Thursday, September 23, 2010

Must Have Been The Right Place

A slightly belated congratulations to Karkwa, the first World Music act to win the Polaris Music Prize. They don't sing in English, so it's gotta be World Music, right? Am I going to belabor the point? Hell no, except to say that, depending on the situation, any music of any genre or geographical origin has a chance of winning this prize if the right arguments are made for it. Hopefully this will be the case someday - soon - with hip hop....

Karkwa are also the most decorated yet to win (in your face, Ottawa Citizen's "Give Bieber A Chance") : these guys have won more awards than Biebs and Drake put together. I wish I could find some data proving they've sold more than Caribou (2008 winner), but I'm guessing they may be the biggest selling act yet to win Polaris as well.

A few weeks ago, when I was majorly enjoying myself at the Festival of Emerging Music in Abitibi-Temiscamingue I had the good fortune to sit down and talk with frontman Louis-Jean Cormier about the band's sudden ramp-up in momentum. It was hard not to notice that Karkwa was the buzz of the festival. My fellow journalists were eager to try to explain their appeal in Quebec; to a person, they cited their "poesie" - poetry in the lyrics, which was fundamentally different than the majority of first person confessional Anglo singer-songwriter approaches. As you may have noticed, I'm not the most lyrics-oriented guy, but my French (as it turned out) was passable enough for me to understand how people got into it on that level. What really stood out for me were their deft & ingenious melodies - earworms that turned my brain to compost over several weeks. That quality goes a long way to characterizing their appeal outside of Quebec.

However, the visceral reaction of the crowd at FMEAT was ample evidence of their devoted audience. Karkwa's performance at the Polaris Gala was great, but it inevitably missed that sense of connection they achieved with their fans in Northern Quebec. I was lucky to have witnessed them on their home turf.

With this Volume Du Vent in their sails (sales?) in Quebec, I wasn't too surprised to see them ride that wave to the prize, even though such waves tend to hit the breakwall of the Rest Of Canada. But Polaris is wacky like that, and that's a good thing. They weren't my top choice, but I'm glad they won.

Here's my conversation with Louis-Jean Cormier at Exclaim.

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