Six Indigenous acts are nominated for East Coast Music Awards and a Peskotomuhkati elder is being honoured at the upcoming ECMA awards show in Halifax on May 5.
The artists are excited to attend the awards show in person after the ECMAs were cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Maggie Paul – NB Stompin’ Tom Award
Dr. Maggie Paul, who is Peskotomuhkati and lives in the Wolastoqey community of Sitansk (Saint Mary’s First Nation) near Fredericton, N.B., is the honouree for the 2023 New Brunswick – Stompin’ Tom award.
“What? Are you sure?” Paul said as she laughed when she first heard the news.
The Stompin’ Tom Award honours Stompin’ Tom Connors, a well-known Canadian country and folk musician. The award recognizes people who have made long-term commitments to music.
Paul, 76, has dedicated her life’s work to revitalizing songs of the ancestors for the upcoming generations.
“I wanted my grandchildren and their children, their children, … to have their culture, their language, their songs, Paul said in a phone interview. “I want them to be proud of who they are,” she added.
Paul said she gets emotional when children are moved by traditional music.
“When you sing to the babies, they end up moving to the music,” Paul explained. “Kids are taking it up because they’re hungry for it.”
Jason Benoit – nominated for four ECMAs
Jason Benoit is among five Indigenous acts nominated for the 2023 Indigenous Artist of the Year. His album, Time Traveller – Side A, has also earned him nominations in four other categories. They include:
- Album of the Year
- Solo Recording of the Year
- Artist Innovator of the Year
- TD Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year
“I was kind of struck, it didn’t even register at first … it really took me by surprise,” Benoit said when he received news about the multiple ECMA nominations.
“I didn’t expect that many nominations,” the country music artist from Fox River Island, N.L. said.”
Benoit previously won the 2020 ECMA Fan’s Choice Video of the Year for Slow Hand, and he was nominated in 2018 for EMCA Best Country Album.
City Natives – Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year nominee
“I was waiting anxiously by my computer,” recalled Blake Francis who watched the nominees being announced in January.
Francis, 31, is a Mi’kmaw hip-hop artist from Natoaganeg First Nation whose group City Natives is nominated for Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year for People of the Dawn which was released in October 2022.
“We took a little hiatus because of the pandemic, so it was very surprising that they made us like one of the headlining acts of the actual awards show,” Francis said.
“We still got the support that we had in the past. So it was a great feeling to be recognized,” he said.
Francis said it was City Natives’ goal to become nominated along with other hip-hop artists from other diverse backgrounds.
“Shout out all the upcoming Indigenous artists … as long as you’re consistent, you can do whatever you would like to do,” he said.
Deantha Edmunds – Indigenous Artist of the Year nominee
Deantha Edmunds, an Inuk classical soprano singer, said she was having coffee at her mom’s house in St. John’s, N.L. when she heard she was nominated for an ECMA award for Indigenous Artist of the Year for her album, Connections.
“It’s wonderful to be recognized since it’s my first original (album), Edmunds said when reached by phone.
“I feel proud of all the hard work I put in it. I feel honoured that people are appreciating what I opened myself up to,” she said.
Edmunds’s album is fused with the Inuktituk language, throat singing and string quartet, which she describes as a “very personal album.”
“Something I think about a lot is having a voice to uplift the voices of Indigenous People,” Edmunds explained.
“As a classical musician who is Indigenous, there is not a lot of us out there,” she added.
Gearl – Indigenous Artist of the Year nominee
Solo rap artist Gearl said he was “excited” and “pumped” to hear he was nominated for Indigenous Artist of the Year.
The 30-year-old from the Eskasoni First Nation has been writing and performing his music for the past 18 years and feels that hard work is finally paying off.
Gearl has previously worked with other hip-hop artists and groups including City Natives, who are also nominated in the same category this year.
“I’m grateful and ‘I love you’ to the jury for selecting me out of all the other talented artists that are out there doing their thing,” said Gearl who will be performing a few times in Halifax.
Silver Wolf Band – Indigenous Artist of the Year nominee
“ECMAs is always pretty special,” said Matthew Barrett, 36, a vocalist and keyboardist from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.
His group, the Silver Wolf Band, is a four-piece folk pop rock band that is also nominated in the Indigenous Artist of the Year category.
“It’s one of the funner award shows, Barrett said in a phone interview while taking a break from work at a construction site.
“They seem to always do it right and Halifax is a great city, so we’re all pretty excited to go there,” Barrett said.
In 2021, the Silver Wolf Band won the ECMA award for Indigenous Artist of the Year during the pandemic when the awards show was streamed online.
Barrett said he hopes they can win again and accept the award in person this time.
“It’ll be a nice change for sure … I can’t wait to see everybody,” Barrett said.
“We have a lot of friends from around Atlantic Canada. It’s all exciting for sure,” he added.
Morgan Toney – Indigenous Artist of the Year nominee
Morgan Toney, a Mi’kmaw fiddle player from the Wagmatcook First Nation, is hoping to add to his ECMA award collection this year. The 23-year-old is once again nominated for Indigenous Artist of the Year.
In 2022, Toney took home the ECMA award for Indigenous Artist of the Year and Inspirational Performance of the Year.
Toney said he was in the middle of a workshop teaching young people about music and the Kojua, a traditional Mi’kmaw dance when he learned he was nominated for this year’s award.
“My phone went off and I looked at it and there was a whole bunch of notifications,” Toney said. His friend Pete then announced it to everyone in the room.
Toney, who began playing the fiddle in 2018, won’t be able to attend the ECMA awards show on Thursday due to a prior commitment in Detroit, MI.
“I’m really happy for all the artists that are being recognized for their nominations as well. I’m supporting them as much as I can from the sidelines,” Toney said.
Indigenous artist performances during 2023 ECMAs
- Silver Wolf Band, 1:30 p.m., Canadian Music. East Coast Style – Export Showcase A, Marriott Harbourfront Hotel. A second show, TD Connected Concerts: Pop Rock Stage, 9 p.m., Marriott Harbourfront Hotel.
- Deantha Edmunds and City Natives will perform at the East Coast Music Awards show.
- City Natives, TD Connected Concerts: Indigenous Stage, 10:45 p.m., Marriott Harbourfront Hotel.
- Jason Benoit, TD Connected Concerts: Indigenous Stage, 12:05 a.m., Marriott Harbourfront Hotel.
- City Natives, Canadian Music East Coast Style – Export Showcase A, 3 p.m., Marriott Harbourfront Hotel, and 9 p.m., TD Connected Concerts: Hip Hop Stage, Level 8 Night Club.
- Jason Benoit, Canadian Music East Coast Style – Export Showcase B, 2:30 p.m., Marriott Harbourfront Hotel.
- Deantha Edmunds, 2 p.m., TD Connected Concerts: Classical Showcase, Paul O’Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library.
- Jason Benoit, 2 p.m., SOCAN Songwriters’ Circle, Casino Nova Scotia – Schooner Room.