The Canadian music scene is quite the wonderful melting pot of different cultures, influences, and genres. From francophone pop legend Cœur de pirate to notorious “love to hate” rock band Nickelback, there is something for everyone.
The annual Juno Awards celebrate the best of Canadian music and for the first time since 2004, the Juno Awards — more commonly called “the Junos” — are coming to Edmonton on Monday, March 13, with “superhero” host Simu Liu returning for the second year in a row.
The Junos are the most prestigious awards for Canadian music artists and while they sometimes seem to play second fiddle to the American Grammy Awards, the Junos boasts its own week of all-Canadian music and events.
The griff caught up with three Edmonton-based artists who won the coveted golden statuette in 2022 to reminisce about last year’s awards and learn more about what inspires their music.
2022 Award: Children’s Album of the Year for Falling in Africa.
Garth Prince is a Namibian-Canadian vocalist, drummer, and educator who creates and performs children’s music. Prince decided to pursue music in Canada after starting his career in Namibia, Africa. He now works with schools in Edmonton to pass on his love for music to young students.
Prince previously took a year of the music program at MacEwan University (with fellow 2022 Juno Award winner Jessia), and he is currently studying arts & cultural management at MacEwan.
Before focusing on children’s music, Prince was a boy band member in Namibia where he started focusing on creating “positive music” with uplifting messages. He explains his band in Namibia didn’t like “the way (other artists) talked about women…and some of the topics seemed like they misguided the youth back home.”
After moving to Canada in 2008, Prince explains that with the help of his new team he decided to continue pursuing this idea of “positive music.” “We had a song on the first record called ‘If You Can Walk, You Can Dance,’” he says with a smile, “and that’s what I mean (by positive music).”
When asked where he gets his inspiration, he explains that “sometimes I just wake up with a song as a writer and then I’m just like, ‘I’m writing this song,’ and honestly, there’s nothing I can do to stop a song.”
His 2022 Juno nomination came as a shock because he completely forgot the nominations were out until he received a Facebook message congratulating him for the nomination.
“I thought it was a prank… or that my account got hacked,” says Prince. But after checking, sure enough, he had gotten a nomination.
Prince explains that there are two award shows associated with the Junos. There is the main Juno Awards Night with the most prominent awards and performances, while the Juno Opening Night Awards is for all the other awards not given out during the main event.
Prince went to the Opening Night Awards and ended up winning the 2022 Juno Award for Children’s Album of the Year. While winning the award was a monumental moment for Prince and his team, the day he won was bittersweet.
As a children’s music artist, most of Prince’s concerts are at elementary schools instead of big concert venues, “so on the red carpet, and wherever I went, nobody knew who I was,” says Prince.
“The reporters too,” he continues. “I felt kind of disappointed because the questions they asked me, it felt like they didn’t even listen to the record, so they knew nothing.”
But even with the disappointing reaction the night of the event, “the award opened up a lot of good opportunities. It’s helped me grow much faster and it’s now easier to get booked,” says Prince.
When asked what his advice is to young musicians, he suggests investing in your craft through education and continuously improving your skills. “There are many different paths,” says Prince. “If you’re willing to take the risk, I think it’s worth it. I saw students who were with me (at MacEwan) who did that, and it worked out for them.”
2022 Award: Traditional Roots Album of the Year for Joyful Banner Blazing.
Inspired by stories of resilience, Maria Dunn creates folk music for the people. She released her seventh studio album, Joyful Banner Blazing, in January 2021.
Dunn immigrated to Canada from Scotland as a young girl, and she explains that “Scottish culture very much has a tradition of sharing music at parties. You never have a party that doesn’t involve people playing instruments.”
As a child, Dunn embraced her musical genes and took piano lessons, sang in school choirs and did high school band. Her love for folk only grew when she started working at CJSR, the campus community radio station at the University of Alberta, where she was studying psychology in the mid-1980s.
“I had all these years of really listening closely to other songwriters,” Dunn says, “learning about the tradition and learning more broadly about music.”
She started writing her own music not long after and discovered that her walks to work across the High Level Bridge were the perfect time to get inspiration.
Dunn explains, “I started to write things. Things would come to me as I was walking, you know, when you sort of open your mind.” She started to play at open mics across the city, doing covers of famous songs and then sometimes throwing in a few originals to see how the crowd would react.
Now, over 20 years later, she has released seven studio albums, gotten two Juno nominations (among other award nominations), and has played her music for audiences worldwide.
Dunn made sure to do some prep work before attending the Junos last year. “My homework was to listen to all my fellow nominees,” she says. “I downloaded all of their albums, and I listened to them because I thought when I meet them, I want to be able to say I’ve listened to their work.”
She ended up winning the Juno for Traditional Roots Album of the Year. She notes that it was a long trek up to the stage and that the Juno was really heavy (heads up for all future Juno winners!) but all in all, “it was an honour to have (my) music acknowledged in that way,” she says.
Dunn’s advice to young artists is to “take some time to really listen and dive into the genre that you’re interested in. Learn the history and learn who your predecessors are.”
She adds, “also create some space to let those inner voices bubble up…go for walks where you’re not giving yourself a soundtrack.”
2022 Award: Country Album of the Year Award for What is Life.
St. Paul native Brett Kissel claims that “music found me,” and based on his success, it’s not hard to believe that music runs through his veins. Kissel has been playing country music since he was young and has been nominated for over 50 awards, including seven Junos.
“My Grandma Irene (who we call ‘Mema’) bought me my first guitar just before I turned seven,” says Kissel. “I loved listening to country music on the radio, and she said she always saw me tapping my foot and always heard me singing along.”
“When she bought me that first guitar, all I wanted to do was sing and play country music. I wanted to be like George Strait. And I’ve been very, very fortunate to have been able to play and sing literally every day ever since,” says Kissel.
Growing up in small-town Alberta, Kissel is inspired by “stories of late night, backwoods parties, or hard-fought battles, young love, everlasting love, or even heartbreak,” which are events that many young Albertans can relate to.
Kissel’s first Juno nomination was in 2014 and came as quite the surprise. The young artist got a call from the at-the-time president of Warner Music Canada, Steven Kane, and Kissel says, “when he called, originally, I thought it was to give me hell for something I may have said or done in an interview. As a rookie, I was afraid I may have done something I shouldn’t have. That’s why I thought he was calling. I looked at my phone and thought, ‘Oh shit! What did I do?’”
But instead, when I answered, Steve gave me a giant, ‘Congratulations. You’ve been nominated for two Junos.’”
Although last year’s Juno Awards wasn’t his first rodeo, Kissel explains that his album What is Life is very special to him — “it was introspective, extremely vulnerable, and a piece of art that I’ll always be proud of,” he says. “To win for something that was so deeply personal was something I’ll never forget.”
Kissel is looking forward to the Junos being held in Edmonton this year. “I think it’s going to be amazing to showcase just how amazing Edmonton is to the rest of Canada,” he says. “We work hard, take care of our sponsors, take care of our artists, and we are really passionate about our music scene here.”
When asked what his advice is to young artists, Kissel says he gets asked that question a lot, and most people want to know how they can “make it” in such a fast-changing industry.
“The answer is the same no matter if you’re an artist from the 1960s, 1990s, or 2020s,” says Kissel. “Hard work pays off. The harder you work, the luckier you get. So keep working hard.”
The 2023 Junos will be held at Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton on Monday, March 13. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.ca.