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Gord Downie wins three Junos at music awards gala dinner Saturday night

The Strumbellas win Single of the Year with “Spirits” during the Juno Awards gala at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa, Canada. —AP/AFP photos

Drake struck out in the first round of Juno Awards that were handed out Saturday during a gala dinner at Ottawa’s Shaw Centre. The rap superstar, who did not show up for the festivities, lost the artist of the year Juno to the late Leonard Cohen, watched single of the year go the Strumbellas’ tune Spirits, and even failed to reel in the rap trophy. It went to Jazz Cartier, another Toronto hiphop artist.  That left the Tragically Hip’s frontman Gord Downie as the night’s big winner. The singer-songwriter, who is fighting terminal brain cancer, received three Juno Awards, including rock album of the year for the Hip’s Man Machine Poem.

Downie’s own album, Secret Path, a concept album about Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy who died in 1966 while trying to return home after escaping from an Indian residential school, won two awards – the adult alternative album award and the award for recording package. Secret Path, which raised funds through its sales for the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation project, came with a graphic novel. Downie was not in Ottawa to receive his Junos. Leonard Cohen, who died four months ago, was conferred a final honor by the the Junos. The legendary singer-songwriter-poet was crowned artist of the year, ahead of Drake, Alessia Cara, Shawn Mendes and The Weeknd.

Cohen’s son, singer-songwriter Adam Cohen accepted the award on his father’s behalf. “Many international artists find excuses to not participate in the Junos,” he joked. “I think he’s found the best one yet.”  Cohen added that his father was “suspicious of people who didn’t understand how great Canada is. So thank you, Canada.” He also said his father represented people who are still grieving, consoling themselves and him. As for his own loss, Cohen said: “I’m just taking my meds and suppressing my feelings and trying to speak as clearly and eloquently as possible, given my pedigree.”

Huge and enormous
The Strumbellas, the Toronto-based, family-friendly indie rockers, were astonished when their song, Spirits, not only beat Drake, but also Cara, Mendes and The Weeknd.  In fact, they were so sure they didn’t have a chance that frontman Simon Ward didn’t bother wearing shoes when he went to the podium. He’d taken them off after dinner, and didn’t think he needed to put them back on. “We legitimately didn’t think we were going to win,” said band member Isabel Ritchie. “The nominees we were up against were so exceptional and huge and enormous.” “We heard if you beat Drake, you become Drake,” kidded the Strumbellas’ Dave Ritter. Drake did win the trophy for international achievement. The Weeknd snagged the award for R&B/soul recording of the year for his album Starboy. He was not present to accept it. It was Jazz Cartier’s Hotel Paranoia album that upset Drake’s View as the year’s best rap award, and also beat out Belly, Tasha the Amazon and Tory Lanez.
“I didn’t expect to beat Drake, but y’all been snubbing him all night so it should go to me,” the Toronto hiphop artist joked as he accepted the award. Indigenous artists were celebrated at the gala, and not only in the indigenous-music category, which was won by Yellowknife duo Quantum Tangle for its album Tiny Hands.  Earthly Days by Winnipeg-based indigenous artist William Prince, who performed at the gala, won contemporary roots album of the year. The award “validates me as a singer, not just as an identity,” Prince told reporters.

Inspirational speech
The large-ensemble classical album of the year award went to Steve Wood and the Northern Cree Singers and Tanya Tagaq for their album Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation. “We did pretty good tonight,” Buffy Sainte-Marie remarked to reporters backstage, after giving an inspirational speech to accept this year’s Allan Waters Humanitarian award. The producer of the year award went to Ottawa-based DJ crew A Tribe Called Red, the Junos’ breakthrough artist of the year in 2014.  “Being a producer in the electronic world is different than an audio engineer, so to get recognition as an electronic producer in that world, it’s pretty awesome,” said ATCR’s Ian Campeau.

Two of the Juno’s jazz awards went to B.C.-raised female artists who for left Canada to pursue their music in New York. The vocal jazz album award went to Chilliwack-raised singer-trumpeter Bria Skonberg for her crowd-funded album. The solo jazz album of the year award went to North Vancouver-raised pianist Renee Rosnes, winning her fifth Juno for her album Written in the Rocks. At the podium, Rosnes gave a shoutout to her high school music teacher, Bob Rebagliati. “He has three Juno nominees here tonight,” Rosnes said. “Thank you Reb, for everything you’ve given me.”

Metalwood, the veteran electric jazz group whose album Twenty won group jazz album of the year, includes a Vancouver-raised bassist, Chris Tarry, who lives in New York, and an Ottawa-raised drummer, Ian Froman, who lives in New Jersey. New York “is the mecca of our music,” Rosnes told reporters. “And a lot of Canadian musicians go there and learn and end up staying. We have a great love for Canada, and we come back very often.”

Jamaica-born, Toronto-based Exco Levi won his fifth consecutive Juno for reggae recording. “Just to be honoured here in Canada among all these beautiful people is amazing,” Levi told reporters. “I wouldn’t trade Canada for nowhere else.” Sarah McLachlan, who is to be the 2017 inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, won adult contemporary album of the year for Wonderland, a Christmas album she recorded with the members of Half Moon Run.

Near the end of the night, the Hip’s Paul Langlois and Rob Baker accepted the award for rock album of the year. Langlois gave a shoutout to the other bands in the category, while Baker saluted July Talk for reminding him what it’s like to be a fan.  Langlois also had some advice for those who didn’t win: “Sometimes not getting picked can make you stronger,” he said. It was good advice for Drake.

The remaining Juno Awards will be handed out Sunday night during the live-TV event at the Canadian Tire Centre, to be hosted by Bryan Adams and Russell Peters. Drake still has a shot at two of this year’s awards, album of the year and Fan

By Lynn Saxberg and Peter Hum

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