Aboriginal Music Week at Lunch: Jeremy Dutcher

When we first met Jeremy Dutcher earlier this year, at the eighth edition of Aboriginal Music Program’s AMP Camp, we admittedly knew little of the Toronto-based composer/vocalist. But from the moment we saw him sit down at the piano and begin to perform, we knew he was an artist worth investigating.

With his powerful voice, confident delivery and commanding stage presence, the classically-trained operatic tenor has the unique ability to hold his listeners captive while transporting them to a different place, a different time, a different world. Fusing elements of his classical training, contemporary jazz and traditional Maliseet music, he truly fits the bill as a genre-bending artist, creating a sound that is both unparalleled and inimitable.

But don’t take our word for it …

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, we have the privilege of introducing Jeremy’s music to Winnipeg at a lunch-time concert atop the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The free, all-ages show will kick off Aboriginal Music Week’s four-part AMW at Lunch series.

We recently touched base with Jeremy, who’s excited to visit Winnipeg and share his music with a new audience. Here’s what he had to say.

Have you ever been to Winnipeg?

I spent three hours in Winnipeg last February. The highlight of my stay was a trip to the Giant Tiger on Donald Street. This will be my first time staying in Winnipeg and I couldn’t be more excited that it’s for AMW (Aboriginal Music Week).

How did you get involved with Aboriginal Music Week?

I was part of Aboriginal Music Program earlier this year and was able to share my music with the organizers of AMW … I guess they liked it and invited me back! So thrilled.

How did you get into music?

Music has always been a part of me. Song was part of what we did as a family. I grew up around the drum – my oldest brother was a part of the Muskrat Singers in New Brunswick, and hearing him chant was always so inspiring. My other brother was involved in theatre, and seeing him on stage is what pushed me to start singing.

Why classical?JeremyDutcher_AMW

I told my music teacher that I really wanted to get ‘serious’ about music –whatever that means. She started suggesting more classical repertoire, and I really fell in love with it. Particularly German Lieder – some really amazing stuff. I think why I so gravitated to this kind of music was the amazing use of melody. The classical music scenes can also be musically constricting and prescriptive, so I don’t really consider myself a classical musician, but no doubt it influences a lot of what I do.

You do a great job of blending contemporary music with traditional indigenous elements. How would you describe your sound?

A bit hard to pin down. I feel my sound is a compilation of all the musical worlds I was raised in. Chant music is obviously a big part of that, but informed by the classical and jazz world as well.

What effect do your Maliseet roots have on your creative process and your songwriting?

For me, culture and music is so interconnected. When I think about my creative process, it is often springing from a cultural encounter. Whether working with wax cylinders recordings or exploring phrases in Wolastoqey, so much of what I create stems from who I am as a Maliseet person.

I admittedly had no idea the Wolastoqey language was so endangered. Why is it so important for you to preserve it, and are you hopeful for the future?

I think many don’t understand that people of Wabanakiyik bore the brunt of Colonization, and the effects that over 500 years of assimilationist politics has had on our identity and culture is immense. It is said that there are less than 500 speakers of the language left. Just in my family we lost three language speakers last year. It is at a really critical stage right now, and that’s why it is really important for folks of my generation to start taking language reclamation seriously. When language is lost you’re not just losing words, you lose an entire way of thinking and moving through the world.

Do you prefer writing/composing or performing? Why?

Oy, the eternal question … really hard to choose. I love both for different reasons. The creative process requires a wonderful balance between chaotic improvising and meticulous arranging and editing. That said, I’ve always been a performer and nothing compares to when you’re putting your work out there and having people react to it in real-time.

What can people expect from a Jeremy Dutcher performance?

I try to show people something they’ve never seen before – hearing classical music sung in an indigenous language or interpreting chants through a classical voice. The songs I play vary from show to show, so sometimes you’ll hear jazz standards, other times German art song, or chant music. I try hard to contextualize what I do within wider conversations in the communities that I move through.

I think indigenous artists have few opportunities to come together like this and showcase collectively. We’re all working in such diverse styles and genre, that to come together is really exciting. I think it also showcases, to a wider public, the range and innovativeness of music made by indigenous people in Canada.

Who are some of the other artists you look forward to seeing during Ab Music Week?

The whole lineup is fantastic this year and full of eclectic musicians. A few artists I’ve yet to see perform that I look forward to catching are David Morin, Boogat and Frank Yamma – all have really unique voices and something to say with it.

How is your album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Maliseet Songs) coming along, and what else is on the horizon?

Something I’ve realized since starting work on Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is that working with Maliseet song will really be a lifetime commitment – both exciting and daunting. It has made me think more broadly about the responsibility of doing this work for my people, and I really want to do it right – so I’m taking my time. I’ll have a release in 2017, likely. In the meantime, I’m happy to announce a collaboration with Winnipeg-based choir Camerata Nova. They’re doing a program called Taken in their 2017 season and have commissioned me to write a piece for their choir. This will be my first crack at writing choral music and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m really excited for my first Winnipeg audience and I hope people come out and support this awesome festival.

Stay tuned for our Q & A with Australian singer/songwriter Frank Yamma, who will perform on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

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