British Columbia·Audio

Polaris prize nominee uses original recordings of ancestors singing for new album

Polaris-nominated album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa was sung entirely in the Wolastoqey language using original wax cylinder recordings.

Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa was made using wax cylinder recordings from early 1900s

Jeremy Dutcher's new album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa has been nominated for a Polaris music prize. (Matt Barnes)

An Indigenous opera singer is bringing back his community's traditions and songs, locked away in archives for more than a century, by singing duets with his ancestors.

New Brunswick singer Jeremy Dutcher has had his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa long listed for a Polaris Prize — a music award annually given to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit.

Wednesday will see Dutcher perform music from the album at Vancouver's Queer Arts Festival.

"It's all been a lot," said Dutcher, speaking to the Polaris nomination and the album's success.

Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa — translated as "Songs of the River People" — is sung entirely in Wolastoqey, a language fewer than 100 people speak.

Dutcher is a Song Carrier from the Wolastoq Nation, which means he strives to revive the nation's traditional songs. He does that with his album by literally singing alongside his directly-related ancestors.

The classically-trained tenor used wax cylinder recordings of his ancestors singing in the early 1900s, which had been locked away in the national archive for decades.

"Not many people know about these cylinders," said Dutcher. "I didn't know anything about them until I was told by an elder of mine."

"She said 'if you want to know about our old songs, you need to go to the archive and see what's there.'"

After weeks in Ottawa digging through the archive, Dutcher found the songs — recorded at a time when it was illegal, due to the potlatch ban, for many Indigenous people to share their culture.

Dutcher also found old photographs and written stories concerning the Wolastoq Nation.

"There was a wealth of knowledge that's been disconnected from the community," he said.

"That was the problem. I really wanted to answer with this album to connect that circle again."

That the recordings still exist and are now being celebrated is a testament to the resilience of the Wolastoq Nation, he said.

By juxtaposing the old songs with Dutcher's contemporary singing, the album is meant to highlight issues facing Indigenous people, such as water rights and language loss.

Dutcher performs at the Roundhouse Community Centre, June 27 at 7 p.m.

With files from The Early Edition

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