The long awaited night of the 2022 Polaris Music Prize Gala was held on September 19th at the Carlu in Toronto, and featured performances by this year’s shortlist nominees and last year’s winner, Cadence Weapon.
The Polaris Music Prize is a music award annually given to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label. The award was established in 2006 with a $20,000 cash prize, which was increased to $30,000 for the 2011 award and to $50,000 in May 2015. The prize takes place in three phases. The first phase is the long list announcement, where 40 Canadian music albums are nominated for the $50,000 prize. From there, the jury votes on 10 albums that are then nominated on the shortlist, and lastly, comes the gala. At the Polaris Music Prize gala, all 10 nominees take the stage before finding out who the winner of the Polaris Music Prize is.
This year’s gala made its first in person return after two years, and all gala attendees were in their best “creative cocktail” outfits as per the night’s theme. Hosting the event was CBC Music’s Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, and during the night we also heard from the executive director of Polaris, Amber Moyle. Amber gave a speech where they thanked all sponsors, performers, jury members, CBC, Slaight music, and all others who contributed to making that night possible.
To kick off the night, last year’s winner, Cadence Weapon, took the stage to perform and the audience was absolutely loving it. When the singer performed his song “On Me”, not a single soul in the concert hall was standing still, and that’s when I knew it was going to be a great night.
Following Cadence’s performance was the first nominee performance of the night. First Nations, hip pop duo, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, who were nominated for their album, ‘Life After’, took the stage. To say I was excited for this performance is an understatement. I’ve been a fan of Snotty Nose Rez Kids for a while now and haven’t seen them live prior to this night. The duo hit the stage and had everyone dancing and singing along. They started their performance off with their song, “Grave Digger”. While performing this song, they were joined by two Indigenous background dancers that danced a ballet and contemporary styled choreography, and it was beautiful. The duo then performed ‘bully mode’ and if the audience wasn’t already impressed, they definitely were now. This performance was upbeat and engaging, and the audience was giving that same energy in return.
Shortly after the duo finished their set, singer-songwriter Lisa LeBlanc brought her metallic blue, purple, and green outfit to perform the songs off of her nominated album, ‘Chiac Disco’. All of her songs are written in French, and even though some of the audience, including myself, weren’t fluent in the language, LeBlanc’s music has some hooks that eventually caught on, leaving most of the audience singing along.
After a short break, French-Canadian musician, Ouri, brought her multiple talents to the Polaris gala. Ouri took a seat in the spotlight with her cello and provided us with a beautiful performance. Her vocals joined by the cello were a reflection of how much an individual can create with a simple instrumentation and production. Ouri’s performance was one of the more acoustic performances of the night.
Taking the stage shortly after was Annishinabe musical duo, Ombigizii, who I actually had the privilege of speaking with before the event started. The duo’s album, ‘Sewn Back Together’, is actually their first album together and just within a year, it was shortlisted for this year’s Polaris Music Prize. Their performance was a mix between indie and alternative rock, with the first song being slower and lyrical and the later songs gradually becoming more upbeat .
Then came time for one of the performances I was looking forward to all night. Nominated for her album ‘Alpha’, Charlotte Day Wilson, contemporary R&B singer-songwriter, hit the stage for what felt like an intimate acoustic set. For the most part, she sat on a stool singing through a microphone under the spotlight. However, to end her performance, Charlotte played the piano to accompany her vocals while singing her song, ‘If I Could’. Similar to how calm but captivating Ouri’s performance was, Charlotte had everyone’s attention and received heavy cheers from the crowd once she finished performing.
As the time grew closer for the 2022 Polaris Music Prize winner to be announced, there were still a few performances that were taking place. Montreal based artist, Pierre Kwenders shared an exciting and upbeat performance, where he was joined by two backup dancers.
Unfortunately, Destroyer, nominated for their album, ‘LABYRINTHITIS’ were unable to attend the gala, but local band Fresh Pepper stepped in and covered a couple of song’s off of Destroyer’s album.
Soon after, as the anticipation builds even more, Kelly McMichael, nominated for her album, ‘Waves’, performed with a backing band and was joined by 2006 Polaris Music Prize winner, Owen Pallet. This was one of the performances that took the concert hall into what felt like their own sold out show. McMichaels stage presence is infectious and looking around the room, there were nothing but smiles, dancing, and an impressed audience.
Then came our second last performance of the night. Québec born, Francophone musician, Hubert Lenoir brought an insanely great energy to the stage with lighting changing and a full-band. Somehow, the chaos of it all blended together. Lenoir has been nominated on the long list in a previous year, but this year he was shortlisted for his album ‘PICTURA DE IPSE : Musique directe’. Hubert’s stage presence reminded me a lot of hip pop/punk artist, Yungblud. His lyrics are predominantly in French with a bit of English.
Lastly, to end off the night before the big reveal, Rwandan-Canadian rapper Shad, who was nominated for his album, ‘TAO’, started his performance with a rap and ended it with an impactful spoken word piece.
And the moment we all waited for had arrived. Cadence Weapon awarded Pierre Kwenders the winner of the 2022 Polaris Music Prize, for his album ‘José Louis And The Paradox Of Love’. Crowd cheers and smiles lit up the venue as Pierre took the stage for his acceptance speech. As someone who is a fan of most of the nominees’ music, I was happy with any out of the 10 taking home this prize, but when I saw Kwenders perform, something told me that it was his night. Watching the way the night ended, that feeling was right.
This year’s Polaris gala was definitely one for the books. Not only did it finally return in person after two years, but the artists that walked across the stage are a reflection of the amazing talent we have here in Canada. I had a wonderful time getting to know people in the audience, engaging with some of the artists, and even being able to watch these musicians up close. It truly was a night of celebrating the nominees and their craft, and now the countdown is on for the 2023 Polaris Music Prize season.