Indigenous musicians and stories in spotlight at this year’s Polaris Music Prize

By , on September 18, 2017

Polaris Music Prize logo (Photo By -, Public Domain)
Polaris Music Prize logo (Photo By –, Public Domain)

TORONTO — Some of the country’s best-known Indigenous musicians and Gord Downie’s recounting of the Chanie Wenjack story are vying for the Polaris Music Prize tonight.

An 11-member jury will choose a winner from the list of 10 nominees for Canadian album of the year, which also include Leonard Cohen, Feist and electronic-jazz quartet Badbadnotgood.

The event will be webcast by CBC Music on Facebook and YouTube from the Carlu event hall in downtown Toronto.

The Polaris prize is considered one of the country’s most prestigious music awards. Former winners include Arcade Fire, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Caribou.

The winner receives a $50,000 cash prize and heightened awareness for their album.

This year’s list of candidates features conversation starters and albums punctuated by a particular social urgency.

A Tribe Called Red’s pulsing “We Are The Halluci Nation” and former Polaris winner Tanya Tagaq’s “Retribution” tackle issues plaguing the country’s Indigenous community, while Colombian immigrant Lido Pimienta uses her Spanish album “La Papessa” to draw attention to themes like the global water crisis and patriarchy.

Downie is up for his “Secret Path” project, the true story of Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died while trying to escape a residential school.

Others in the running include Leif Vollebekk’s folksy “Twin Solitude,” the self-titled debut of female-led indie pop band Weaves, and singer-songwriter Lisa LeBlanc for “Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?”

Rounding up the group is Cohen for his final studio effort “You Want It Darker,” Feist for “Pleasure” and Badbadnotgood with “IV,” which features a track with last year’s Polaris winner Kaytranada.

Performers will include Feist, LeBlanc, Pimienta, Tagaq, Vollebekk and Weaves. Downie isn’t expected to attend the event and Badbadnotgood is on tour.

Polaris organizers say A Tribe Called Red will not play live, but will introduce a video presentation tied to their nomination.