Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's the best album in (English) Canada?

My friend and occasional teacher Charles Blattberg finds it contemptuous how readily English-speaking Canadians will declare something they like to be "the best in Canada" or "Canadian". His basic argument is an elegant one: most of what we refer to as Canadian is in fact English Canadian. So, Sounds Like Canada should be Sounds Like English Canada, etc.

This objection is rooted in Charles' belief that there is an English Canadian nationalism which should be celebrated but should not be held up as definitively Canadian. I don't agree with all aspects of his argument. But it's an argument he makes consistently and passionately and it's well-worth consideration and conversation.

My objections aside, Charles is entirely right about one thing. The Polaris Music Prize should not call itself the prize for the best album in Canada when it has a jury which is probably completely unaware of French music in Quebec and elsewhere and would certainly have no chance of identifying a worthy album recorded in any of the dozens of native languages spoken in Canada. It's ok to choose the best album in English Canada. Just don't say that you're choosing for the whole country when you're manifestly unable to do so.

If you think the Polaris Prize should either change its name or get a more, ahem, Canadian jury, you can write Steve Jordan at You can also get his publicists at and/or


Anonymous said...

Actually, Polaris is not that bad at acknowledging Franco-Canadian musicians. This year the majority of the acts, while not french, came from Quebec. Arcade Fire, Besnard Lakes, Miracle Fortress and Patrick Watson are all Montreal acts with francophones counting as members of several of those groups.Julie Doiron meanwhile, is an Acadian. The year before last, Malajube should have won. They are straight up french. As someone who listens to at lot of french music I have to say its best stuff is generally not as good as the best anglo stuff. Who knows the reasons for that but my point in all of this is that english music is better than french music but national awards like the Polaris do their best anyways to be representational. As for canadian music in other languages it just aint canadian... ha ha.
Le Tucker

Peter Loewen said...

Sorry, Chris, but I don't buy it. All You've pointed out that Polaris is good at uncovering music made by English Canadians who happen to live in Quebec.

If there was a great French album, would they know about it? and would that panel be able to give it a fair shake? I am guessing no.

Anonymous said...

That was my point. There are not really any good french albums. This upcoming year will be a good barometer because Radio Radio deserve a shot at the Polaris. This french, or actually Shiak album is worthy. I listen to french music and it does not get recogized because its mostly no good.

Peter Loewen said...

Tucker, the point is that even if there were good French albums they wouldn't be given a fair shake, save adding you to the jury.