TORONTO – Nunavut-reared throat singer Tanya Tagaq claimed the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize on Monday, just moments after mesmerizing the gala crowd with a show-stealing performance aided by a choir.
Tagaq’s record Animism beat out higher-profile offerings from the likes of Drake and past winners Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett to claim the award, given to the best Canadian album of the past year as determined by a group of journalists.
As Tagaq took the stage, host Jay Baruchel — the lanky Montreal-raised star of This is the End and Goon — fell to his knees and fanned his arms toward her in admiration.
“The album itself came from a very awesome place,” Tagaq said as she accepted. “I couldn’t be more happy.”
After thanking her producer and family, Tagaq shifted into an impassioned “side note.”
“People should wear and eat seal as much as possible because if you can imagine an indigenous culture thriving and surviving on sustainable resource, wearing seal and eating it, it’s delicious and there’s lots of them.
“I really believe that if hipsters can make flower beards in, then you can do it with seal,” she added. “Come on guys.”
Generally, this was a loose show, with a cheerfully profane Baruchel keeping things casual.
In performances, Edmonton-raised psych-pop eccentric Mac DeMarco performed in camouflage overalls and a Simpsons T-shirt, playing mock crooner during “Still Together,” while Vancouver-based rapper Shad meshed nicely with guest vocalist Lights.
Most of the evening’s nominees performed, including Pallett — the award’s inaugural winner back in 2006 — and Toronto multi-instrumentalist Basia Bulat.
Neither Arcade Fire, who won in 2011, nor Montreal experimental collective Yamantaka // Sonic Titan took to the stage.
And Drake — shortlisted for his smash Nothing was the Same — was simultaneously booked to play the Hollywood Bowl with Lil Wayne.
Since Drake and Shad’s Polaris shutout continued Monday — and they’ve now combined for five nominations — the award has still never gone to a hip-hop artist, with other past winners including Karkwa, Patrick Watson and Feist.
Tagaq was one of only three first-time nominees for the Polaris this year (along with DeMarco and Hamilton electronic R&B songwriter/producer Jessy Lanza), but she’s a decade-plus veteran of the industry with two Juno nominations behind her.
“We’ve been doing this a long time, like 10 years,” she told the crowd.
“So if you liked it, you should just really come to the show.”
She hung around onstage a little longer, admitting she didn’t know how to wrap up her seemingly improvised speech.
“I’m going to get off the stage because I’m feeling weird,” she finally announced.
“I’m only comfortable when I’m grunting.”