Big beats, bigger dreams Awards show boosts profile of Indigenous hip-hop acts, bolsters sense of community
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It’s hard to network through a computer screen. This weekend, artists and entrepreneurs from around the world will finally be able to connect in person during the second annual International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards Show hosted in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.
It’s proof of concept for organizers, who launched the event digitally last May.
“To have the artists come and be able to perform live and break bread with each other, and share and connect on a spiritual level and a visual level and a sound level… even just shaking hands,” co-founder Chris Sharpe says. “The shining light of this event is that we’re able to do it together.”
International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards Show
● Trade show, Friday; Motto Workspace, 72 Princess St.
● Award show, Saturday; Exchange Event Centre, 291 Bannatyne Ave.
● Tickets $50 at indigenous hip hop awards.com
The two-day affair kicks off Friday with a trade show and workshops led by music and marketing industry professionals. The conference takes place at Sharpe’s new Motto Workspace, a spacious, sunlit production studio and event space on the third floor of an historic building at 72 Princess St.
On Saturday, ticketholders and nominees will gather at the Exchange Event Centre (291 Bannatyne Ave.) for a red carpet event, live performances and award show celebrating the best in urban Indigenous music and culture. Winnipeg hip-hop artist Sly Skeeta is co-hosting the awards with Vancouver-based performer Á’a:Líya Warbus.
“Just to be a part of it is totally a blessing,” says Skeeta, who has Ojibwe and Eritrean heritage. “Things happen for a reason and I’m a spiritual person, so I believe this is my time to shine and reap all the benefits and opportunities that were missing early in my career.”
“Things happen for a reason and I’m a spiritual person, so I believe this is my time to shine and reap all the benefits and opportunities that were missing early in my career.” – Sly Skeeta
He’s been involved in the local hip-hop scene for more than 20 years. Skeeta started as a battle MC, performing at small local venues, and has expanded the scope of his career to include broadcasting, DJing, standup comedy and, most recently, acting.
For a long time a diverse portfolio was necessary within Winnipeg’s hip-hop scene, where opportunities to work full-time as a musician were few and far between. In recent years, Skeeta has noticed a shift.
“Resources or connections — that’s what the music industry is about,” he says. “Now I see that buzz coming and the energy is amazing.”
The International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards are adding to that buzz. Born out of a desire for better representation on the award show circuit, the event is designed to celebrate the diverse talent of Indigenous hip-hop artists from around the globe. This year, nominees hail from North and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
“Hip hop has a beautiful culture and it’s one of the most popular music genres in the world,” Sharpe says. “We’re just celebrating one component of it, which is Indigenous hip hop.”
While its organizers are located across Canada, hosting the first live event in Winnipeg — with its growing hip-hop scene and the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada — was a no-brainer.
“Winnipeg doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s a diamond in the rough,” Sharpe says of the local music industry. “Winnipeg needs something like this, which we’re producing with the community. I think it helps people dream for the stars.”
In addition to hosting the award show and DJing at the trade show, Sly Skeeta is nominated for Best Male Hip Hop Artist for his 2022 single, Problems. His music focuses on positive messaging and important causes, such as Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, teen suicide and clean drinking water for First Nations communities.
Skeeta strives to be a role model and hopes his involvement in the event will inspire Indigenous youth to follow their passion.
“For the kids that are coming up and maybe thinking this is just a pipe dream or a fantasy,” Skeeta says, “you can get involved in music… and expression and develop your skills and make the right connections to flourish as an artist.”
There are 14 award categories with winners selected through a combination of judged and public voting. This year’s event will be livestreamed online, with organizers hoping to secure a broadcaster in the future.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.