CFMA gala, redux
It was a dark and stormy night, with large drops of heavy blown glass falling steadily into the hands of worthy Canadians all night long. The Common Thread Community Chorus gusted out the songs of our multi-lingual communities in the lobby as Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre filled up with folk, roots and world luminaries and lunatics for last Sunday night’s Canadian Folk Music Awards.
The audience came dressed eclectically, in jeans and jackets, luminous textiles, and boots as high up as they could afford. Host Shelagh Rogers was draped in black velvet; bon homme Benoit Bourque co-hosted in comfortable linen with a steady rapport, in a truly bilingual ceremony. And the sight of the minty Goa Chic on Tannis Slimmon, the bejeweled rosy cloud enveloping Kiran Ahluwalia, silvery Jaron Freeman-Fox, back yesterday from an extraordinary gig in India, and elegant vocalist Ozgu Boz of Minor Empire limping in, sabotaged by her new boots on the slippery steps, all lent a luster of exotic style to the evening.
As the first awards were presented to The Good Lovelies and The Creaking Tree String Quartet, a current of approval for the tastes of the panel of eighty-odd jurors rushed through the crowd on waves of applause and hoots. Jim Byrnes and awesome Steve Dawson somehow reversed gravity with a performance of high-carb blues, and then The Wailin’ Jennys and Jayme Stone received their just rewards via shared producer David Travers-Smith.
Bruce Cockburn, absent with a new ten-day-old baby girl, named Iona, had his first award of the evening accepted by his manager, Bernie Finkelstein. “I know Bruce would begin by thanking his manager”, he said.
Rose Cousins enraptured the audience next with her easy-going repartee,“Am I being too casual?”, and two starkly moving portents from her new album, due early next year. Genticorum received an ensemble award from Lynn Miles, who amusingly cautioned the nominees, “No matter who wins, don’t forget, we’re all losers here.” It was left to World Solo Artist winner Kiran Ahluwalia to evoke the theme of the evening, a Tribute to the Folk Festivals; “I learned to play music in India, but I learned to collaborate musically at the festivals in Canada, and to not be afraid of different styles and genres, to know that I had something to offer.”
Sparkly Suzie Vinnick collected her Contemporary Singer trophy; Steve Bell accepted his brother-in-law Vince Fontaine’s Aboriginal Songwriter award for Songs for Turtle Island, and then a startled Lynn Miles accepted a major prize from her “songwriting hero… and hair hero”, Sylvia Tyson for English Songwriter of the Year. Just before the barnstorming bravura of Quebecois supergroup De Temps Antan (featuring the most musical footwear heard since the glory years of Stompin’ Tom), Molly Thomason pulled out in front of a strong field to take the Young Performer honour, declaring that her next goal in life would be to get her drivers’ license.
The a capella Afri-Canadian quartet, Soul Influence, brought their commitment to “the African continent, humanity and GOD” to the musical attention of a breathless audience with two deeply swinging gospel tunes.
And Unsung Hero, “Riverboat” Jane Harbury, finally received a few of the verses and choruses of praise due to her since she came to Canada to stay ”for about a year”, followed by decades of planning and improving our musical infrastructure.
Dave Gunning, who had wowed live and internet aficionados the night before with an endearing set at Hugh’s Room, accomplished an ironic, but not unprecedented sweep of both Traditional and Emerging Artist categories for his tribute album to beloved east coast icon John Allen Cameron.
The members of Turkish- Canadian jazz/psychtronica ensemble Minor Empire fulfilled the promise of their unique first record, Second Nature, and won in the bulk department by claiming seven statuettes in the World Group division.
It was left to Genticorum and Bruce Cockburn to solidify their nomination domination by securing Traditional and Contemporary Album of the Year, respectively. Genticorum’s Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand gave the most moving endorsement of the night’s efforts by explaining the effect that folk music festivals have on uniting disparate parts of the country, and giving artists the motivation to heal regional prejudices by providing special opportunities for accord, “especially at 3 or 4 in the morning”.
Then Loreena McKennitt played, everyone went to Victoria College to party, Richard Flohil spilled a little white wine on the carpet, and whatever else happened at the C.F.M.A. afterparty stayed at the C.F.M.A. afterparty. It was an important and exciting night of justification for, and rededication to all the hard work of creating, publicizing and maintaining Canada’s pre-eminent, world-renowned musical values, even if it was just amongst us folk.