Listen to "026 :: MOTEWOLONUWOK" on Spreaker.


Motewolonuwok by Jeremy Dutcher, released by Secret City Records in 2023. Listen / Buy direct (digital | physical)


The first sounds we hear are the music of nature: the harmonies of birdsong, the rhythm of the land underfoot. The next sounds we hear are the music of language: poetic speech in a seldom-heard tongue. It's like an invocation of the music that is always everywhere all around us, if only we learn to listen, even if we don't understand.

And so begins the music proper, which feels like an invocation of a different kind, an invocation of the magical power inherent in sound, that's always there just waiting for a maestro to pick up the right threads and weave them together and make something beautiful that shakes us to the core.

It's often said that music transcends language, and that's certainly the case here. I, at least, do not understand this music's lyrics, but that does not at all stop me from recognizing the pathos in these words. Yet something deeper is also going on. It must be said that this music is sung in a language whose living speakers number only in the hundreds – an "endangered" language, which is to say, a language that has historically been persecuted and suppressed and is now being intentionally revived and carried forward. In singing in this language, the artist isn't just translating it into a medium that all can understand and feel; they are breathing life into the language itself.

And just as the language is animated by this music, the music is animated by this language, giving birth to a musical idiom all its own, melding the contemporary with the classical, the anthemic with the intimate, and the rousing with the hypnotic. It's a performance that's positively brimming with life, leaving us to wonder at what other music there must be in sounds yet unheard, in songs yet unsung, in words yet unspoken, and in acts yet undone.

Liner Notes

The language of this music is Wolastoqey, the language of the Wolastoqiyik, who are spread out across Eastern Canada and the U.S., represented by Tobique First Nation (Neqotkuk), Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation, and Madawaska Maliseet First Nation.

Dutcher has been intentional in the past about not providing English translations of his lyrics, as an invitation to listeners to ask themselves why they don't understand Wolastoqey. But the lyrics of this song have been posted with translations on its official music video, so I will also copy them out here:

mecimiw naka askomiw
tan qiniw iyuwok wasis kpomawsuwinuwok
‘tankeyutomon-oc kihtahkomikomon.

always and forever
this is indian land
as long as there is a child among our people
we will protect the land
indian land

As for the meaning of "Motewolonuwok", the album's title, Dutcher explains it beautifully in this promotional video for the album.