By Quinton J. Hobson
In one of the year’s more diverse and least controversial award shows (in February, the Oscars were heavily criticized for lacking nominees of colour, while the Grammys aired amidst controversy around Kanye West) rapper Drake was among several musicians up for accolades celebrating the best in Canadian music at Sunday’s Juno Awards ceremony.
At the awards in Hamilton, Drake, one of the most popular and in-demand rappers, was up for two awards – the Fan Choice Award and Single of the Year. He lost both, walking away from the ceremony empty-handed.
However, this can hardly be considered a snub because the ceremony, presented by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, appeared to favour newer, up-and-coming artists, several of whom happen to be Black.
Having garnered a sudden surge in popularity and success between 2013 and 2014 due to the release of his first studio album Kiss Land, combined with regular appearances on the soundtracks of two of the biggest films of the past year, R&B singer The Weeknd took home one of the evening’s most prestigious awards, Artist of the Year, beating veteran singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen of Hallelujah fame.
In addition, The Weekend won R&B / Soul Recording of the Year for his song Often.
Meanwhile, Naturally Born Strangers, a brand-new hip hop group formed by veteran record producer Rich Kidd alongside frequent collaborators Tona and Adam Bomb in 2013, won Rap Recording of the Year for their debut mixtape The Legends League Presents: Naturally Born Strangers. Toronto’s Karl Amani Wailoo of Guyanese descent, better known as Saukrates, was also nominated.
Caribbean-oriented music was particularly well-received and represented this year. Reggae singer Exco Levi garnered his fourth Juno award for Reggae Recording of the Year for his song Welcome the King after having previously won the award three consecutive times in 2012, 2013 and 2014, making him the only artist to achieve such a feat in the 45-year history of the Junos.
Raised in Clarendon, Jamaica, Levi – who cites Bob Marley as one of his biggest musical influences – plans to release his debut album Country Man within the coming week.
Meanwhile, reggae fusion band Magic! won two awards: Breakthrough Group of the Year and Single of the Year for their song Rude, which just last summer had achieved chart-topping success in all corners of the globe, including atop the United States’ Billboard Hot 100.
Afro-Cuban jazz saxophonist Jane Bunnett’s brand new all-female sextet, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, won Jazz Album of the Year – Group for their debut album Jane Bunnett and Maqueque.