Lido Pimienta has won the 2017 Polaris Music Prize for her album La Papessa. The announcement was made at the Polaris Gala at The Carlu in Toronto Monday evening at the conclusion of a show that featured performances from six of the ten finalists: Pimienta, Weaves, Leif Vollebekk, Tanya Tagaq, Feist and Lisa Leblanc.
The prestigious Prize (worth $50K) was presented to Pimienta by 2016 winner Kaytranada, who explained that "it opened a lot of doors for me."
It will certainly also do that for Pimienta, a Toronto-based artist originally from Colombia. She can arguably be considered the biggest underdog of all Polaris winners to date, given that La Papessa is an independent Spanish-language release from an artist with little national recognition (she just signed on with Ottawa's Kelp Management a few weeks ago).
“Not in English, not in French. But we’re here,” said Pimienta in accepting the award. After introducing her young son and her mother onstage, she lashed out at white supremacy and acknowledged Canada's Indigenous community ("the real people of this country"). Her speech ended in rather bizarre fashion though, with an f-bomb-laden tirade about the faulty monitors for her performance before she exited angrily.
That was a sour final note to an evening that had featured compelling appearances by the nominated artists.
Earlier this year, speaking at the CIMA Gala, Steve Jordan set a two-year target for making the Polaris board and jury 50 percent female. Last night's Gala helped to bridge gender inequality by favouring stage performances with female artists.
Leif Vollebekk was the only lead male performer (although it's worth noting that Weaves is fronted by the charismatic Jasmyn Burke).
Both previous Polaris winners, Tanya Tagaq and Feist dazzled with their appearances, the former in spectacular theatrical fashion, the latter in a typically understated solo voice and guitar style.
Another highlight was the world premiere of a new animated video for "Leaving The Table," a song on Leonard Cohen's Polaris-nominated You Want It Darker. Polaris founder Steve Jordan explained that the clip, directed by Christopher Mills, was an initiative of Polaris, the Prism Prize and Sony Music.
Earlier in proceedings, Jordan dedicated the evening to Jack Rabinovitch, the late founder of the Giller Prize, explaining that its example helped shape Jordan's vision for Polaris.
The clout now possessed by the Polaris Music Prize was shown by the high-profile of some of those offering taped testimonials in support of the night's ten nominated albums. Nick Cave spoke eloquently on behalf of Leonard Cohen, Naomi Klein endorsed Pimienta, Kevin Drew testified for Gord Downie, and US artist/activist Saul Williams spoke for A Tribe Called Red.
Heading into the evening gala, the Polaris favourite was believed to be A Tribe Called Red's album, We Are The Halluci Nation, as Pimienta herself acknowledged.
During the Polaris proceedings, the nominees for the next round of The Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize were unveiled. This Prize honours Canadian albums of the past from four distinct time periods: 1960-75, 1976-85, 1986-95 and 1996-05. Like the Polaris Music Prize, winners and nominees for the Heritage Prize are albums chosen for their artistic distinction, without regards to sales or affiliations.
Public voting on the nominees is now open, closing out on Oct. 19. View the list here.