It's a tie! Crown Lands and Mustafa win Canada Listens 2022

Albums by a Muslim poet and an Indigenous rock duo have tied to win this year.

Albums by the Muslim poet and Indigenous rock duo have both won this year

"When Smoke Rises" by Mustafa and the self-titled album by Crown Lands have both won Canada Listens 2022 in an unprecedented tie. (CBC / Merheje / Lee)

Crown Lands' self-titled hard-rock album and Mustafa's inner-city folk record When Smoke Rises have both won Canada Listens 2022.

A tie?! Yes, a tie.

Never before in the short, two-year history of Canada Listens, or the 20-year history of Canada Reads, has either competition ever ended in a tie. Until now. 

Canada Listens is CBC Music's great music debate, the musical cousin of Canada Reads, where five celebrity panellists hash it out each year to decide which album Canada needs to hear. The panellists may choose any Canadian album they wish from any year or era, and are then challenged to make their case for it through four days of passionate debate, airing on CBC Music.

Earlier in the week, the hit-filled, self-tilted dance-pop album by Ria Mae, defended by Olympian soccer star Stephanie Labbé, was eliminated on Day 1. On Day 2, Bruce Cockburn's 1978 folk classic, Further Adventures Of, defended by Survivorman's Les Stroud, was voted out. The Juno-winning landmark soul album Sleepless by JackSoul, which was defended by actor Kim Roberts, was ousted on Day 3.

On Day 4, the final decision came down to either Mustafa's When Smoke Rises, defended by Toronto comedian Dave Merheje, or the self-titled album by Crown Lands, defended by Cree activist and poet Erica Violet Lee.

Immediately before the final vote, Lee shocked everyone involved with this surprise statement: 

"I think it would be a disservice to choose one album Canadians need to hear between artists who are so significant to Black, Muslim, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and two-spirit communities," Lee declared with a quiver of emotion in her voice.

"Music is not simply a combination of pretty sounds and words. Music is the sound of freedom from the roots of rock existing in the songs of enslaved Black people, to the ceremonial music Native communities managed to save despite their illegalization by Canada's Indian Act. In honour of these truths existing together, inextricably, because no one is free until we're all free, Crown Lands and I have decided to bow out of the competition."

Crown Lands and I have decided to bow out of the competition.- Erica Violet Lee

After a stunned moment of silence, Canada Listens host Saroja Coelho proceeded with a final vote, noting that Lee had withdrawn and Merheje couldn't vote for his own choice. Ironically, despite Lee's statement, the other three panellists voted unanimously for Crown Lands to win Canada Listens 2022. 

"We have an album that Erica has pulled because she doesn't want to be in a competition that sets her against Mustafa or the community that he comes from," Coelho explained. "This is something that is so revelatory, and such a celebration of real solidarity between communities and between artists. So what we've decided to do, even though we love to celebrate a winner, is that we are actually going to share this title."

5 distinct Canadian albums will be debated by 5 distinct personalities, but only 1 title will be crowned the album Canadians need to hear now. (CBC Music)

Therefore, a tie was declared: Mustafa's When Smoke Rises and Crown Lands' self-titled album are the two albums Canada needs to hear right now.

When asked for comment on the final result, Lee had this to say:

"I believe that every album chosen for this competition has something to say that is so important. I learned something about life from every single one of these albums. Particularly, I think it's extraordinarily important that the top three albums were by Black and Indigenous artists [Crown Lands, Mustafa, JackSoul], which are voices that have not been lost, have not been unheard, but have been deliberately silenced in the history of Canada. Historically and presently. So for that, I'm grateful on behalf of Crown Lands, and I think Canada should also listen to Mustafa's album, as well as every other album on this show."

Dave Merheje, who was defending Mustafa's When Smoke Rises, found himself elated by the joint victory and, like many times throughout the competition, was almost at a loss for words.

"I think what Erica did was beautiful. These voices are silenced, and this is a beautiful thing you did."

I think what Erica did was beautiful.- Dave Merheje, on Erica Violet Lee pulling Crown Lands from Canada Listens 2022


Listen: Full episodes of Canada Listens 2022, with album trailers, panellist pre-interviews and more.

Canada Listens 2022 winners:

Crown Lands, self-titled album

Crown Lands are an award-winning hard-rock duo from Oshawa, Ont., made up of Cody Bowles on drums and vocals, and Kevin Comeau on guitar and keyboards. The band's name is a political statement in itself, which Bowles, who identifies as Mi'kmaq, explained to American Songwriter in 2020: "The meaning of Crown Lands is steeped in the troublesome history of Canada. Crown land is stolen land. We are reclaiming it. We are fighting to have the voices of millions of marginalized people heard."

Crown Lands won the 2021 Juno Award for breakthrough group of the year and were nominated for rock album of the year. They are co-winners of Canada Listens 2022, the album that Canada needs to hear.

Mustafa, When Smoke Rises

Toronto spoken-word artist and musician Mustafa released When Smoke Rises independently on May 28, 2021, in tribute to a friend who was murdered in 2018. The album's acclaim was almost immediate. When Smoke Rises and Mustafa received high-profile reviews and features in places like PitchforkGQ, and the New York Times, which called Mustafa "a folk hero for a weary generation." He appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on the eve of the album's release, and the record landed on the short list for the 2021 Polaris Music Prize. Mustafa is currently nominated for two 2022 Juno Awards, for alternative album and songwriter of the year. He is the co-winner of Canada Listens 2022, the album Canada needs to hear.

Canada Listens 2022 was hosted by CBC Music's Saroja Coelho. She guided panellists through four radio shows of passionate debate. Each day, starting Monday, April 11, on CBC Music Mornings, the panellists will vote to remove one album from the group, until the winners were declared on Thursday, April 14. 

A special two-hour version, highlighting the best of the 2022 Canada Listens debate, will air on CBC Radio One on Monday, April 18, at 4 p.m. (4:30 NT).

The Canada Listens winners become the albums that Canada needs to hear. The contenders this year included:

  • Bruce Cockburn's Further Adventures Of, championed by "Survivorman" Les Stroud. 
  • Winner: Mustafa's When Smoke Rises, championed by comedian Dave Merheje.
  • Winner: Crown Land's Crown Lands, championed by poet Erica Violet Lee. 
  • Ria Mae's Ria Mae, championed by Olympic athlete Stephanie Labbé.
  • Jacksoul's Sleepless, championed by actor Kim Roberts.

Which Canadian album would you suggest for next year? Tweet us @CBCMusic with #CanadaListens and let us know!

5 celebrity panelists will debate which album Canadians should mostly definitely hear in 2022. (CBC)