Backxwash Wins Polaris
By Beatriz Neves
Arts & Culture Editor
The Zambian-Canadian rapper known as Backxwash is the winner of the Polaris Music Prize with her album God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It.
The Montreal-based rapper, composer, and producer released her album in May. The prize recognizes any recently released Canadian album, and the cash attached has increased over the years, sitting today at $50,000. There are no submissions; all nominees are chosen by a jury of more than 200 Canadian music journalists, bloggers, and broadcasters. Their selection is based on artistic merit, irrespective of genre, sales, or record label. She is the sixth artist from Quebec and the first transgender woman to win the Polaris; her win as a black transgender immigrant woman reflects a widening and inclusive scope of the prize’s attitude towards noteworthy Canadian music.
The album, a short twenty-two minutes distributed between ten tracks, is a looming mix of horrorcore, industrial hip-hop, goth-rock, punk, and noise. She flirts with metal music in the opening and title track. It is a perfect introduction; she repeats Ozzy Osbourne's iconic "Oh no, no, please, God, help me!" from Black Sabbath's song “Black Sabbath.” The guitar riff of that same song also makes a later appearance.
Backxwash maintains an electrifying tone by constantly pushing her music’s boundaries. “I’m very innovative, and I try to keep my pieces as experimental as possible,” she says. “So, a lot of the beats have weird samples to them.”
God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It was immediately celebrated for its frank anger and exploration of her most personal self. Xtra Magazine’s Jesse Locke writes that on the album, "Backxwash exorcises a lifetime of demons."
In an interview for The Link newspaper, Backxwash said that "This is the first tape where I feel very, very comfortable, but I feel very, very angry at the same time. I'm at the point where I'm very comfortable in the music that I'm making and expressing myself."
Backxwash relates her experience of the intersections between faith, identity and queerness. The album explores themes of forgiveness and critiques religious institutions. She grew up in Lusaka, Zambia, and had a religious upbringing. In Montreal, she found herself and her music. "I fell in love with the city, and just, it was a perfect city to express myself," she said. Her journey is compellingly expressed on the album. God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It sounds like that exciting moment in an artist's career when they find their path.
Her album is unafraid to delve into the political and controversial. While accepting her prize, Backxwash said that "My existence itself is political, my livelihood is political, and the livelihood of my sisters is political."
She continues to gain a profile in the music industry and has a fast-growing fanbase. Her exponential rise also got the attention of other well-known musicians. Hunt-Hendrix was one of these people. The leader of experimental black metal band Liturgy tweeted at Backxwash, saying: "I checked out your stuff. I like it :)". It was enough for the fans to speculate about a potential collaboration.
I encourage anyone new to Backxwash to listen to this album as well as some of her old works, such as her debut F.R.E.A.K.S, and the follow-up, Black Sailor Moon. Backxwash's career is blossoming, and we can’t wait to hear more from her.