By: Dakota Arsenault
The 2019 Polaris Music Prize that celebrates the best Canadian Album occurred on September 16th, but it was a bit different this time around.
Gone were the snappy video tributes with talking heads, lengthy performer introductions by artists peers singing their praises, comedy monologues that poke fun of the people in the room, or even Dwayne Gretzky being the house band. The gala has long run too late into the night, exacerbating the patience of those watching online and patrons and guests in the crowd. Alternatively, host Raina Douris, formerly of CBC now of NPR, did a brief introduction for each band, a land acknowledgment and let the nominated performances do the talking.
PUP kicked off the show managing to cram in three songs in an explosion of energy and noise from their nominated record "Morbid Stuff", setting the tone for a raucous evening. The band performed looking like the traditional punk brats they are, but afterwards changed into attire that would make them look like they worked in a business casual office as opposed to a mosh-pit.
Nine of the ten nominated acts performed, which was a new high for me since I have been attending since 2014. Typically some of the acts are on tour and as a result cannot attend, but the lone holdout was Jessie Reyez, who was in attendance and couldn’t perform due to an injury (she had the lone video tribute of the night). I personally made the mistake of believing that this year’s crop of nominees were slightly below average as a whole compared to previous years, but seeing them live helped contextualize their music and made me appreciate even the acts I wasn’t very high on.
Highlights included Shad bringing out the 2017 winner Lido Pimenta to perform their song "Magic from A Short Story About a War." Haviah Mighty brought out her sister Omega Mighty for "Wishy Washy" from her album 13th Floor. Haviah Mighty’s performance came fifth in the night and was the first one to get a standing ovation, a preview of what was to come later one.
Dominque Fils-Aimé showed off her powerhouse pipes showing both the gentler and groovier sides of "Stay Tuned!"
Snotty Nose Rez Kids got the closing slot of the night, being introduced as only the third act to be short listed two years in a row (a feat shared with Weaves and Drake) to perform songs from Trapline. The duo, Young D and Yung Trybez, jumped around the stage and their DJ, DJ Kookum, sprayed confetti on the crowd.
After breezing through the nine fantastic performances, it was time to announce the winner. The time honoured tradition of the previous years winner revealing the new winner was followed through, with Jeremy Dutcher coming on stage with “The Envelope” (another relic that is long gone from is the giant novelty check).
Dutcher first asked all the nominated artists to stand up, allowing the crowd to properly acknowledge all ten acts together. He then asked the family, team members and friends of the artists to also stand up letting them know that without their love, support and encouragement none of the nominated records would have been possible.
Jeremy Dutcher revealed Brampton’s own Haviah Mighty as the winner of the 2019 Polaris Music Prize for her stunning album 13thFloor. The win served as the first pure hip-hop record to win, as previously Kaytranda’s win in 2016 came the closest for the genre with his blend of electronica and a multitude of other styles.
Haviah Mighty talked about making music for years but for the first time in her life made a record that was truly hers, covering subject matters that were important to her. When she performed earlier in the night, she got a standing ovation, and seeing the love and admiration she got when her name was revealed was even louder.
While I was taking photos near the front of the stage, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, who featured Haviah’s group The Sorority on their album, erupted into chaos. A Tribe Called Red’s 2oolman who helped produce the record was in attendance was beaming afterwards. Jeremy Dutcher stared in awe watching the young woman give her impassioned speech (made up on the spot since she thought she had no chance of winning). The win capped off a terrific evening celebrating the best music from Canada with a very deserving winner. Now excuse me, I need to keep listening to all the great new music coming out in order to be prepared for next year’s gala.