by T. Patrick Carrabre ¦ January 10, 2019
I’m excited to get the new year off to a good start and what better way than with some excellent music. Jeremy Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa has been one of my regular Spotify go-to’s since it was released last spring. It’s a very unusual project and rightly took the music world by storm—winning the Polaris Prize in September. Jeremy is on tour for the album this year and I am looking forward to meeting him when he does a show here in Brandon on March 5th.
Jeremy’s practice is informed by a rich confluence of traditions and skills. He has training as a classical vocalist, he’s also done anthropological fieldwork and he has become a champion for indigenous language retention. Taking about five years to complete, this album is rooted in archival recordings that were made in Jeremy’s home community, the Tobique First Nation, in 1907. The Indian Act aggressively suppressed indigenous cultural traditions and there was a move by anthropologists to document native cultures as they disappeared. Today, there are fewer than 100 speakers of the Wolastoqey language.
Using these more or less forgotten recordings as a jumping off point, Jeremy has re-imagined these traditional songs in a contemporary context. The material has many layers, with samples from the original recordings lovingly threaded around Jeremy’s vocal and piano performances, some lush string arrangements and Bufflo’s electronic production work. Fragments of conversations with elder and song carrier Maggie Paul are also sprinkled throughout.
Although Jeremy doesn’t convert any of the speech inflections into pitch material, his use of recorded conversations reminds me of Steve Reich’s Different Trains and Charles Spearin’s 2010 Juno-winning album The Happiness Project. In all three cases, the spoken material serves to anchor us to real people and real situations. They provide powerful punctuation points that enrich the purely musical material.
To put this into a broader musicological context, 1907 is around the same time that Bartók and Kodály were recording the authentic folk music of Hungary. The vitality of those traditions, which were more or less unknown in urban centres, became a major source of inspiration for these two composers—opening up new sound worlds that deeply impacted their own compositions.
It’s taken over a century, but these wax cylinder recordings of Wolastoqiyik people singing traditional songs have inspired Jeremy Dutcher in much the same way. When he won the Polaris Prize, Jeremy’s acceptance speech included the following statement:
“I do this work to honour those who have gone before and I lay the footprints for those yet to come. Canada, you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance. Are you ready to hear the truths that need to be told? Are you ready to see the things that need to be seen?”
Another of my go-to listening projects this past fall has been CBC Music’s Reclaimed, hosted by Jarrett Martineau. Surveying indigenous music from around the globe, the show has been a real inspiration for me as I contemplate my own recently discovered Métis heritage. Reclaimed features a range of genres, from Iskwé to Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Red and many lesser-known Canadian artists, as well as some very cool international material. Jeremy’s music has been featured a couple of times on the show, including this track, Oqiton:
I love the switch to 6/8 time about a minute and a half in. It allows Jeremy’s own feelings about interpreting these traditional songs to clearly shine through.
The process of Decolonization will be long, complicated and likely very difficult, but it will happen. And with such talented artists ready to share their vision with the world, I am starting 2019 off with hope!