Anne Murray surprises Junos, Charlotte Cardin and Talk among top winners at Halifax bash

HALIFAX –

Nelly Furtado flew through the Juno Awards with gusto as Charlotte Cardin, Talk and the Beaches emerged as notable winners in a night of surprises, breakthroughs and political commentary.

One of the biggest surprises came when Karan Aujla sailed to a fan choice win on the growing popularity of the Punjabi-Canadian music genre, which has seen its profile rise as more listeners gravitate to its fusion of hip-hop, pop and other mainstream sounds.

“This is definitely a first one, but not the last one,” the “Softly” singer proclaimed Sunday while clutching the only Juno prize voted on by viewers.

“Sometimes I just can’t believe I’m the same kid that lost his parents when he was in India, made my way out to Canada, this beautiful country and today I’m here.”

“If you are dreaming, make sure you dream big.”

Later in the CBC telecast, Halifax-bred actor Elliot Page denounced recent political policies while presenting the humanitarian award to pop sisters Tegan and Sara, who were honoured for their work with LGBTQ+ youth.

“We are at a time in history where the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ people are being revoked, restricted and eliminated throughout the world, and the effects of which are devastating,” Elliot said before the sisters specifically called out the Alberta government for moves they said threaten the health of trans youth.

Elliot Page arrives on the red carpet for the Juno awards, in Halifax, Sunday, March 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The show started with a cheeky surprise guest.

Anne Murray walked onto the stage to give viewers a hearty East Coast welcome to kick off the show. The Springhill, N.S.-born singer, who also holds a record 25 Juno wins, was met with a rousing cheer from the crowd inside Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre.

“Seeing that I’m a Nova Scotian who lives just up the street, the producers thought I’d be just the person to welcome you to Halifax,” Murray said with a smirk.

“So here I am. And welcome to Halifax.”

Murray then presented the first award of the evening, giving Toronto band the Beaches the group of the year prize.

It was the second win for the female four-piece act, after they picked up rock album of the year at a Saturday pre-telecast ceremony. They excitedly embraced and encouraged other young women to start bands with their friends.

Other winners included Montreal singer-songwriter Cardin whose “99 Nights” scored album of the year. It was her second win of the weekend after she landed pop album of the year Saturday.

Ottawa-raised singer Talk was chosen as breakthrough artist for his incredible rise on the back of the hit single “Run Away to Mars.”

Meanwhile, Furtado took on a decidedly more composed presence for her second effort hosting the Junos. In 2007, she famously flew into the show wearing a Las Vegas-styled bird outfit in a comedic moment that was largely received with head scratches.

This time, she opted to forgo her wacky side and focus on the musical spark that made her a Canadian favourite. She opened the show with a dizzying medley of her hits while dressed in a silver “Barbarella”-esque space-age outfit.

Furtado, who is planning to release a comeback album sometime soon, reminded viewers of her formidable pop impact as she breezed through one of her latest tracks “Eat Your Man” and her pop classics “Say It Right,” “Maneater” and “I’m Like a Bird.”

Also Sunday, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Maestro Fresh Wes became the first hip-hop member of the esteemed space.

The “Let Your Backbone Slide” rapper, born Wesley Williams, took a moment to reflect on his pioneering history as a Canadian hip-hop performer, which started when he wrote his first rhyme in 1979.

He then thanked family and collaborators who helped elevate his career, including past industry players and TV station MuchMusic.

“We don’t make records, we make history,” he proclaimed, clad in a black tailcoat.

“We created a backbone and started conducting things and…now this music we love won’t ever be underestimated.”

Gordon Lightfoot tribute

Among the moving highlights of the night was a tribute to late artists Gordon Lightfoot, Robbie Robertson and Karl Tremblay, the lead singer of Quebec’s Les Cowboys Fringants.

Allison Russell, Aysanabee and pianist Alexandra Streliski started the in-memorium performance before they were joined by Indigenous musicians Logan Staats, Shawnee Kish, Julian Taylor and William Prince to close it out in a nod to Robertson’s heritage, which was Mohawk on his mother’s side.

Political conversations

Backstage, some musicians waded into several political conversations of the moment.

Musician Jeremy Dutcher was dressed head-to-toe in Indigenous designers while sporting a decorative necklace emblazoned with “Cease Fire Now,” in recognition of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“I thought we might not need it by now,” he explained of the message while clutching it in his hands.

Tegan and Sara spoke of the recent “anti-transgender legislation” introduced in Alberta and New Brunswick.

Tegan Quin described it as a “movement against trans youth and the Conservative government putting their nose where it doesn’t belong”

“We shouldn’t be complacent,” she said.

“We should step up…. I also think we have a voice to remind our government we should be focused on more important things like climate change, the fentanyl crisis, the housing crisis.”

Allison Russell suggested there is hope in these dark times and that musicians are part of the solution.

“There’s only one tactic of all fascism, of all bigotry … and it’s divide and conquer,” she said.

“Hope is a practice and it requires community.”

Other Canadian talent picked up multiple awards at a non-televised gala on Saturday. Rapper Tobi, alternative singer Aysanabee and pop star Tate McRae each won two awards for their work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2024.

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