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Montreal's Karkwa won the fifth annual Polaris Music Prize at a gala ceremony in Toronto on Monday. ((Timothy Neesam/CBC))

Karkwa has captured the 2010 Polaris Music Prize for the album Les chemins de verre.

The $20,000 prize, which honours the best Canadian album last year, was handed out at a ceremony Monday night in Toronto.

An art-rock quintet from Montreal that sings in French, Karkwa triumphed over highly touted Polaris finalists like Broken Social Scene, rapper Shad, Owen Pallett and Caribou.

This year's winner was announced by Damian Abraham, lead singer of Toronto punk group F--ked Up, which won the Polaris Prize in 2009. The laidback ceremony featured performances by all 10 of the nominated acts.

Louis-Jean Cormier, Karkwa’s lead singer and guitarist, seemed shocked about receiving the award. In a brief acceptance speech, he expressed respect for the mandate of the Polaris Prize, suggesting it didn’t revel in pageantry the way that other music awards do.

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Rapper Shad performs from his album TSOL during the Polaris Prize gala in Toronto on Monday. ((Timothy Neesam/CBC))

"It's an unbelievable thing to win this prize. We have a lot of respect for this contest and we think they do it for the right reason," he said. 

"It's not ‘I would like to thank my mother, I would like to thank my dog.’ No, man — it is just the music!"

The group, whose moniker is a phonetic rendering of the French word carquois (a quiver of arrows), was formed in 1998 and released its debut album, Le pensionnat des établis, in 2003. Les chemins de verre (The Glass Paths) is Karkwa’s fourth album.

Now in its fifth year, the Polaris prize is judged by a panel of music journalists and industry representatives on the basis of artistic merit rather than sales.

Karkwa is the first French-language band to win the award.

In an interview Tuesday with CBC News, the band recalled the experience of recording Les chemins de verre in France's iconic Studio La Frette.

"We created it live in the studio, and maybe it sounds more… vivant — alive.  So maybe that's the difference, and maybe that's a good thing," Cormier said.

The studio is noted for producing great recordings for Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Fontaine as well as Canadians such as previous Polaris winner Patrick Watson and Feist.

Drummer Stéphane Bergeron said they had not done pre-production and were not even sure they had a full album as they recorded.

"We were on a break during a studio and we thought, 'Let's just get in the studio and see what could happen.' We thought maybe we could see what the next album might sound like. Just to give an idea of what it is."

The band has a following in Quebec, but has not toured much in the rest of Canada. That might change with this win, Cormier said.

"We are here holding a cheque in Toronto and we are beginning to think about why don't we play in our country [and] the States," Cormier said.

"Maybe we are at the beginning of something for us."

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With files from The Canadian Press