Home Feature Here are your 2023 Ontario Folk Music Award winners

Here are your 2023 Ontario Folk Music Award winners

Shakura S'Aida. Photo by Heather Kitching.

Local London harmony trio The Pairs were tapped to host the second annual Ontario Folk Music Awards on Sunday, and they opened the show with a song.

But the music didn’t stop there.

Folk Music Ontario ED Rosalyn Dennett had requested some three-part harmony in the hosting too, they explained.

So they decided to teach a simple little song to the audience to sing each time a winner or presenter come up on stage.

The lyrics: “Welcome to the stage.”

The audience dutifully sang it on cue for the rest of the evening.

It was a good bit of fun in an event that truly ran the emotional gamut.

It started on a humourous note when Barbra Lica won Song of the Year for “The Ghost of Me.”

“This feels like that nightmare where you show up for class and you didn’t do your homework,” she said surprised, “I never win anything.”

For someone who hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech, she did just fine.  In fact, she was hilarious. If music ends up not working out for her, stand-up is a career option.

The Ontario Folk Music Awards format, as its been established so far, is to have all of the nominees for Album of the Year also perform at the show.  And  Shakura S’Aida was the first performer of the day.

And oh what a performance it was, packed with hurricane-force power and soul, earning the first of at least four standing ovations of the evening, two of which were reserved for Shakura.

As soon as the audience had recovered from that powerful blast, Just Prince took to the stage — to the sound of the crowd singing “Welcome to the Stage,” of course, to receive the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award for his song “Kamli.”

Just Prince. Photo by Heather Kitching.

The young artist, who mixes Hindustani classical music with folk, rock and blues gave a heartfelt acceptance speech in which he explained that the award gave him confidence at a time when he’d been questioning his career choices.

Aysanabee was not in the audience to receive his Recording Artist of the Year award, which was the next to be presented.

The Sandy Lake First Nation artist’s career is in the stratosphere right now, but he took the time to record a video message of thanks.

Then it was time to present the Estelle Klein Awards.

That’s right. There are two of them now.

The lifetime achievement award was given, quite appropriately, to Erin Benjamin, who also sent in a video message of thanks.

Hilariously, she opened it by ranting about how it was about her 50th attempt to get the thing right.

Erin was the original executive director of Folk Music Ontario, and she presented the original Estelle Klein Award to Estelle herself more than 20 years ago, so it was a full-circle moment for her to wind up as this year’s recipient.

The inaugural Estelle Klein Community Builder Award was presented to Tresa Levasseur after a moving video tribute during which an emotional Shakura compared her to a mother bird, lovingly pushing artists out of the nest like baby birds so they’ll learn to fly on their own.

Treasa Levasseur. Photo by Heather Kitching.

“I dressed like Erin Benjamin to receive this award,” Tresa said upon reaching the podium, providing a moment of comic relief to a very moving part of the program.

Promising up-and-comer Mia Kelly was the next to take the stage before the Performing Artist of the Year award was given to Julian Taylor — the third winner of the evening to send in his thanks by video.

I think it says something about the strength of the Ontario folk scene right now that two of winners of the artistic prizes were too busy working to accept in person.

The final performance of the evening by an Album of the Year nominee was by Al Qahwa, the Middle Eastern super group fronted by Maryem Tollar.

Then it was time to unveil the winner of the Album of the Year prize this year.  The winner?  Shakura S’Aida, who delivered an absolutely spellbinding acceptance speech then cracked everyone up by saying “I have no idea what I just said.”

Her victory was greeted with another standing O.

There was one surprise late in the program, but it wasn’t related to the winners of any of the key artistic awards.  Rather, FMO executive director Rosalyn Dennett took to the stage to announce that this year’s Taylor Mitchell Bursary — a $500 award given to a participant in the developing artist program to help them defray the costs of attending the conference — would this year be given to ALL of the developing artist program participants. I’m not sure how you did that, FMO, but good job!

Shakura S’Aida. Photo by Heather Kitching.

This was the second edition of the Ontario Folk Music Awards, but the awards aren’t exactly new.  They’re really a repackaging of the former Folk Music Ontario Songs from the Heart Awards and the other awards that FMO administers. Namely, the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Awards, the Estelle Klein Award (now awards) and the Taylor Mitchell Bursary.

Where once the Songs from the Heart awards were presented in a peculiar array of categories, and the winners of all of the awards tended to be announced in press releases and then featured in an FMO showcase, the Ontario Folk Music Awards replaced Songs from the Heart with a few key prizes and created a proper event to honour the winners.

Once again this year, it was an entertaining, efficiently-run ceremony filled with just the right balance of laughter and tears.

Congratulations to all the winners!

The FMO volunteers and organizers take to the stage for a round of applause.



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