Whenever Jeremy Dutcher sings, he channels the voices of his First Nations ancestors.
Thanks to his ancestors, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter has launched a music career and helped revitalize a language that nearly vanished.
Dutcher, 28, will perform Oct. 26 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. His debut album, “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa,” won two of Canada’s most prestigious music awards: the 2018 Polaris Music Prize, which is Canada’s best full-length album award, and the 2019 Juno Award for Indigenous Album of the Year.
The record fuses opera, jazz and indie pop with traditional chants from Dutcher’s Maliseet heritage. The award-winning album has led to nearly non-stop tours around the world.
Dutcher was born and raised in Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, near the border of Maine, where his people’s music, language and history were fading from memory.
But their culture was preserved in the Canadian Museum of History archives through songs recorded onto wax phonographic cylinders more than a century ago. Dutcher, a classically trained operatic tenor, composer and pianist, borrowed their melodies and words as the foundation for “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa.”
“I instantly knew they were of great value,” Dutcher said. “This whole project was about ensuring my community knew this archive existed. I try to weave their stories throughout the record.”
Dutcher says the 11-track album reimagines the songs of his ancestors through a contemporary lens.
He said he hopes the album is a tool for cultural reclamation. Dutcher sings solely in the Wolastoq language — which fewer than 100 people still speak — as a way to stay true to the source material, but also push back against linguicide caused by colonization and cultural appropriation.
The Indian Act of 1876, controversial Canadian legislation, imposed harsh restrictions on indigenous peoples. It remains law — but has been greatly revised
Dutcher’s mother was punished at 6 years old for speaking Wolastoq in a boarding school at a time when the act forbid it.
And while Dutcher was transcribing the recordings, he heard conversations revolving around keeping traditions strong despite negative influences.
Dutcher tries to contextualize what he’s singing about whenever possible, but he mostly hopes the power and emotion in his voice conveys their message.
“Coming from the world of classical music, people go to operas and most of them don’t speak the language they’re going to see,” he said. “They go to show to be moved by the sounds and the story.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, email@example.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Jeremy Dutcher will perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds. Tickets are $19-$44. Call 425-275-9595 or go to www.ec4arts.org for more information.