Aboriginal Music Week (AMW) and the APCMAs (Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards) are two of the biggest Indigenous music events on Turtle Island - musicians, fans and industry alike travel to Winnipeg every November for the shows, the awards and the schmooze. This year I was finally able to attend for the first time.
And it was exactly the party and community vibe that I had heard about for years! From the time I landed in the Winnipeg airport to my departure two days later, there were friendly and familiar faces from the world of Indigenous music in nearly every place I stepped.
I arrived Thursday - Aboriginal Music Week had already been in full swing for two days and the first half of the APCMAs were already taking place - and headed to The Windsor Hotel, site of Tracy Bone and JC Campbell's All My Relations stage. They've been hosting this multi-night stage for a few years now and I was thrilled to be invited to perform as part of it. Tracy and JC bookend the night with sets of their country-music duo and in between other artists take the stage. After my set, Gabriel Ayala performed and while I've listened to his classical guitar music and been amazed, I was even moreso impressed and inspired by his live performance. His original compositions in particular were especially beautiful - the man has chops! In coversation, he is delightfully funny, charming and lighthearted to chat with and it was lovely to meet him.
Meanwhile, two other venues in town were presenting Aboriginal Music Week programming. It was a fantastic challenge, having to decide which artists to catch at which venue, but I stayed put at the Windsor for the night, and enjoyed making new friends. They don't call it friendly Manitoba for nothing.
On Friday I stopped by the Manitoba Music offices to pick up my festival pass and scope the place out. Manitoba has great arts funding and it shows in the space and resources Manitoba Music provides. I chatted with Alan Greyeyes and hopped in a cab to NCI FM - the famed Aboriginal-owned/operated radio station that broadcasts 24/7 and hosts the National Aboriginal Countdown. Of all the radio stations I've visited and had interviews on-air with, NCI was one of the best. Their entire crew was friendly and enthusiastic, the coffee was good and they even gave me a lift back to my hotel. Thank you NCI!
Next I dolled up for the big event - the Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards gala. Held at the MTS Centre and broadcast live on APTN, this event is undeniably huge.
The backstage pre-show reception was buzzing with good conversations and connections and Cris Derksen, Kristi Lane Sinclair, Iskwé and I strutted on the red carpet together. As Cris Derksen's date, she and I were in the 6th row for the awards, next to the lovely Leela Gilday - a great vantage point for the night.
Derek Miller opened the show with a killer number which set the tone for a high energy evening. All of the live performances were fantastic that night, especially Maori duo Pacific Curls and Ghostkeeper.
Leela Gilday's heartfelt and articulate acceptance speech for Female Entertainer of the Year was a highlight as well, as was Black Bear's for Best Powwow - Contemporary seen here:
Manitoba-based artists were definitely the big winners of the night and I wonder about the local voting influence on the national awards always being presented and hosted by Manitoba. Here's Winnipeg's Most who won all 6 awards they were nominated for (they were looking good in those suits!):
Afterwards the backstage party spread to The Windsor, The Reagal Beagle and The Pyramid Cabaret for more fantastic live music and the celebration lasted all night long. I was sad to have to leave on Saturday, missing the powwow and the final night of Aboriginal Music Week's concerts.
I will definitely go back next year - I left inspired by the music, filled with great conversation, excited about all the new connections made and above all in love with our Indigenous music community. Huge thanks and appreciation go out to Manito Ahbee and Manitoba Music for successfully pulling off all of these events. Alan Greyeyes was thanked multiple times on stage during the APCMAs and I'll add my voice to that gratitude wholeheartedly.
For a great visual summary of Aboriginal Music Week, check out official AMW photographer Red Works Studio's album on Facebook.
For more on the APCMAs, see Complete List of 2011 APCMA Winners: Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards.