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I Am Canadian?

Posted on 8 September 2010

Last week, I sat in as a co-host on Fresh Sheet while Rob searches for a new permanent co-host (interested takers see here). On it, we had a brief discussion on the “Canadian-ness” of a band like the Arcade Fire. As I said on the show, since the primary player in the band (Win Butler) was born and raised in the United States and only spent a few years in Montreal as an adult before becoming a member of “The Arcade Fire” as a global band playing stadiums around the year, I’m curious as to how much of a Canadian perspective he has. If I were to have moved to the United States when I was 20 (the age he moved to Montreal), I doubt that I would feel like an American by the age of 24 (the age he was when the Arcade Fire released their first album). Having done more research, I realize that five of the seven other band members are Canadian born-and-raised, but it’s still a point that has intrigued me for a while. I take K’Naan as another question mark. Canada is all over him being a Canadian artist, but it’s clear his primary influence comes from his childhood in Somalia, and these days his lyrics (and tweets) are as likely to mention his life on the road or in the United States as they are Canada. How much of a Canadian perspective does he portray?

I’m not questioning the legitimacy of these artists, I’m not accusing them of misrepresenting themselves, and I’m not questioning the ability of people from other countries to be “Canadian” no matter how long they’ve been in the country. I’m just wondering whether or not they themselves feel like Canadians, or if it’s just a label we as a country have thrown at them in an effort to bolster our national self-esteem. Dan Snaith of Caribou lives in London, England, where he completed a PhD in mathematics, yet he still won the 2008 Polaris Prize for Canadian musicians. Sort of feels like we’re having it both ways.

I think this is just a pet peeve of mine based on a lifetime of having people try to instill a sense of Canadian pride in me by citing all the great Canadians doing well in the United States– Alex Trebeck! Jim Carrey! William Shatner! James Cameron! – despite the fact that nothing in their careers is particularly Canadian or dependent on being Canadian. Good on them for succeeding in life, but it sort of implies all our country can do is let people be born before they go on to bigger and better things. I think our media and culture as a whole still has a tendency to move in this direction, and now I take any international “Canadian” star with a grain of salt. The Arcade Fire and K’Naan have recorded in Canada and helped open up the Canadian music scene to international markets, so they’re certainly a far cry from those other examples, but again I wonder how much they feel Canadian and how much of their Canadian-ess is foisted upon them, especially as they become ever more global bands. It’ll be interesting to see where they are, personally and professionally, in another 10 years. Suburban Canada, or some other international locale? If the latter, what will their music have to do with Canada?

Filed under: music

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