The Polaris Music Prize finalists recommend 10 great books
The $50,000 prize celebrates the best Canadian album of the year
The Polaris Music Prize annually celebrates the best Canadian album of the year, awarding the artist $50,000. There are 10 albums on the shortlist.
The winner will be announced on Sept. 27, 2021. The virtual event will be hosted by CBC Music's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe.
Leanne says: "It's a really stunning and beautiful book. It explores Haitian meanings of zombies, refusing that racist pop culture interpretation, and reclaiming that term within Haitian culture. The second part of the book is a series of poems that focuses on the afterlives of transatlantic slavery. The third part of the book focuses on the cure for zombification, which is to eat salt and gaze at the ocean, as a cure and a refusal of Black death.
The way that she writes gave me the opportunity to read and to think and to listen in a different register. That was a really special gift.- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
"This book spoke to me because Desil is able to consider and reflect on her own personal present, growing up Haitian in Canada, writing through the diaspora, writing through eliminations and extractions, and constructing this beautiful cure. I'm not Haitian and these are not my experiences. But I do feel like it's accessible, in that way, to audiences of colour, to Black audiences, to Indigenous audiences. I think it's accessible to white audiences as well. The way that she writes gave me the opportunity to read and to think and to listen in a different register. That was a really special gift."
Much like her music, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's literary work often centres on the experiences of Indigenous Canadians. Her books include Islands of Decolonial Love, This Accident of Being Lost, Dancing on Our Turtle's Back, As We Have Always Done and Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, which was a recent finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for fiction.
Cadence Weapon says: "It's about the intersection between McDonald's, fast food, civil rights and Black America. When I saw the subject, I was very intrigued. I've always wondered about why there's so much fast food in inner-city communities in America and why is there this relationship between Black people and fast food and food deserts in America? So I was like, I got to read this.
It's about the intersection between McDonald's, fast food, civil rights and Black America. When I saw the subject, I was very intrigued.- Cadence Weapon
"One of the big issues of civil rights in the 1960s was equality. The idea of being able to eat at the same restaurants and have access to the same products, at the same prices, as white people. This is something I learned in this book, even after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, restaurants in the south, in places like Richmond, were forced to serve Black people, but they came out with two menus, one for whites and one for Blacks that had higher prices. I didn't even know that was a thing until I read this book."
Cadence Weapon is a rapper and poet from Edmonton who now lives in Toronto. He is making his third appearance on the Polaris Music Prize shortlist with the album Parallel World. Parallel World is an exploratory and moody rap record, which makes distinct references to Black experiences, histories and archives in Canada. Cadence Weapon is also an essayist. His self-titled newsletter is a dissection of politics, music, art and life and he's currently at work on a memoir, Bedroom Rapper, to be released in 2022.
DijahSB says: "This book highlights the many talking points Huey Newton brought to life through his speeches regarding Black liberation from white supremacy, racism and police brutality. You always hear about the Black Panthers but their ideologies are rarely highlighted. Huey was loud about homophobia in the community and Black capitalism — to me that means he was far ahead of his time seeing as these are still two huge disadvantages in our community.
"He also understood that liberty for Black people meant every oppressed persons had to be liberated as well, and how important solidarity was between different communities.
This book highlights the many talking points Huey Newton brought to life through his speeches regarding Black liberation from white supremacy, racism and police brutality.- DijahSB
"I align myself with his politics because he saw the world for what it is, the exploitation of Africa, the importance of community and creating programs for the marginalized. This book is the checklist you need in order to understand what the revolution shall consist of."
DijahSB is a Toronto-based rapper who identifies as nonbinary. Their debut album was released in 2020 and was titled 2020 the Album. They recently told CBC Music that their music is "a personal art form; a place for them to bare their most vulnerable feelings while also never forgetting the entertainment aspect of it."
Dominique says: "This book, as an early adult, provided me with many lessons and messages of love that stayed with me until this day. Not for any religious aspect, but for the way of life that is suggested, one that works for the advancement of all. The kindness, empathy and wisdom resonated with my wish to find purpose and the gut feeling we all have — that feeling that we are actually connected to one another.
It reminded me we are one. It reminded me we are capable of generating endless amounts of love,- Dominique Fils-Aime
"It reminded me we are one. It reminded me we are capable of generating endless amounts of love, love for everyone including ourselves, love that should be the starting point of all intention and action."
Dominique Fils-Aimé is a Quebec vocalist and recording artist. Three Little Words is the Haitian-born Montreal singer's latest record and is the third instalment in her trilogy of albums that explore the roots of Black-oriented musical culture. The previous albums include Nameless and Stay Tuned!, which was nominated for the Polaris Prize in 2019 and won a 2020 Juno Award.
Mustafa says: "We've lost so much. These last two years have been a continuous burial. Beyond the virus, the city of Toronto's murder rate has also soared. This here is a perfect reimagination of Black death and all that surrounds and follows it, that reimagination once felt impossible for me, Sharpe gives us enough space and light to question and reckon with our existence. She teaches us how each process, each burial, each life is politicized, policed and made invisible. Sharpe traces every wound back to every knife back to every bladesmith. I've been both protector and prey, both war and prayer: In the Wake helps answer each clash, it draws a thread through the multitudes of our grief. How Black life pays for its offering and for its pain and for its gift.
This book here is a guide, a deeply personal & intellectual exploration of Blackness, it gives us a complete look at how our beginning shapes our end.- Mustafa
"People have not written enough, there are not as many accounts of our deaths as we may imagine, a lot of what we have is not wide enough, In the Wake is a reminder for me, that my documentation of grief on When Smoke Rises is vital to my community's lineage, that the assumption of remembrance is dangerous because systems of oppression are designed to make us forget. We must go to the ends of the earth to preserve each other. This book here is a guide, a deeply personal and intellectual exploration of Blackness, it gives us a complete look at how our beginning shapes our end."
