Saskatchewan Music Award winners
A brief profile of the artists, producers, and organizers that make our music scene spectacular
It was a year of firsts for the Saskatchewan Music Awards. They rolled out two new categories – the Indigenous Music Achievement Award and the R&B Artist of the Year Award – to honour artists based on activities from the October 2020 to October 2021 year.
I listened to all of the SMA award winners so I could write a bit about them and their music, and I must say, I was deeply impressed. I genuinely enjoyed each of the artists and think the province should be extremely proud. As a disclaimer, I’m no music connoisseur and can’t claim to know everything about every genre, but hope I’ve done these artists justice (and not gushed too much about the country-esque artists that made me nostalgic). I highly recommend checking these artists out for yourself! I certainly came away with some new favourites.
Alternative Artist of the Year: Megan Nash
Nash is an artist from Mortlach whose latest release, an album called Soft Focus Features, came outthis year. She’s performed at Regina Folk Festival and, in November, The Exchange. Her older music like “Deer Head” reminds me a lot of Sharon van Etten in vocals and tone, but their latest album has a bit of an 80s flare amongst the darker material with a bop like “Quiet.” I am now a huge fan.
Country Artist of the Year: Jess Moskaluke
Her single “Country Girls” from her most recent album The Demos was #1 on the Billboard Canadian Country Charts. She’s from Langenburg and has been nominated for and won a ton of Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs). I’m also from a small-town and was raised on country, so her music makes me super nostalgic, particularly “MAPDOT.”
Electronic Artist of the Year: RUMPUS
RUMPUS, a cool dude with a cooler stage name, has made somerecent appearances at major festivals including Shambhala, Burning Man, Lightning in a Bottle, and Shipsomnia in Ibiza. His Shambhala set is available on YouTube as a part of their virtual series. He also won this award last year. He is active on social media and can be found on Instagram as @itsrumpus.
Experimental/Contemporary Artist of the Year: Factor Eight
Factor Eight is the stage name from Andrew Bennett, whose latest album, II, is about his struggles with bipolar disorder. Bennett has collaborated with a film maker for the video of “Fear, My Friend” and the result is a dark short film showcasing the album themes, available on YouTube. Bennett is also donating proceeds from streams of II on Bandcampto CMHA Saskatoon.
Hip Hop Artist of the Year: soso
soso is the stage name for artist Troy Gronsdahl, an experimental hip hop artist from Saskatoon. soso has a super interesting sound and certainly challenged what I thought hip hop could be. His newest album, Not For Nothing, really can be best described, as he says in an interview for Verb Magazine, as “brooding atmospheric beats.”
Metal/Loud Artist of the Year: Flash Back
This group, who describes themselves as nü metal (a subgenre of alternative metal that fuses heavy metal music with other styles like hip hop, grunge, alternative rock, hard rock, and funk, for those who aren’t in the know,) were a bit harder to track down. They seem most active on their Twitter page, @flash_back_nu. Their latest album, Wide Awake, was released on Bandcamp and Spotify in October of 2021.
R&B Artist of the Year: vbnd
vbnd, of Saskatoon, is a jazz, funk, and neo-soul artist who, like soso, changed what I thought of the R&B genre. He works with a group he created called The Soulmate Collective, which includes Katie Tupper on vocals, Connor Newton, Justice Der, and various other talented musicians. His newest album, Scum Funk, is available for streaming on all platforms. He’s on most social media as @vbndmoney.
Rock/Pop Artist of the Year: The Garrys
The title track of their fourth album is called “Get Thee to a Nunnery,” which is hilarious in and of itself. The music video is a fun little animation that reminds me of the show Gravity Falls. The album “was inspired in part by stories of their mother’s high school years at an all-girls Catholic boarding school and convent in small-town 1960’s Saskatchewan,” according to their website. The sister trio’s Bandcamp bio describes them as a “[d]reamy blood harmony surf rock doom-wop on morphine,” and I can definitely see what they mean. They have a killer sound.
Roots/Folk Artist of the Year: Jeffery Straker
Straker has a song called “Slings and Arrows,” which is some weird continuity from The Garry’s Shakespeare-themed title. Their sounds couldn’t be more different, though. His video for “Ready to Be Brave,” telling the story of a young, gay farmer whose father doesn’t accept his sexuality, made me pretty misty-eyed. In true folk style, his song writing is outstanding, and the main feature of his work – though it should be noted he is also a classically trained pianist!
Indigenous Artist of the Year: The North Sound
The “storytelling” duo, formed by Forrest Eaglespeaker and supported by his partner Nevada Freistadt, call themselves “roots rock,” but their sound reminds me of the country I grew up listening to, the stuff that’s more electric guitar and drum kit heavy.
Album of the Year: The Hunter Brothers, Been a Minute
The Hunter Brothers are revered in the corner of the province I’m from, being from Shaunavon. They have been nominated for a ton of CCMA’s and had a couple of top 10 hits on the Canadian Country charts. I really like the single they released last year from Been A Minute, “Hard Dirt.”
Music Video of the Year: Dylan Hryciuk for Spiritbox, “Hurt You”
Hryciuk is from Saskatoon and owns Versa Films. The video for “Hurt You” from Victoria based metal band Spiritbox makes a very creepy companion for the song. Hryciuk takes the sadistic song a step further with murder and surrealism. Despite the gruesome themes, it’s very visually stimulating and well done.
Single of the Year: Tesher x Jason Derulo, “Jalebi Baby”
It’s pretty cool to see a Regina local sharing a music video with Jason Derulo, whose name we can’t forget because he always reminds us at the beginning of his songs. The video for this song has some fun Bollywood influences, likely from Tesher’s influence on the mix.
Producer of the Year: Bart McKay
McKay is a country music producer set up in Saskatoon. He has produced music for artists like Brett Kissel, Brad Johner, and Adam Gregory (who I am thrilled to see is still making music). He also produced “Pickup Truck” by Shane Yellowbird and “Drinking Buddy” and “Blame it on that Red Dress” by Gord Bamford, two songs I loved growing up (which is a little disturbing considering their content, but whatever).
Industry Achievement: Eliza Doyle, CAMP
Doyle’s CAMP (Community Arts Mentorship Program) hosts a musician-in-residence up north in Stanley Mission, courtesy of a Sask Arts Board grant. The program organizes everything from lessons to coffeehouse jams.
Indigenous Music Achievement: Sheryl Kimbley
The inaugural award we’ve all been waiting for! You won’t find any recent releases from Sheryl Kimbley because most of her work happens offstage. She is a producer of Voices of the North, a performing arts festival in Prince Albert. She’s sat on many boards and committees such as Juno Aboriginal Red Carpet event and SaskCulture. She is dedicated to helping Indigenous youth, particularly those up north.