At this point even Amish people living under rocks have heard of Drake.
The Toronto deity has made the leap from famous rapper to famous musician to the kind of uber-celebrity even my grandmother knows about, and in the process Drake has place an unprecedentedly bright spotlight on Canadian artists.
From Neil Young to Justin Bieber, Arcade Fire to Shania Twain, the land of hockey and round bacon has produced no shortage of breakthrough acts in the past, but this is a particularly exciting time to be from the Great North. For the first time the spotlight’s truly widening beyond superstars like Drake, The Weeknd and Bieber, bringing attention to the country’s extraordinarily diverse blend of cultures and boiling creative power.
While American audiences still typically consider the 50 states the center of the music universe – if you haven’t made it here, you haven’t made it anywhere – the truth is that a new generation of Canadian artists are making the music that’s going to make the globe spin next. So if you’re looking for the future of sonics, you’d better be paying just as much attention to Canada’s Polaris Music Prize as the GRAMMYs.
Case in point, Kaytranada. His 99% album just picked up top honors at the annual award, putting an official stamp on what many music lovers have long known; the Haitian-Canadian producer is simply on another level.
Kaytranada is equally comfortable behind the boards and behind the lens, crafting a trademark sound and look that’s simultaneously Sunday afternoon relaxed and brain-grabbingly intense. It’s an ability to fluidly traverse physical and artistic spaces that can perhaps be traced to growing up as the son of Haitian immigrant parents in French-speaking Montreal. (Lest anyone challenges his Canadian credentials, he accepted his Polaris Prize by shouting out his hometown in French.)
Whether it’s nature or nurture, Kaytranada is one of those artists who’s been around for a minute, hovering just below the surface, and is now seemingly everywhere, thanks in large part to an impressively exploding list of collaborators. From fellow breakthrough-er Anderson .Paak to NYC underground grinder Wiki and far beyond (he was recently spotted with human unicorn Andre 3000), the list of must listen Kaytranada music is growing by the second.
While certainly one of its most compelling voices, Kaytranada is of course far from the only new Canadian artist that deserves your ears’ time and attention.
A full list of worthy Canadian artists would be far too extensive to work in here, so once again we can use the Polaris Prize as a sturdy launch pad. Kaytranada’s fellow nominees included Grimes, who’s likely already familiar to a global audience. But from that list I would also highlight Basia Bulat, who has one of those sneaky powerful voices – think Adele if she sang in smokey blues clubs – and Jessy Lanza, who’s masterfully executing some of the same pop-dance-soul maneuvers as Kaytranada.
Even wider, BADBADNOTGOOD have been making excellent jazz for people who would typically be scared off by a genre label like jazz (even the almighty Ghostface Killah is a fan), this has already been the year that DVSN vaulted onto the national stage, and Le Trouble’s videos alone are enough to put them on the finest New Great Canadian Music playlist.
This article is clearly only scratching the surface of the surface’s exterior, but it’s not meant to be exhaustive, it’s meant to be a shovel and a prod. The same way miners returning to the general store coated in gold dust set off a rush to the hills, I’m coming back from the Canadian soil with promised that great art lies northward. Start digging.
[By Nathan Slavik, aka @RefinedHype]