Mustafa started making local headlines at the age of 12, after releasing an original spoken word poem called A Single Rose. His performance brought an audience to their feet and has garnered 35,000 views on YouTube. Now 24, Mustafa has written songs for the Weeknd, Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber, and co-founded a hip hop collective called Halal Gang.
Densil says: "Reading this book elevated my understanding of music. Scar Tissue is the autobiography of Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis. The book takes you on a journey from his lowest lows to his ascent in the music industry. I strongly recommend this book to everyone. Frankly, this should be required reading for anyone who makes music in a band.
Frankly, this should be required reading for anyone who makes music in a band.- Densil McFarlane
"This is the story of a young and flawed musician trying to make it in the music industry. Kiedis consistently confronts demons that never truly go away and offers a bird's eye view on learning to cope with life a day at a time. Reading the real-life stories behind some of his lyrics makes me appreciate his music even more.
"It is truly remarkable how he is able to beautifully word completely chaotic situations. Kiedis' blunt honesty has elevated my understanding of what real music is. Sharing pieces of yourself that you are not proud of can be tremendously difficult; however, you may find a community of people going through the same thing."
The OBGMs, which stands for 'Oooh Baby Gimme More,' are a punk rock trio from Toronto. The Ends is their second album. The album is an angry, slamming record about the realities of being a Black rock musician in Canada.
Klô Pelgag says: "C'est en lisant ce roman de Gabriel Garcia Marquez que j'ai découvert l'existence du 'Rémora'. Ce poisson des mers tropicales, dont la première nageoire dorsale est transformée en un disque adhésif, par lequel il se fixe aux requins ou aux tortues pour avancer. Je suis encore habitée par certaines images de ce livre au pouvoir évocateur très fort."
I am still preoccupied by certain images in this book, which have very strong evocative power.- Klô Pelgag
Translation to English:
"It was while reading this novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that I discovered the existence of the 'Remora.' This tropical sea fish's first dorsal fin transforms into an adhesive disc, which it attaches to sharks or turtles to move forward. I am still preoccupied by certain images in this book, which have very strong evocative power."
Klô Pelgag is a musician from Quebec. She has received the Félix Awards's New Artist of the Year in 2014 and has been shortlisted for Juno Awards and SOCAN prizes. Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is her third album. It explores a recent dark period in Klô Pelgag's life, but also finds glimmers of light in the aftermath.
Tobi says: "This novel is a historical fiction tale that tells the story of two half-sisters Effia and Esi born in Ghana during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Their lives follows drastically different paths as Effia marries a rich Englishman and Esi is captured in a raid and sold into slavery. The book follows the lineage of both sisters across eight generations until the present day.
"It displays the experiences of Africans and African Americans over time and the effects of enslavement on both sides of the Atlantic. It was interesting to see how cultural identity mutated in each subsequent generation via language, food and mannerisms.
"There was a point in Esi's lineage where her descendants no longer identified as Africans in America, but rather as African Americans. The limbo phase of cultural grappling is similar to many first generation Canadians who feel as if they are caught between two worlds.
"A powerful quote from the book is from the character Yaw on the power of storytelling reads: 'We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, 'Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?' Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.'
I often wrestle with what being a Nigerian truly means, as it was created in the mid 20th century as a by-product of imperialism.- Tobi
"The awareness and lucidity of the characters spoke to me as a Nigerian Canadian who has tried to understand what my identity means as a person born in a post-colonial British state. I often wrestle with what being a Nigerian truly means, as it was created in the mid-20th century as a by-product of imperialism.
"I question the weight placed on national identity for many reasons, firstly being the recency of these established entities and secondly, the context by which they were created; mostly for economic purposes rather than cultural preservation and community."
Born Oluwatobi Feyisara Ajibolade and known professionally as Tobi, the artist released his debut album, Still, in 2019. Tobi was named by Complex Magazine as "a top artist to watch" and has received critical acclaim from Exclaim!, Pitchfork, Vogue, Billboard and Rolling Stone.
Zoon says: "The book I'm choosing is by Bill Ballantyne. It's called Weenipeg.
"I chose it because there aren't many books about my home territory and I deeply respect Bill, who taught music at the reservation school I attended called Sargent Tommy Prince."
Musician and recording artist Daniel Monkman goes by the name Zoon. Raised in Selkirk, Man., near Winnipeg, Monkman also spent time living on a Brokenhead Ojibway Nation reserve. Currently based in Ontario, the artist melds sounds from his Ojibway heritage with psychedelic rock sounds that reflect on his experiences with racism, trauma, substance abuse and healing. Bleached Wavves is the debut album from Zoon.
Tamara says: "Flight to Arras by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry takes place in 1940. De Saint-Exupéry was in the French Air Force and he's flying on a reconnaissance mission. He's watching the Nazi advance over his country, the whole country is on fire, and they're so under prepared.
"They're vastly outnumbered. Most of his comrades are dying every day — but it's not remotely a war book. It's sort of written inside of his mind. He looks down on the countryside and the descriptions are so beautiful and poetic.
What's interesting about the book is it doesn't feel at all hopeless. - Tamara Lindeman
"What's interesting about the memoir is it doesn't feel at all hopeless. It doesn't feel like a war book at all because he finds so much beauty and meaning in a totally meaningless, horrible situation."
Tamara Lindeman is a singer-songwriter who heads up The Weather Station, a folk music project out of Toronto. The Weather Station released their fifth album, Ignorance, in 2021. Ignorance is a folk rock album that explores climate change, activism, fear and the destruction of our natural world.