Jeremy Dutcher came to the Tiny Desk with sparkling, purple streams of glitter draped around his shoulders. Then he set his iPad on our Yamaha upright piano, not to read his score as pianists do these days, but to play a centuries-old wax cylinder recording of a song sung in the incredibly rare language of Wolastoq. Jeremy Dutcher, along with cellist Blanche Israel and percussionist and electronics wizard Greg Harrison, wove that old recording into a remarkably passionate performance that was very 21st-century, with a deep nod to a century past.
There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. He’s not only a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada, but one of fewer than 100 people who still speak — and in his case also sing — in Wolastoq. His Tiny Desk performance illustrates his deep respect for his heritage, even as he sings through vocal processors and looping devices of the very present. It’s a dialog with the past that earned him a Polaris prize for his 2018 album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (one of NPR Music’s top albums of that year). But more importantly, he stresses awareness of a people nearly extinct, to a culture often too steeped in the present.
Watch this remarkably artful performance and take a moment to reflect on those who inhabited our recent past and remain a part of who we are.
- “Pomok naka Poktoinskwes”
Jeremy Dutcher: lead vocals, piano; Blanche Israel: cello; Greg Harrison: percussion, electronics
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Patrick Boyd; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, CJ Riculan, Nick Michael ; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Photo: Michael Zamora/NPR