Since 2006, the annual Polaris Music Prize has recognized the best Canadian album of the year based on artistic merit without regard to genre, sales history or label affiliation.
In a ceremony last week, the 2018 Prize was awarded to Indigenous artist, Jeremy Dutcher for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Dutcher joins the ranks of an elite group of past winners including Feist, Tanya Tagaq, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Fresh off his win, Dutcher is back in the Lower Mainland with a concert at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre.
A member of New Brunswick’s Tobique First Nation, Dutcher first studied music in Halifax before moving onto work in the archives at the Canadian Museum of History, painstakingly transcribing songs in his nation’s traditional Wolastoq language from 1907 wax cylinders.
“Many of the songs I’d never heard before, because our musical tradition on the East Coast was suppressed by the Canadian Government’s Indian Act,” said Dutcher of his time working at the archives.
As Dutcher listened to the recordings, he soon found his own musical impulses stirring. Dutcher’s long days at the archives soon turned into long nights at the piano, as he explored his own voice in a deep dialogue with the voices of his ancestors.
The result was Dutcher’s debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Released in April, it has been met with critical acclaim and now the Polaris Music Prize as chosen by a jury of eleven music media professionals. Dutcher’s victory came with a $50,000 monetary reward.
“I’m doing this work because there’s only about a hundred Wolastoqey speakers left,” he says in a media release. “It’s crucial for us to make sure that we’re using our language and passing it on to the next generation. 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.”
Jeremy Dutcher performs songs from his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa at the Massey Theatre (735 Eighth Ave, New Westminster) on October 6. Visit masseytheatre.com for tickets and information.