Polaris Winner Buffy Sainte-Marie on Kanye, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen
“I don’t think it really has sunk in yet — I really didn’t expect to win,” says Buffy Sainte-Marie. The 74-year-old Native Canadian singer-songwriter is referring to recently winning this year’s Polaris Music Prize (Canada’s annual award for the country’s best full-length album of the year) for her record Power in the Blood, beating out artists including Drake, the New Pornographers, Caribou and Viet Cong.
This accolade is the latest in a long career for the Saskatchewan-born artist (“I’ve got an Academy Award and a Golden Globe and a couple Junos and a Gemini Award — this is the only one I’ve ever heard that gives the artist money,” she said during the ceremony), who got her start in the Sixties folk scene. After recovering from a throat illness in 1963, Sainte-Marie became addicted to codeine, which lead to her writing “Cod’ine,” later covered by artists including Donovan, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons and Courtney Love. Undeterred after being blacklisted by U.S. radio stations in the Seventies for her politically charged lyrics — her protest song “Universal Soldier” later became a hit for Donovan — she regularly appeared on Sesame Street, and wrote songs for films and television.
Released earlier this year, Power in the Blood contains new material and reworked versions of the Sainte-Marie’s old songs (the title track reinterprets English electronic group Alabama 3’s “Power in the Blood” as a peace anthem), while addressing topics including environmental destruction and Aboriginal rights. Speaking on the phone from her home in Hawaii, Sainte-Marie discussed her long career, the upcoming Canadian election and why she’s not planning on retiring any time soon.
Power in the Blood is your 20th studio album and your first since 2008. What was the biggest difference in making this record compared to the others?
It’s much easier to explain to people that I make diverse albums. I started out doing electronic music in the Sixties, and I had one of the very first Macintosh computers. In a way, artists who are kind of experimental and have a wide, diverse catalogue are much better off than we were before. People understand that electronic music doesn’t mean it’s going to sound like Star Trek. I think the biggest change is audiences’ ears have become hungry not for the same-old, same-old, but originality and seeking out music and genres that five years ago they wouldn’t have or couldn’t have. Things have really caught up with me, and I’m really happy, because I’ve been ahead of the curve too many times.
I’d also really like to thank my label True North Records, because a big difference between this and my other records is that this one got heard.