This was the third time that the Juno Awards were presented in Ottawa, since the show started travelling to different cities in 2002. Each time there is a buzz and energy: Concert halls, churches, and bars are sold out and music charities such as OrKidstra get a national platform. (Did you see them accompany Ruth B on the telecast?)
When the awards come to town, it’s an event — an excuse to go out, an opportunity for new collaborations to develop, and a chance to show that the Canadian music industry is not confined to Toronto. Mayor Jim Watson’s announcement of $30,000 towards a task force to establish a Music City strategy is a boost in this direction. Let’s see what comes of that.
In the end, Juno week offered plenty of discussions, pop-ups, parties, and Canadiana of the sort where children’s singer Fred Penner covered rapper k-os’s “Crabucckit” at a club show. Here, Ottawa Magazine editor-at-large Fateema Sayani offers a summary of things said, overheard, and witnessed.
Policy Over Platitudes
At the Juno gala on Saturday, artists used the platform well. We heard plenty of calls to action and demands for change, which is a welcome refresh from the usual blah-blah that makes the Saturday awards portion a yawner. Buffy Sainte-Marie had a very Canadian complaint about airline baggage fees. Not merely just run-of-the-mill kvetching, Sainte-Marie noted that the cost to transport instruments limits musicians, particularly those just starting out.
SOCAN’s head, Eric Baptiste, called for copyright modernization to allow artists to make a decent living.
Jazz Cartier called for more visibility for hip-hop. “Canadian radio is gonna have to stop bullshitting and start playing our own on our radio,” as he put it.
Members of July Talk praised Canadian funding initiatives that allow bands such as theirs to tour and make decent videos.
Jonathan Shedletzky, the art director and co-winner for Recording Package of the Year for Gord Downie’s Secret Path, said he knew that the designers’ approach was effective because conversations about reconciliation are in the public realm and their work has even led to change in school curricula. “It’s changing our perspective on who we are.”
Mixed Reviews on Tom Power
The Juno gala host, CBC q’s Tom Power, acknowledged that Saturday’s gathering was a tough crowd. He even slow-clapped to some of his own jokes. His delivery and groaners (“I’m so white, I make Emma Stone look like Sly Stone”) mostly fell flat, like the awkward guy giving a toast at your cousin’s wedding. Others laughed out loud and thought Power hit the mark when he made reference to the turnstile that was the host’s chair at Q.
Who Gets the Stage and the Airtime?
Tweeters on Saturday from the classical music crowd wondered why those in their categories did not get stage time for an acceptance speech, wondering about the clique-like atmosphere of Canadian music. Those presumed prejudices were put to rest on Sunday when Paul Langlois, guitarist for icons The Tragically Hip, was cut off mid-speech. This was equal-opportunity dismissiveness. Broadcast timing is ruthless.
The Future is Female
Those were the words emblazoned on the t-shirt of Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt and you got that sense at the Junos — in spite of co-host Russell Peters’ pervy creepy comments about the amount of young women in the crowd as “a felony waiting to happen”, not to mention his dismissal of our heritage minister. Peters said he didn’t know why she was at a major Canadian cultural event, but who cares, “because she’s hot.” Melanie Joly was asked about that comment in the media room and she looked past it and emphasized her current work revitalizing major cultural policies. “I’m proud to be the heritage minister. This is my job and it’s an important job.” Boom.
Sarah Mclachlan and Chantal Kreviazuk spoke passionately about equality, as did Gatineau’s Laurence Nerbonne, winner of the Francophone Album of the Year award. She said women are developing their voice and should enter the industry not just as singers, but as producers who don’t need outside validation, pointing to Video of the Year winner Grimes as a leader in this respect. These were all in response to discussions about the #junossomale hashtag that pops up intermittently. That made it extra wonderful to hear that the late Nadine Gelineau was remembered in a tribute tune by Winnipeg singer-songwriter and Contemporary Roots Album of the Year winner William Prince. Ottawa’s Gelineau was an industry titan in a time when there was even less space for women.
Meanwhile, July Talk’s Leah Fay noted that in their winning category, Alternative Album of the Year, they were up against Dilly Dally, Black Mountain, and Grimes, all acts that have a strong female presence, which is a marked difference from the last time they were nominated.
On a lighter note, from creepers to trainers, comfortable and sensible footwear was in fashion on the red carpet.
Making an Impact
Hometown heroes A Tribe Called Red were acknowledged in the Producer of the Year category, which put the emphasis on their technical skills. Their work in generating discussion around issues of reconciliation and diversity was also something that was recognized by many, including Buffy Sainte-Marie, who said that seeing the band “reach beyond the Indigenous community is just a thrill.” Sainte-Marie also praised those in the media room for giving airtime and column space to Indigenous issues. Speaking of hometown pride, here’s Ian Campeau of ATCR discussing the support they received in Ottawa.