The cover of 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which won this year's Polaris Music Prize last night. (Image Sources: Constellation Records, Flickr: Kmeron)
Last night, Canada had a gala for their annual Polaris Music Prize, in order to announce the the year's winner. Unlike the Grammys, or their Canadian equivalent the Junos, the Polaris Music Prize represents the best Canadian album of the previous year based on merit, rather than popularity or sales, and awards a check of C$30,000 ($29000) to the winner. This makes the award favor non-mainstream acts, though some figures such as Feist or the Arcade Fire have won the Polaris Music Prize before. Last night, Montreal's seminal political post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor won the award for their first album in 10 years, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, in 2012. However, rather than take the money, they did what makes this interesting: Give the money away to help prisoners in Quebec.
Coming from Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GYBE), this is not at all surprising. GYBE's history includes them being outright political, and taking on a somewhat anarchist stance. One of GYBE's songs they describe as representing the moment that the Second Intifada in Israel began (when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon marched into the al-Aqsa Mosque with 1,000 soldiers, in clear contempt of Palestinians), to give an example, and one of their albums presented a diagram that (inaccurately) depicted the four major labels in America as being connected to defense companies. The album that gave them the Polaris Music Prize was heavily inspired by student protests in Quebec at the time.
In a public statement on the website of their label, Constellation Records, following the win (they did not attend the gala), GYBE first gave thanks for being nominated and being given the prize, then, as to be expected, launched into a critique of the awards show itself. GYBE questioned the validity of an awards gala, as well as the notion of bands competing with each other, among other things (particularly the corporate sponsorship). Then they announced what they would do with the money: Set up a program specifically to give Quebecois prisoners musical instruments to play with while in prison, should they need them.
A noble endeavor, no doubt, but one that could be questioned. In theory, GYBE could use the money to set up the very type of gala they preferred in their statement. Sometimes, that is the only way to prove such an idea could work. But in any event, at least the money is being put into something somewhat useful, if uncertain.