It was a big night for Rap/Hip-Hop group City Natives at the East Coast Music Awards gala show in Halifax Thursday evening. The group won the Indigenous Artist of the Year award for the fourth time.
“This means everything to me,” said City Natives band member Brandon Arnold, aka Illfundz, backstage after receiving the award.
“Last year in Saint John, we won nothing and so we made a new album from scratch,” Arnold said. “We did it, we bounced back, we showed people that we still got it.”
The other two group members, Gearl Francis, aka Gearl, and Devon Paul were also with Arnold backstage.
On stage, the band thanked former band members Blake Francis, aka BnE, who performed on their latest album Dream Catchers and Shelby Sappier, aka Beaatz.
“I want to thank God, my family and my brother Chad,” Arnold said in an interview. He said he started praying when his brother got terminal cancer and eight months later, he was attending the awards.
City Natives also performed their song, “Hip Hop Heads” during the awards show.
The group beat out three other nominees in the Indigenous Artist of the Year category. They included country singer/songwriter Carolina East, guitarist Don Ross and rap artist and former City Natives group member Shelby Sappier aka Beaatz.
Composer/guitarist Maxim Cormier from Cheticamp was originally nominated in the ECMA Indigenous Artist category this year. However, his nomination was withdrawn because the ECMA board determined that Cormier and his community, the Highlands Metis Nation Association, is not recognized as members of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples under constitutional law.
“Though we do not question how someone identifies their own ancestry and personal identity, we also have to be sensitive to the reality that in order to be respectful of the Indigenous peoples of Atlantic Canada. We must ensure that all nominees for the Indigenous Artist of the Year award have met the true intent of the criteria for the award,” the ECMA board wrote in a statement.
During the awards show, rapper Classified performed his song, Powerless, about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Classified, whose real name is Luke Boyd, was joined on stage by Mi’kmaw drummers and dancers.
Following the awards show, all four nominees took part in the Indigenous Stage at the Carleton Music Bar and Grill in downtown Halifax.
The ECMAs introduced the Indigenous category in 1996, which was then called Aboriginal Recording of the Year. Mi’kmaw fiddler Lee Cremo won that year for his album, The Champion Returns. Cremo, who was from the Eskasoni First Nation, N.S., passed away in 1999.
In 2017, the category switched to Indigenous Artist of the Year.