not just losing words; you're losing an entire way of seeing and experiencing the world from a distinctly indigenous perspective."
Now 27 years old, Jeremy was studying music years ago in Halifax when he had an epiphany,
"I started to look into the canon of classical music for content that dealt with indigenous issues, or was written by indigenous people," he recalls, "and there's not too much....so I decided to find it myself"
Jeremy poured through archives at the Canadian Museum of History to painstakingly transcribe Wolastoq songs from 100 year old wax cylinder recordings. "Many of the songs I'd never heard before, because our musical tradition on the East Coast went underground." As a measure of the Canadian Government's Indian Act, all ceremonial songs and dances were banned in public for decades. Jeremy heard ancestral voices singing forgotten songs and stories that had been taken from the Wolastoqiyik generations ago.
"I started to listen to this amazing archive and understood at once that it was my responsibility to bring these back to the people," he explains, "and think about all the good things these songs could bring into our community if we start to sing them again. Song is just one part of a multifaceted project of reclamation of Wolastoqiyik identity."
For Jeremy, it was clear early on that this project would be about much more than just recovery. As he listened to each recording, he felt his own musical impulses stirring from deep within. Long days at the archives turned into long nights at the piano, feeling out melodies and phrases, deep in dialogue with the voices of his ancestors.
These "collaborative" compositions, collected together on his debut LP Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, are like nothing you've ever heard. Delicate, sublime vocal melodies ring out atop piano lines that cascade through a vibrant range of emotions. The anguish and joy of the past erupt fervently into the present through Jeremy's bold approach to composition and raw performances.
He's performed songs from Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa in small concerts and workshops, and on recent tours through Asia and Scandinavia, as well as on the cross-country New Constellations tour. In November 2017, he joined several promising artists and thinkers from indigenous communities on this tour across Canada, an exciting one-night showcase of new music and revolutionary ideas curated by RPM Records and The Basement Revue.
The tour was a natural fit for an advocate and experimenter like Jeremy. RPM Records also released Jeremy's first official music with Honor Song, a new interpretation of the Mi'kmaq' anthem written by George Paul.
Says Jeremy, "We need to be insistent and unapologetic in telling our story on our own terms."
JEREMY DUTCHER 2018 North American dates:
February 15-17: Folk Alliance, Kansas City
March 2: Forward Current Festival, Regina
April 10: Canadian Opera Company, Toronto
May 25: First Baptist Church, Ottawa
June 27: Queer Arts Festival, Vancouver