Fresh IE is as excited today about the Juno Awards as he was three months ago.
The Winnipeg rapper’s 2019 album Ill Street Blues is nominated for Contemporary Christian Album of the Year. He is one of seven Manitobans and former Manitobans nominated at Canada’s biggest music event.
The Junos were supposed to be handed out March 15 in Saskatoon, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading throughout North America. Instead, singer Alessia Cara will host a streamed version of the awards ceremony tonight at 6 p.m. on CBC Gem and CBC Music.
"I’m probably more excited than any other of the awards," he says. "Not to win the award, (but) I mean it would be beautiful to win the award and I would share it with everybody I know."
It’s been 15 years between Juno nominations for Fresh IE. He rose to prominence in 2003 with the album Red Letterz, which earned Juno and Grammy nods and with 2005’s Truth is Fallin’ in the Streetz, which also earned a Grammy nomination. He’s says he’s gained appreciation for the recognition over the years.
"Here I am, I’m 47 and I’m still being nominated for awards, I’m still relevant and my work is still relevant today. That’s just really encouraging.
"The Grammys and all the other stuff back in the day, I was more overwhelmed... I was blown away and I couldn’t enjoy the experience as much as I wanted to. But now I’m more mature and seasoned."
Fresh IE joins nominees Big Dave McLean (blues album); Small Glories (traditional blues); Del Barber (contemporary roots); Renée Lamoureux (adult contemporary); Iskwe (adult alternative) and James Ehnes (classical, solo or chamber).
The Junos will be the start of Fresh IE’s busy week. At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Canada Day, he will headline a one-hour concert that will be streamed from IG Field, with support from Hellnback, Sir Louie, DJ Bunny, MC Escalade, Jake, Drew Wolitarsky and appearances by Winnipeg Blue Bombers Nic Demski and Thomas Miles, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Brett Levis of Valour FC.
"It seems like in 2020 we’ve been hit with things back to back to back, with COVID and George Floyd and the riots, and I wanted to do something to uplift the community and to bring some balance," Fresh says. "There’s a lot of people who have short fuses at this time.
"It’s either log off of social media for the rest of the year or I do something to use my influence... to remind everybody there’s some great times ahead of us as people, but we have to learn how to listen to each other."
Fresh IE, who is Black, says people across the country have reached out to him since Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis on May 25, and especially about the Black Lives Matter rally in Winnipeg, which drew 15,000 people to the steps of the Manitoba legislature on June 5.
"A lot of people think that Black Canadians don’t have it as hard as African Americans," says the performer, whose given name is Robert Wilson. "When you think about North America, we all have privilege. We could be living in a war-torn country. But unfortunately there are a lot of things that are unseen that are happening. I’ve experienced it myself."
In 2008, he received an apology from Keith McCaskill, who was the chief of the Winnipeg Police Service at the time, after officers mistakenly pulled him over and dragged him from his new Lincoln at gunpoint.
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"With me being pulled over and guns drawn at me, saying I stole my own vehicle, these things happen.
"It’s a matter of people being awake to what’s going on in our nation. We need to look past our privilege and learn. A lot of Canadians don’t know about Africville in Nova Scotia," he says, referring to the the decades of mistreatment and forced relocation of Black people in Halifax in 1964. "A lot of Canadians don’t know what happened with Indigenous people. The generations in school now are learning more about that than when we were in school. We didn’t learn much about Indigenous history. We didn’t learn the proper history, anyways."
He says the Canada Day concert will be similar to an old-school telethon, where celebrities’ messages are mixed in between the entertainers’ performances. The concert will be streamed on Fresh IE’s YouTube and Facebook channels, as well as the Bombers’ website (bluebombers.com).
"We have to speak to the ones who want to lash out and oppress the oppressors," Fresh IE says. "We can’t rise up to be oppressors; we have to rise up to bring healing and justice and all those things that need to happen."
Alan Small Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
Fans of the city’s club scene over the past quarter-century will finally find out what a mix of the bands Novillero and Duotang will sound like.
Rod Slaughter, who performed with both bands, Dave Berthiaume and Sean Stevens of Novillero, and Steve Payne, who along with Stevens was in the group Transonic, formed Silver Clouds, which released its self-titled debut album June 26.
Bassist Slaughter was part of Duotang from 1995 to 2001; he then formed Novillero, which broke up in 2010. He had been working on songs after that breakup, but a Duotang reunion in 2014 put it all on hold.
He recruited Berthiaume, a drummer who also played with the ‘90s group Bulletproof Nothing, to work on the batch of songs after the reunion.
“We finished it about a year ago, and we thought, ‘Let’s form a band around this,’” Slaughter says, when they added Stevens and Payne to the roster. “We were ready to put it out in March. Then 2020 happened.”
Slaughter says Silver Clouds has proven to be a bit of a hybrid of his two old bands. It has more instrumentation than Duotang’s bass-and-drums garage rock but it’s stripped down compared to Novillero’s art-pop sound.
There’s no plan to tour yet (thanks again, COVID-19) but they got together last week with another Novillero alum, Jack Jonasson, and played the album at home.
“It was great, such a great feeling,” Slaughter says. “This is what I live for, playing in front of people, more than recording. Even if it’s only five of us.”