Manitoba performers and those behind the scenes aren’t just surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re thriving, if the 2021 Western Canadian Music Awards are any indication.
The province claimed 14 of the 22 music and industry awards announced during a livestream Friday evening.
Two Winnipeg singers, Begonia and Kelly Bado, won two apiece.
Bado was named francophone artist of the year and global artist of the year. Begonia (stage name for Alexa Dirks) claimed recording of the year for The Fear Tour (Live), her concert album recorded at the West End Cultural Centre, and pop artist of the year.
"Grateful to be recognized in such a way right now," Dirks said after the online ceremony. "I also feel very thankful for the team I work with and my family and friends that support me so much in the ups and downs of what I do."
It was the second consecutive WCMA francophone artist award for Bado. The bilingual singer was also excited her debut full-length album, Hey Terre, had received praise in the global artist category.
"In a time of pandemic, where we’ve been so isolated from each other, my music, with Hey Terre, has allowed me to connect with wonderful new friends around the country and beyond our borders," Bado said Friday.
Other Manitoba WCMA winners make up a who’s who of a growing music scene.
Mise en Scene (Gimli-based duo Stefanie Johnson and Jodi Dunlop) was named rock artist of the year; pianist and University of Manitoba music Prof. Will Bonness won jazz artist of the year; the metal/hard music artist of the year trophy went to Winnipeg group Vagina Witchcraft; Peguis First Nation singer-songwriter William Prince took roots artist of the year honours; and Sebastian Gaskin, a multi-instrumentalist from Tataskweyak First Nation, won R&B artist of the year.
Grant Davidson, the man behind the Slow Leaves moniker, was named songwriter of the year. He recorded his 2021 LP, Holiday, at a home studio built during the pandemic.
"It’s an honour to be recognized for songwriting, as that’s really at the heart of what I do," Davidson said. "It’s also a nice reminder that my work isn’t simply self-validating delusion, that others see value in it."
The win was one of seven WCMA awards Winnipeg record label Birthday Cake played a role in. Begonia and Slow Leaves are among the three-year-old company’s growing international roster of artists; it also received two industry awards for music marketing and artist development.
"I’ve been working with Alexa on the Begonia project since Begonia project was even born to the world. She is so creative and such a talented force of nature," said Stu Anderson, Birthday Cake co-founder and chief executive officer.
"We spent so much time and energy on touring, when that shifted, we were able to put so much care into releasing our artists’ albums and doing a good job of it... We’re super-proud how far it has come."
Deadmen (duo Matt Peters and Matt Schellenberg) were named producer of the year. Winnipeg graphic designer Roberta Landreth won for excellence in visual design. (Birthday Cake represents both.)
Three special awards were handed to Manitobans as well Friday night.
Carole Vivier, head of Manitoba Film & Music for three decades until retiring in 2019, was recipient of the Kevin Walters Industry Builder Award.
Country singer Ray St. Germain — whose music and television career goes back more than 60 years and a trail blazer for Métis artists — received the 2021 Heritage Award.
The Watchmen — formed in 1988 by Daniel Greaves, Joey Serlin, Sammy Kohn and Pete Loewen, earning one platinum and three gold records during the rock group’s heyday in the 1990s — were named to the WCMA Hall of Fame.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.