Representing the folk out of Canada

The upcoming Canadian Folk Music Awards, taking place this weekend, will bring musicians from across Canada as nominees in 19 different categories such as “Traditional Singer of the Year,” “Aboriginal Artist of the Year” and “World Artist of the Year,” which has solo and group subcategories. While more general awards such as the Junos have more categories, the CFMAs are remarkably compartmentalized for awards that celebrate what might be called a particular genre of music. This may be because folk music itself is remarkably varied, especially in Canada.

Canada’s multiculturalism leads to some problems of definition for Canadian folk music. “Whether it’s Greek, French, Irish or Ukrainian, it’s still folk music,” said Rik Barron, a Newfoundland musician nominated for “Traditional Singer of the Year.” “[But] I don’t know if there is a single cohesive Canadian folk music.”

Whatever it means to be a folk musician in Canada, it is a label that Barron proudly accepts. “I’ve always considered myself a folk singer,” he said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Even before I went to school I knew I wanted to play music. My undoing was [Canadian folk musician] Valdy. He lived in Newfoundland for a while, and I was lucky enough to go see him play. That was it for me. I was hooked. Of course my dear mother, God rest her soul, never forgave Valdy.”

This of course creates some questions for an organization like the Canadian Folk Music Awards. “I think it can be gathered under one roof,” said Barron. “It’s another question to ask if
everyone under that roof feels equally included and content. That, I expect, is quite difficult.”

Perhaps this diversity in Canadian folk music is the motivation for the variety of awards at the CFMAs, divided not only by style and composition of group, but in some cases by culture. There are awards for English, French and Aboriginal “Songwriter of the Year.” Whether this is an adequate representation of Canadian folk music’s diversity is a matter of opinion. “The nominations and performances look fairly diverse to me,” said Barron. “I never really gave it any thought. I assume, as with most things, you’ll find people who are 100 per cent happy with them and others who are zero per cent happy with them, with the rest of us somewhere in between.”

However representative the CFMAs, they have gone further than any others before them. According to Barron, “Before the Canadian Folk Music Awards there really wasn’t an awards process that attempted to recognized the diversity of folk music in Canada.”
Of course, representation does not necessarily mean a separate category for each cultural, geographic or social group. Nominees for the CFMAs come from all regions of Canada and many different language and cultural groups, even if they are not divided into separate competitive categories.

In any case, Barron is confident in the future of the awards, though he admits some bias. “I’m nominated and playing at the nominees show, so from my standpoint, everything is right with the world,” he said. “It’s all a work in progress. If there is a segment of folk music world that feels it’s being under recognized, at least now there is an organization to go to.”

Folk music in Canada may be defined by difference, but to Barron, it’s all about community: “Being a folk singer has meant that I have been able to become friends with some of nicest, funniest, most thoughtful, most talented and generous people on the planet.”

The Canadian Folk Music Awards incorporates a number of events that take place Nov. 19 and 20. More information can be found at