Haviah Mighty's '13th Floor' Wins Canada's Polaris Music Prize

Credit Yung Yemi​
Haviah Mighty

Haviah Mighty’s 13th Floor was declared Canadian album of the year by the Polaris Music Prize grand jury tonight (Sept. 16) at the conclusion of the gala dinner at Toronto’s The Carlu. The award comes with a check for C$50,000 ($37,7500).

The rapper, who is also part of the hip-hop trio The Sorority, admitted she did not prepare a speech but after thanking people in her camp, the nominees, the jury and Polaris, said, “I’ve been working on being a musician for a really long time and put out a lot of music to very few accolades and very little reward for a long time. This is the first time that I’m able to speak my truth.

“This needs to come out and the fact that after so many years, I have the same thoughts, the same sentiments since high school, and every time was not the time; wasn’t the place and here now at Polaris 2019, it is the time and it is the place.”

Haviah Mighty was up against nine other short listed albums: Marie Davidson’s Working Class Woman; Elisapie’s The Ballad of the Runaway Girl; FET.NAT’s Le Mal; Dominique Fils-Aimé’s Stay Tuned!; Les Louanges’s La nuit est une panthère; PUP’s Morbid Stuff; Jessie Reyez’ Being Human In Public; Shad’s A Short Story About A War; and Snotty Nose Rez Kids’ Trapline (whose The Average Savage made last year’s short-list).

“I feel I’m amongst greatness in this room,” Haviah Mighty added. “For my album to be up against nine other incredible albums, the top 10 albums in Canada, I’m so grateful. I’ve heard all your albums and they’re all incredible and that’s why I didn’t write a speech because I had no idea [I’d win]. All of the albums are so great. 13th Floor has its moment to shine right now.”

Slaight Music gives C$3,000 ($2,265) to each of the nine runners up.

Nine of the 10 Polaris nominees performed on the night, with Reyez unable to hit the stage due to a herniated disc she sustained over the summer

As a thousand people — mostly industry, with a hundred tickets sold to the public — gathered for the gala, the winning album was determined on-site behind closed doors by an 11-member “grand jury” who debate each album’s merits and cast a series of private votes, the results of which even they didn’t know until it was announced.

The 10 titles included a range of styles, from Francophone to Indigenous, hip-hop, electronic and punk. 

Last year’s winner Jeremy Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa — a Toronto-based First Nations tenor and pianist who created an accessible album in his native Wolastoq, or Maliseet, a language spoken today in Canada by an estimated 600 people — went on to win a Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys.

Dutcher was on hand to present the prize to Haviah Mighty. “I want all of the nominees here to stand up,” he said from the podium, adding. “Now I want all the families to stand up. Your families, they’re the ones who created the environment in which you can make your art work.”

He then removed his hat, joking it was time to hand over the crowd. “Well not this one, I bought it from home.”

The night is about "togetherness,” he enthused, “and all of you who shared this stage so beautifully exemplify how important it is to come together right and do it in the music and do it in art. It’s so important that our stories can come forwards and that we are challenging these narratives of divisiveness.”

 

Contenders for the prestigious Canada music award are determined by a national jury of music media from all provinces and genres (this year 199 people) instructed to vote for titles based solely on artistic merit, not sales or popularity. Throughout the year, these jurors suggest titles in a private group, where they comment and debate.  For the long-list, they submit their top 5 in order on a password-accessed page, then vote again for their top 5 out of the 40 titles to make up the final short list.

“I want to recognize the work of our volunteer jury who devote their time and their energy to the selection process. There’s at least 50 of them here,” said Polaris founder Steve Jordan onstage between sets. “If you’ve checked out a record on our longlist and loved a record, it’s because of their work. This is 100 percent due to the work of our selectors.” 

The official eligibility period for the 2019 Polaris Music Prize titles is from June 1, 2018 to May 31, 2019. (albums released between May 1 and May 31, 2018 that did not make the 2018 long list were also considered.)

Past winners are: Jeremy Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (2018); Lido Pimienta (2017), Kaytranada (2016), Buffy Sainte-Marie (2015), Tanya Tagaq (2014), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (2013), Feist (2012), Arcade Fire (2011), Karkwa (2010), Fucked Up (2009), Caribou (2008), Patrick Watson (2007), and Final Fantasy / Owen Pallett (2006).

Polaris is now in its 14th year. “I can’t believe we’ve lasted this long,” said Jordan. “We get asked often what our future plans are, it’s really just to stay around and to honour the work of these great artists.” 


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