Jeremy Dutcher brings music to the North

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In an effort to showcase more art to smaller communities in the North, Jeremy Dutcher, a composer and vocal artist from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, teamed up with the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife to add cities such as Inuvik and its neighbouring towns to his touring list.

Jeremy Dutcher, a composer and vocal artist from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, played his first show in Inuvik on Feb. 2 at the Our Lady of Victory Church. Aaron Hemens/NNSL Photo
Jeremy Dutcher, a composer and vocal artist from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, played his first show in Inuvik on Feb. 2 at the Our Lady of Victory Church. Aaron Hemens/NNSL Photo

“It’s my first time in this part of the world, this far north. I come from the east coast and live in Toronto now,” Dutcher said. “I’ve played in Yellowknife once, but to come up to Inuvik is kind of like a dream to me. I’m so excited to come and share some music.”

Prior to his show in Inuvik on Feb. 2, Dutcher was in Norman Wells on Jan. 31. Other stops include Fort Smith on Feb. 5, Fort Simpson on Feb. 7, and Hay River on Feb. 9.

“This will be my first time visiting these towns. Just getting to meet people in the community and see what’s going on up there,” he said. “I’m excited to chat with people and share some music, and hopefully get some back too.”

While seeing the Northern Lights was high on his list of things to do while in Inuvik, Dutcher said that he also wanted to go and meet people around town, especially younger folks, who he said give him the energy to keep doing what he does.

“I’m always having these kinds of conversations talking about the importance of keeping our language strong and carrying on these old songs and old ways,” he said. “People like doing this kind of work from coast-to-coast-to-coast, and it’s always cool to go to a different part and connect with the ones locally who are doing that.”

According to Dutcher, there are less than 100 fluent speakers of the Wolastoq language left in his nation, so he said that he wants to preserve the language through music and influence other Indigenous artists to do so.

“The visit is so brief, so for me it’s about what I can offer,” he said. “My hope is to encourage young people, and sharing music from my nation will encourage people to keep singing songs and let them know how important music is and the kinds of things that are happening in my territory.”

Dutcher’s debut album, titled “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa”, was released last year and is written and performed in his Wolastoq language. The album, which earned him the 2018 Polaris Music Prize, consists of melodies based on old traditional songs from his Wolastoq community.

“It started as a research project. My Elder, I was chatting with her, she told me to go to the Canadian Museum of History and check out the old songs there,” he said. “They had a bunch of wax cylinders at the museum, about a hundred years old. I went there and heard the melodies and decided to write an album on what I was hearing around these songs.”

In terms of what he’s looking forward to the most during his trip in the North, Dutcher said that he wants a sense of how people live in this part of the nation, especially in conditions that some would consider harsh.

“I think understanding the people there is going to be about understanding how to inhabit it in a time like February, when I’ll be trying to get around the region,” he said. “Hopefully I learn some lessons in resilience. There’s a lot of people with a lot of it up there.”

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Aaron Hemens served as the editor of the Inuvik Drum from January to August 2019. He's responsible for reporting on everything Inuvik, from covering community gatherings and sporting events, to writing the weekly columns. He's a dedicated photographer who loves getting to know the town through the community members that he meets. He's originally from Ottawa, Ont., where he graduated from Carleton University's journalism program in 2018. He can be contacted at 867-777-4545 or at inuvikdrum@nnsl.com. You can check out his photos on his Instagram account: @aaron.hemens.

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