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Road to the Junos showcases Indigenous talent

Artists Morgan Toney and DeeDee Austin advocate for resilience despite hardships faced

The Juno Awards are returning to Halifax in March 2024, with the Road to the Junos taking place in the lead up to the event. This five-night concert series, presented by CBC Music at the Marquee Ballroom, showcases a diverse range of some of the best talent from the Maritimes.

The “Reclaimed Night” concert on Wednesday, Feb. 7 was a highlight of the concert series, featuring performances by Indigenous artists DeeDee Austin, Wolf Castle and Morgan Toney. 

For Toney, the Junos represent a platform to bring his unique musical narratives to a broader audience, while celebrating Indigenous culture and making a statement about the music in Canada’s cultural landscape.

“To represent the Mi’kmaq nation at the Junos is a huge deal. It’s definitely time to show the representation of Indigenous cultures,” said Toney.

Nominated for Traditional Roots Album of the Year, Toney combines Cape Breton Island’s fiery fiddling with the Mi’kmaq old songs in a unique fusion he calls Mi’kmaltic (Mi’kmaq + Celtic), celebrating his language and heritage.

During his performance, his music connected with the crowd as they stomped their feet, clapping and dancing. For one song, Toney even set aside his fiddle to join the audience for a dance. 

For Austin, playing her music at the Road to the Junos was “a dream come true.”

The 18-year-old singer/songwriter has received numerous awards and recognition, winning Music Nova Scotia’s Indigenous Artist of the Year in 2023 and 2022, and New Artist Recording of the Year in 2022. The music video for her song “Buried Truth” has been nominated for East Coast Music’s TD Fans’ Choice Video of the Year Award.

As a member of the Abegweit First Nation, Austin uses music to explore her identity and experiences, themes  evident in “Buried Truth.” Using stories from her great-grandmother’s experience at Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, her song is a testament to honour the victims and the survivors of the system.

During the event, both Toney and Austin said they were grateful to elders and their community. 

“I feel the weight of the Mi’kmaq nation behind us, and it makes me really happy. Being part of this group of talented musicians is amazing. It’s very magical,” Toney said.

Toney and Austin view the Juno Awards as more than an acknowledgment of musicians and their work; they see them as a platform to amplify Indigenous voices and narratives. 

“Representing my music and culture on these platforms makes me feel valued, appreciated, included and accepted for who I am,” Austin said.

Through her music, Austin aims to highlight the historical injustices faced by Indigenous communities while advocating for peace, love and reconciliation. Her message is similar to Toney’s, who emphasizes the importance of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

The energy and enthusiasm of the performers were matched by the audience’s response, with attendee Cameron Corey describing the artists as “fabulous,” while adding, “there wasn’t a dull moment throughout the night.”The 53rd Annual Juno Awards will broadcast live on CBC from the Scotiabank Centre on Sunday, March 24, 2024. For more information about the awards and other events, visit the official Junos website.

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