Folk music awards show to take place online

Canadian Folk Music Awards are happening live via online platforms this weekend

Images provided by the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

The merits of institutional, award-based recognition will likely be debated until the sun explodes. Grammy awards can be affirming legacy-builders for the next generation of culture-shifting pop behemoths and encouraging symbols of gratitude for deserved records. However, more often than not, the Grammys are more about outdated, tone-deaf industry standards of respectability and popularity, an archaic institution that feels incapable of keeping a tab on pop culture’s constant mutations.

So, it is refreshing to let your guard down momentarily and revel in something like the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMAs), a place that seems to better understand its music and audience, and a chance to reward artists that are peripheral to the mainstream rather than confirming what has already been cemented by streams, charts and late-night TV appearances. The frequently underappreciated Basia Bulat is nominated in three categories — contemporary album of the year, contemporary singer of the year and English songwriter(s) of the year — for her spellbinding fifth record Are You in Love? while Catherine MacLellan is nominated in multiple categories for 2019’s COYOTE.

While well-deserved, these cross-category nominations reveal an issue in classification that plagues award programs big and small. As has been a topic of conversation surrounding the Grammys for years — clumsily addressed by a series of category redefinitions last year — artists of colour are most often relegated to genre-specific boxes while broad appeal artists are able to cover wider categorical ground, resulting in multiple nominations and multiple wins. The rule isn’t set in stone — Indigenous artists Riit and Leela Gilday are nominated in more than one category and Manitoba’s William Prince is nominated in almost every major category — but it is still up for debate whether these cultural or identity-based categories, like the confusingly broad “world album of the year,” serve to include or isolate.

Still, this year’s CFMAs do a better job than most at providing a wide range of artists in both sound and exposure. William Prince continues his climb to greater recognition for last year’s beautiful Reliever, lion-voiced Crystal Shawanda is nominated for the fiery Church House Blues and OKAN’s florid jazz-fusion Sombras is up for world album of the year. Again, definitions and categories become confusing — whether every album nominated this year can even be called “folk” is unlikely, but it is still a welcome crop of artists largely absent from the popular Canadian music scene at large. The show is, of course, being livestreamed, and will feature performances from multiple nominees — hopefully, by the next time it happens in person, we will all have figured out a better way to name and reward the music we love.


The Canadian Folk Music Awards will take place April 10 and 11 at 8:00 p.m. ET and will be accessible “online, worldwide and free of charge” on Facebook and YouTube. For more information, please visit