Jeremy Dutcher wins the Polaris Music Prize

The classically-trained indigenous singer won for his album that reinterpreted traditional songs from his Wolastoq heritage
Jeremy Dutcher Jeremy Dutcher performs in Toronto earlier this June. He won $50,000 for his debut album. (Wikimedia Commons)

Last night in Toronto was the gala (a.k.a. big party) for the 13th annual Polaris Music Prize. This is an award for the Canadian album of the year. Past winners and nominees include Arcade Fire, Feist, Drake, Grimes, Tegan and Sara, Carly Rae Jepsen, and many more. Meanwhile, this year's list of nominees included rising R&B star Daniel Caesar and pop group Alvvays. It was a pretty impressive list.

This year, the prize went to classically-trained Indigenous singer Jeremy Dutcher for his album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (say woe-LAHS-tah-wee-ig lin-TOO-wah-gah-nah-wah).

Bringing the past back to life

Jeremy Dutcher is a member of the Tobique First Nation. This is a Wolastoqiyik Nation reserve in western New Brunswick. They lived near the Wolastoq, or "beautiful river" (known in English as the Saint John River). In fact, their nation's name means "people of the beautiful river".

Like many Indigenous communities, the Wolastoqiyik are finding it a struggle to keep their history alive. This is especially true of their language, Wolastoqey. As more and more young people in the nation have chosen to learn other languages like English, there are only around 100 people who speak the language left in the world! So Jeremy came up with an especially moving way to help.

He found archival—or historical—recordings of Wolastoqiyik people singing their traditional songs. Then he wrote newer songs based on these folk songs and turned them into an album. The result was  music like this:

Pretty amazing stuff, right? That's certainly what the jury thought!

A diverse night

Even though there could only be one winner, the evening was also a pretty amazing showcase of how diverse music from a country like Canada can be. There was rap, pop, soul, R&B, classical, and glam rock on display, and it was delivered in English, French, Lingala, Tshiluba, and, of course, Wolastoqey languages. What a night!

One last note to leave you with. Even though the Polaris Music Prize is the only award given out that night, the evening features performances by all ten of the nominees. Everyone gave it their all, but this moment was very cool. Turns out that Alvvays was on tour and unable to be there. So instead, they asked a young group from the Girls Rock Camp, Deep Waters, to play their song, "In Undertow". How cool is that?

Watch the girls handle their nerves in style below!

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