Who knew rap and hip-hop could sound so good with a banjo?
British Columbia’s rap quartet Sweatshop Union – which won rap/hip hop recording of the year at Sunday’s Western Canadian Music Awards’ award finale – performed with rock band Wool on Wolves, creating a rare sound that had bodies pumping.
A goal of the awards is to smush all nominees together into one-time-only collaborations.
But Sweatshop Union is used to breaking stereotypes. It doesn’t look or sound like an archetypical rap group.
Its members accepted their award clad in plaid, toques and baseball caps. They wore no bling.
Band members don’t sing about their “bitches and ho’s” either. Instead, they deliver no-holds-barred comment on propaganda, poverty, commercialization and, above all else, the idolization of money.
But the group, made up of Kyprios, Dirty Circus, Pigeon Hole and Innocent Bystanders aren’t concerned about bringing respect back to rap.
“We’re a mirror of the times,” said Dirty Circus. “When we first started out, we were really adamant about certain issues and, 10 years down the road, we’re adamant about different issues that we all feel is important.”
“We just say whatever we feel as individuals and as a group,” said Kyprios. “It just comes out however it comes out.”
Sweatshop Union is part of a fast-growing West Coast hip-hop scene.
And it’s not the only atypical Canadian genre that’s doing so well.
Edmonton’s Souljah Fyah took home the award for best urban recording of the year. That’s right, Canada has homemade reggae. Heck, Alberta, of all places, has award-winning reggae.
Vocalist-bassist Janaya (Sista J) Ellis thanked Sweatshop Union as she accepted her award.
“Chaotic events in our world are nothing new, it’s just getting more intense,” she said, her eyes welling up and her new baby on her hip. “Our art will be the salve. We can invite change with art, we can invoke change with art, we can reflect change with art. Our job is to speak for those that don’t have voices and use our craft to better what’s going on.”
Yukon’s own “unusual” nominated genre artist Matthew Lien was beat out by Manitoba’s Trio Bembe for the world recording of the year award.
But Lien was not leaving empty handed, he said.
“I remember awards I’ve lost before, and you and get that pang – that loss,” he said. “But it’s such an honour anyway. I’ve shared so much of my passion and love for the Yukon with Taiwan and China and now, to bring this album back and to share what I’ve been so inspired by with my hometown and homeland, it’s really cool.
“I think it’s really important for all people, anywhere, to hear music, real music from anywhere. Music is suffering a death on a grid. So much music is composed and produced on a computer now. The human aspect is kind of squeezed out of it. It’s that real human music that has been our dialogue from heart to heart and the universe around us. And there is just so much of that here in the Yukon.
“I feel really honoured and relieved that I come from a place that is so rich with real music. The Yukon is a special place in that respect.”
Every year, the Western Canadian Music Awards presents a heritage award to a local music entity in the host region.
This year, Bob Hamilton and David Petkovich’s Caribou Records (formerly Old Crow Studios) was recognized for its work in Yukon music.
Two other Yukoners were nominated: Debbie Peters’ Magnum Opus Management lost agency of the year to the Paquin Entertainment Group and Kim Beggs was beat out for roots solo recording of the year by Manitoba’s Del Barber, who also took home independent album of the year.
This was the first year the Northwest Territories was formally inducted into the Western Canadian Music Alliance and, while Whitehorse was a big success, it may be a few years before the show heads back north to Yellowknife, executive director Rick Fenton said.
The awards will move to Regina next year and Calgary the year after that.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at