There was a theme at Saturday night's (April 1) 46th annual Juno Gala Dinner and Awards in Ottawa, Ontario -- and it went beyond the celebration of the best in Canadian music, including winners like The Tragically Hip, the late Leonard Cohen, The Weeknd, and Sarah McLachlan.
"Canada is one of the most welcoming and diverse countries in the world and that's reflected in the music of the artists in the 41 categories that are up for awards tonight," CARAS president/CEO Allan Reid said in his welcome speech, noting that of the 183 Juno nominees, 74 are first-timers representing 16 genres.
On Sunday night, the remaining awards will be handed out at the Canadian Tire Centre during a televised broadcast that is jam-packed with live performances and includes the Canadian Hall of Fame Induction of McLachlan. Bryan Adams and Russell Peters are co-hosting.
Saturday's gala, however, was a private affair at the Shaw Centre for 1,500 members of the music industry and many of the nominees.
Drake, who received the international achievement award for his album Views, and The Weekend, who won R&B/soul recording for "Starboy," were on tour. Adam Cohen got off the best quip of the night, though, when he accepted artist of the year for his father, who died in November.
"As you know, Leonard Cohen is not here to accept this award. Many international artists find excuses to not participate in the Junos. I think he's found the best one yet," Adam Cohen said.
He added that his dad was preoccupied at the end of his career with his songs being kept alive. "And so I know that he would be incredibly happy to have this Juno and he was very suspicious of people who didn't understand how great Canada is, so thank you Canada."
Besides Canadian legends like Cohen and The Tragically Hip -- which won rock album of the year for Man Machine Poem, while the band's singer Gord Downie took home a pair of trophies for his solo album, Secret Path -- there were some pleasant surprises for some rising artists up going head to head with global names.
The Strumbellas won single of the year for "Spirits," against tracks by Alessia Cara, Drake, Shawn Mendes and The Weeknd. Jazz Cartier's "Hotel Paranoia" beat out Drake's Views, and Mandroid Echostar's Coral Throne pummeled Annihilator, Protest the Hero, and Devin Townsend Project in the metal/hard music album category.
Kaytranda, who last year lambasted the Juno Awards and the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS) as "out of touch" for disqualifying his nomination for "At All," which fell outside the eligibility period, quickly forgave after winning electronic album for 99.9 percent -- the same album which won the 2016 Polaris Music Prize.
"I regret saying all those things because... I see it differently now," he laughed backstage.
In all, there were 15 first-time Juno Award winners: Bit Funk; Bria Skonberg; Jason Dufour; Jazz Cartier; Johnathan Shedletzky/Isis Essery/Jeff Lemire; Jordan Nobles; Kaytranada; Laurence Nerbonne; Mandroid Echostar; Okavango African Orchestra; Quantum Tangle; The East Pointers; The Dirty Nil; The Fretless; and William Prince.
Randy Lennox, the president of Bell Media and former head of Universal Music Canada, was given the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, and honored in a tribute video by The Weeknd, Alessia Cara, Shawn Mendes, Gord Downie, Sting and Gene Simmons. Lennox said in his speech that "the true joy of our business is the sense of discovery and the unconditional belief in an artist ... and always remaining awestruck, never losing sight that you are there to serve their vision."
Besides touting Canada's diverse music community and how welcoming a country it is to immigrants, CARAS' Allan Reid, and several artists who took to the podium to accept their Juno Award, made note of the need to acknowledge and honor Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and that, in fact, the Juno festivities were taking place on unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg Nation.
The band July Talk reiterated the point when accepting alternative album for Touch.
"As we talk about celebrating Canada's 150th, it is imperative that we think of Ottawa, our country's capital, as an important place for new agreements to be made with Indigenous people based on their terms," co-vocalist Leah Fay said.
Buffy Sainte-Marie, who won two Junos in 2016 for her album Power in the Blood, this year was feted with the Allan Waters Humanitarian Awards for her 50-plus years of activism both in song and by action, protecting indigenous communities and their intellectual properties.
While she has spent a lifetime bringing these issues to the forefront, and even had her issue-based songs blacklisted early in her career, Downie's Secret Path focusing on an Anishinaabe boy Chanie Wenjack who died after running away from a residential school in the winter, won adult alternative album and recording package of the year.
The much-beloved Downie, who has terminal brain cancer, has made it his mission to bring reconciliation to Indigenous and non-Indigenous People of Canada, which he referenced on a broadcast of The Tragically Hip's final concert to millions worldwide and by creating Secret Path as a charity project benefiting The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation, via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at The University of Manitoba.
His words and actions seem to be getting through.
See the complete list of winners below:
Artist of the year: Leonard Cohen.
Single of the year: The Strumbellas, "Spirits."
Breakthrough group of the year: The Dirty Nil.
Adult alternative album of the year: Gord Downie, Secret Path
Alternative album of the year: July Talk, Touch
ROCK ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Tragically Hip, Man Machine Poem
RAP RECORDING OF THE YEAR: Jazz Cartier, "Hotel Paranoia"
DANCE RECORDING OF THE YEAR: Bit Funk featuring Shae Jacobs, "Off the Ground"
R&B/SOUL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: The Weeknd, "Starboy"
REGGAE RECORDING OF THE YEAR: Exco Levi, "Siren"
INDIGENOUS MUSIC ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Quantum Tangle, Tiny Hands
CONTEMPORARY ROOTS ALBUM OF THE YEAR: William Prince, Earthly Days
TRADITIONAL ROOTS ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The East Pointers, Secret Victory
BLUES ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Paul Reddick, Ride the One
VOCAL JAZZ ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Bria Skonberg, Bria
JAZZ ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- SOLO: Renée Rosnes, Written in the Rocks.
JAZZ ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- GROUP: Metalwood, Twenty
INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Fretless, Bird's Nest
FRANCOPHONE ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Laurence Nerbonne, XO
CHILDREN'S ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Diana Panton, I Believe in Little Things
CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- SOLO OR CHAMBER: New Orford String Quartet, Brahms: String
Quartets, Op. 51, Nos. 1 & 2
CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- LARGE ENSEMBLE: Steve Wood and the Northern Cree Singers and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Going Home Star - Truth and Reconciliation
JACK RICHARDSON PRODUCER OF THE YEAR: A Tribe Called Red, "R.E.D." (featuring Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear) and "Sila" (featuring Tanya Tagaq) from We Are the Hallucination
RECORDING ENGINEER OF THE YEAR: Jason Dufour for "Push + Pull" and "Beck + Call" from July Talk's Touch
RECORDING PACKAGE OF THE YEAR: Gord Downie, Secret Path -- Jonathan Shedletzky (art director), Isis Essery (designer) and Jeff Lemaire (illustrator)
VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Grimes, "Kill v. Maim" (director: Claire Boucher)
ELECTRONIC ALBUM OF THE YEAR: KAYTRANADA, 99.9%
METAL/HARD MUSIC ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Mandroid Echostar, Coral Throne
ADULT CONTEMPORARY ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Sarah McLachlan, Wonderland
INTERNATIONAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Coldplay, A Head Full of Dreams