Jeremy Dutcher Wins 2018 Polaris

It’s official: Jeremy Dutcher has won the 2018 Polaris Music Prize, becoming the fourth Indigenous artist in the past five years to take home the $50,000 award.

Dutcher’s debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, follows in the footsteps of Tanya Tagaq’s Animism (2014), Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Power in the Blood (2015) and Lido Pimienta’s La Papessa (2017). The project was recorded over the past five years and drew from archival wax cylinder recordings from the early 1900s. It is performed entirely in the endangered Wolostoq language.

“It is said that there are less than 500 speakers of the language left,” Dutcher told us during the recording process. “It’s at a really critical stage right now, and that’s why it’s 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.”

Widely considered one of the country’s most prestigious and coveted music awards, the Polaris is judged solely on artistic merit, without consideration for genre, sales or record label. Dutcher learned he had made the long list back in June, and then the short list (alongside fellow Indigenous nominees, Snotty Nose Rez Kids) in July.

“I was shocked,” he told us of the nomination. “So many amazing artists have been nominated and won this prize, and I certainly was not expecting to be counted among them as I release my first record. I also was very intentional about doing this album entirely in the Wolastoqey language, so that people are connecting with it outside of the community has been a really nice surprise.”

And while the relative newcomer’s win may have surprised some music fans, we were not among them. We knew from the moment Dutcher sat down to perform at the eighth edition of Aboriginal Music Program’s AMP Camp that we were in the presence of something special.

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.

While Dutcher didn’t learn of his big win until the end of last night’s Polaris gala in Toronto, his powerful performance earlier in the night ensured that his name was already trending by the time he accepted the prize from last year’s winner, Lido Pimienta.

“You are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance,” Dutcher said upon winning the award. “Are you ready to hear the truth that needs to be told? Are you ready to see the things that need to be seen?”

You can listen to Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa here.

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