Album of the Day: Jeremy Dutcher,“Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa”
By Catalina Maria Johnson · April 16, 2019 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl Box Set

Toronto-based Jeremy Dutcher, a member of the Tobique First Nation reserve in New Brunswick, is a vocalist and composer whose background includes studies as an operatic tenor, training as an ethnomusicologist, and an apprenticeship with Maggie Paul, a Passamaquoddy elder and song carrier. His stunning debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, is a breathtaking exploration of water-themed songs created by his people, the Wolastoqiyik—the People of the Beautiful River—which were originally recorded on 1907 wax cylinders and had languished, forgotten, and collecting dust in a museum collection. Paul recommended that Dutcher find the recordings, and he first began using them to learn the songs and practice his Wolastoq, a severely endangered language on the verge of extinction.

In the course of that process, Dutcher came to create lush compositions which are part pop, part opera, and part electronic sampling of his own elders’ recorded indigenous chants, voices, drums, and even elder Maggie Paul’s voice—all anchored in place by the composer’s soaring, velvety voice. The album has been released in the U.S. and Canada to great acclaim, garnering prestigious prizes such as Canada’s Polaris and Juno. (We present this review on the occasion of its U.K. release.)

Every detail on the album is carefully considered. The visuals of the front and back covers riff on an iconic 1916 photograph of a white female ethnographer collecting songs from Blackfoot chief Ninna-Stako. On the front cover of Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, Dutcher is seated in the position of the chief, being recorded, but the foreign ethnographer is absent. On the back, Dutcher replaces that researcher. And both images of Dutcher, very importantly, are set against the backdrop of Cree visual and performance artist Kent Monkman’s painting, titled “Teaching The Lost.” (In the painting, Monkman, as his alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, is inserted into a majestic “classic” Canadian landscape normally absent of indigenous peoples—lecturing in pink high heels.) As Dutcher puts it, every detail of the album, including its specific visuals, is important to creating space for himself and others as queer and indigenous artists.

Each song on Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is a lush gem in which the interplay between past and present brings to life Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik ancestors, as well as the beauty of their song. At the same time, the compositions place Dutcher at the forefront of indigenous artists who are wresting control of their own narrative—recording their own art, claiming presence in artistic, political and societal landscapes, and teaching the lost.

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