2017 Polaris Music Prize Gala
@ The Carlu, Toronto
September 18, 2017
Columbian immigrant Lido Pimienta is the winner of the 2017 Polaris Music Prize,for her album La Papessa, beating out such Canadian greats as Gord Downie, Leonard Cohen, as well as previous winners Feist and Tanya Tagaq. Her win was announced by last year’s recipient, Kaytranada, at the end of the 2017 Polaris Gala that took place at The Carlu in Toronto.
This year’s gala was hosted by Raina Douris, host of CBC Radio 2 Morning and CBC Television’s CBC Music Backstage Pass, including introductory words by founder and Executive Director Steve Jordan. The evening featured live performances by six of the ten artists whose albums comprised the 2017 Polaris Music Prize short list.
Lisa LeBlanc opened the show with “Ti-gars” and “5748 km” from Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?. Tanya Tagaq, whose previous Polaris Music Prize Gala performance became the most watched Polaris performance ever, graced the stage twice, first performing a haunting cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” (in honour of missing indigenous women), followed by the title track of her short-listed LP “Retribution”. She later joined Weaves onstage to perform their new track entitled “Scream”. Leif Vollebekk performed “All Night Sedans” from Twin Solitude. Feist, whose performance was announced just days before the show, graced the audience with a solo rendition of “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” from Pleasure. Lido Pimienta performed “Quiero Que Te Vaya Bien” and “La Capacidad” from her “self-released” La Papessa. Lastly, Weaves topped off the evening with “One More” from their self-titled album.
The live performances were interspersed with video tributes to the four short listed artists who were unable to perform that night, including BADBADNOTGOOD’S IV , a House of Strombo video salute to A Tribe Called Red’s We Are The Halluci Nation, the introductory clip from Gord Downie’s film The Secret Path, and a first ever screening of Leonard Cohen’s posthumous music video for “Leaving The Table” from You Want It Darker.
At the end of the evening, the 2016 Polaris Music Prize winner, Kaytranada, was called to the stage to announce the 2017 winner, Lido Pimienta. It was her acceptance speech which has created the most buzz, However, after the announcement, Pimienta took to the stage, along with her mother and nine-year-old son, and invited her band and her dancers to join her, asserting “I don’t have a speech prepared because I thought my brothers, A Tribe Called Red, were going to get it, and I was going to come onstage with them because we work together in We Are The Halluci Nation. So I did not expect to be here.”
“Perhaps the only thing I can say is I hope that the Aryan specimen who told me to go back to my country two weeks after I arrived in London, Ontario, Canada is watching this.”
She then proceeded to thank her mom for being so resilient and for enduring white supremacy in Canada — “when she goes to work and she gets told “ to go back to her country”. She also acknowledged and said “Thank you to the protectors of the land that we’re standing on, thank you for Cree, for Anishnaabe, Haudenosonee, the real people of this country, thank you for allowing me to be a guest on your land”. She then proceeded to thank single mothers everywhere who inspire her, and her band and dancers. It was a gracious, powerful, off the cuff acceptance speech.
As an afterthought however, as she was leaving the stage, she decided to take a moment to criticize the tech crew. “ I don’t want to throw shade, but.. I couldn’t fucking hear myself when I was up here.. all of my fucking monitors were fucking off.. I could not hear myself when I was up here I’m fucking pissed off.. thank you though.. motherfuckers..”. Members of the audience were left stunned and baffled as they were leaving. “Tell us how you really feel”, shouted a member of the audience.
At a follow up press conference after the awards gala, Pimienta claims that her long hard climb to success has been due to the her race and her weight: “It has taken me 10 years to get to this point because I am not white and skinny”. In response to a question regarding women of colour, she stated “I am the program of the women of colour. You just saw it on stage.”
When asked what her plans were for her $50,000 win, Pimienta stated “The plans that I have for this money, like I said, is to give the money to my mother, and to use the money for some more creation, invest in some equipment that I can continue to do my work”.
The Polaris Music Prize is awarded to the best album of the year, based on Polaris’ general criteria of being “of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history”. Previous winners of the 12-year-old prize include Kaytranada, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tanya Tagaq, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Feist, Arcade Fire and Fucked Up.
(Photography by Morgan Harris)