Haviah Mighty pic: Dustin Rabin Photography
Haviah Mighty pic: Dustin Rabin Photography

Toronto Rapper Haviah Mighty's '13th Floor' Wins Polaris Music Prize

At the 14th edition of the Polaris Music Prize, presented by CBC Music,  "13" turned out to be the lucky $50K number for one up-and-coming Toronto hip-hop artist who clearly has a bright future ahead of her.

Aside from giving the most colourful and standout performance of the night at The Carlu, Haviah Mighty and her album 13th Floor emerged victorious after the sequestered 11-member Grand Jury cast the final deciding vote. She now stands as the champion of the 10 shortlisted contenders. Included on that list: Pup's Morbid Stuff, Jessie Reyez's Being Human In Public and Snotty Nose Rez Kids' Trapline. While the main $50K cash prize comes from a variety of sponsors, each finalist received $3K each courtesy of Slaight Music.

And perhaps no one was more surprised at the announcement than Mighty herself, who - after jumping into the arms of 2018 winner and 2019 prize announcer Jeremy Dutcher and being whirled around a couple of times by a Mighty hug - admitted she had no prepared victory speech.

But it didn't take her long to come up with one. 

"I've been working on being a musician for a really long time, to very few accolades and very limited awards for a very long time," Mighty said, adding that she was thrilled to be recognized for "my truth" and themes that continued from when she attended high school.

She thanked everyone from family to her management team, then ran offstage with her hands pressed to her cheeks in disbelief and a beaming smile that stretched from ear-to-ear.

It was the culmination of a nearly four-hour program that featured nine of the ten performers strutting their stuff before an audience of approximately 1000 people, with only Jessie Reyez unable to perform due to a back injury she's still on the mend from.

The event was streamed live on the web by CBC Music and opened with a medley of songs from hometown punk band Pup's Morbid Stuff album that ended when singer Stefan Babcock leaped off the stage, grabbed a can of beer from a table and toasted his onstage mates. Montréaler Marie Davidson, confessing she felt "a bit awkward" since she wasn't performing in a dance club, churned out the throbbing electronic rhythms of Work It from Working Class Woman and narrated the lyric following a tribute video to Reyez. 

Shad added a little Magic from his fine album, A Short Story About War, and surprised everyone with a guest harmony from 2017 Polaris Music Prize winner Lido Pimienta.

Elisapie was the first of three acts to incorporate a gigantic baritone sax for her three-song presentation, which included an emotionally intense and brooding Darkness Bring The Light from the orange-clad singer, backed by a band and five-piece orchestra that is a highlight from her album, Ballad Of A Runaway Girl. 

Eventual Polaris winner Haviah Mighty pulled out all the stops with a gripping and charismatic performance that included three back-up singers and synchronized choreography for Wishy Washy that she admitted later was the first time she ever employed a band on stage, receiving one of the evening's few standing ovations for her efforts. Les Louanges let their musicianship do the talking with a couple of selections from their soulfully progressive La Nuit est une Panthére, forming a semi-circle around singer and core member Vincent Roberge and his soaring vocal.

Speaking of stunning vocals, Dominique Fils-Aimé, looking regal in an equally stunning outfit, offered some jazzy trip-hop flavours of her fine Stay Tuned, a largely acapella album that was outfitted with a four-piece band for the occasion. It was also the only time the crowd was hushed into silence to hear her opening chorus, amplified by the fantastic job the sound technicians did throughout the night in a venue known for its troubled acoustics.

Fet.Nat, a sort of light-hearted, politically-astute Gatineau-based French-language quartet that's a cross between The Red Hot Chili Peppers and your favourite tongue-in-cheek rapper, energized the Polaris gathering with a monster rhythm section of bassist Pierre-Luc Clement and drummer Olivier Fairfield, as singer JFNO wiggling his way through a few Le Mal songs.

Then the fabulous Snotty Nose Rez Kids wrapped up the performance part of the festivities with a few punchy and pertinent Trapline tracks, aided by a trio of dancers in colourful indigenous costumes that created a visually stunning climax to an entertaining evening of song.

It wasn't too long after the Kids left the stage that Jeremy Dutcher came out, declared the evening was about "togetherness," and presented Ms. Mighty with her cheque.

But everyone who participated in Polaris could be declared a winner, as contemporary Canadian music is sounding fresh, inventive, modern and compelling thanks to the examples set by these artists. 

Another stellar job by organization founder and executive director Steve Jordan and the Polaris crew!

However, the music and subsequent prize weren't the only newsworthy topics of the evening proceedings: host Raina Douris shocked the crowd by revealing that she had left CBC Music's Mornings last week, and this would be her final hosting event for the Corp, which live-streamed the show.

And Polaris long-lister Tanika Charles received the inaugural five-day Polaris Artist Residency co-sponsored by AI and data company Lixar and the National Music Centre (see sidebar here.)

Last, but certainly not least, the nominees for this year's separate fan-voted contest honouring significant Canadian albums of the past was unveiled during the program:  the shortlist for the Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize.

The public can currently vote for their favourite album as  PolarisMusicPrize.ca/Heritage-Prize, with the winner to be announced on October 24.

The nominees are:

The Band - Music From The Big Pink

Robert Charlebois & Louise Forestier - Lindberg

D.O.A. - Hardcore '81

Sarah Harmer - You Were Here

k.d. lang - Ingenue

Maestro Fresh West - Symphony in Effect

Main Source - Breaking Atoms

Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

Joni Mitchell -  Court and Spark

Stan Rogers - Fogarty's Cove

Buffy Sainte-Marie - It's My Way

The Weakerthans - Left and Leaving

 

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