POLARIS PRIZE SHORTLIST 2020
Bubba by Kaytranda CONTENTS
- INTRO: Kaytranada’s Bubba: Hitting the Dance Floor Again
- About the Polaris Music Prize
- SINGLE TRACK: 10% on YouTube and Spotify
- PLAYLIST: Bubba full album on Spotify and YouTube
- REVIEW: From the New York Times Magazine: 25 Songs That Matter Now 2020.
- PLAYLIST: Songs from the Polaris Prize 2020 shortlisted nominees and past winners on CBC Music
HITTING THE DANCE FLOOR AGAIN: KAYTRANADA’S BUBBA
Twenty eight-year-old DJ, producer and hip-hop artist Kaytranada (Louis Celestin to his parents) is up for another Polaris Music Prize with his second dance music album, Bubba. Born in Haiti and growing up in Montreal, he started DJing at 14. His 2016 debut album, 99.9% won the award that year.
His Polaris write-up: When Kaytranada’s Bubba was released at the tail end of 2019, reviewers praised it as a “dance album front-to-back” and an “addictive club record” with “more-is-more production.” And while the album does boast some tremendously danceable beats and richly layered sounds, these descriptions belie the subtlety employed by Kaytranada to evoke various moods across its 17 tracks. “Oh No” pairs bongos (and not much else) with British soul superstar Estelle; “What You Need” updates ’90s pop as a vehicle for Charlotte Day Wilson’s stylish singing; instrumental track “Scared to Death” is a swarm of insects that have come from the future to torment you; Island beats infuse “Need It” and “Midsection;” “Taste” is a delicious disco number, and in President Obama-endorsed “Go DJ,” SiR enlists you in an irresistible call and response. As with 2016’s 99,9%, these diverse emotional states flow ingeniously from start to finish and have got Kaytranada poised to pull off the Polaris Music Prize’s first two-peat.
25 Songs That Matter
The song 10% from the album was featured in the New York Times Magazine in March. Music writer Angela Flournoy’s short essay runs below.
About the Polaris Prize
Since its founding in 2006 the Polaris Music Prize has courted controversy with its unpredictably fluid criteria and sometimes idiosyncratic winning choices. The $50,000 prize is awarded by jury to the best new Canadian album of the year based on artistic merit alone.
The 10 acts on this year’s shortlist feature a gender diverse group evenly split between men and women and including seven BIPOC artists. Five of them have been shortlisted previously with three of them winning. The other five artists are all newcomers.
The nominees are Jessie Reyez, Kaytranada, nêhiyawak, Pantayo, Backxwash, Caribou, Junia-T, Lido Pimienta, U.S. Girls, Witch Prophet. The award will be announced on October 19 and will be broadcast in Canada on CBC Gem, CBC Music’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and at cbcmusic.ca/polaris.
By Angela Flournoy / The New York Times Magazine
At the beginning of 2020, I wanted to close my eyes and move. I did not feel well for a number of reasons. I worried that the country was maybe going to start a new war, and maybe going to re-elect its president; I struggled with a moral and professional dilemma; and my mother was suddenly, seriously ill. I was back home in suburban Los Angeles — in her home, holed up in my old bedroom — when I wasn’t shuttling back and forth to the hospital. I was in a funk to end all funks. What I needed was to move, to sweat, to swing into a dark place filled with other people and let out a wail. But there was no time to sneak off to a club or a bar. So instead, I listened to an electronic-disco album called “Bubba,” by Kaytranada, many, many times.
Kaytranada, born Louis Kevin Celestin, is a 27-year-old Haitian-Canadian producer from Montreal. He made his first album, “99.9%” (2016), in his mother’s house while sharing a basement bedroom with his younger brother. He came out as gay shortly before the album’s release. Sometimes I imagine Kaytranada in his early 20s, having never yet been with a man (as he told The Fader in 2016), sharing a bedroom in his family home. Perhaps he also felt a need to swing into a dark place filled with people and let out a wail. Perhaps this is how disco found him. It is a genre sometimes derided for prizing feeling over thinking, for using thumping bass and simple repetition to get people onto a dance floor. But that discounts the healing that can happen when people feel the urge to move.
“Bubba,” Kaytranada’s second album, is 51 minutes and 17 tracks long, but it feels like a single D.J. set, with smooth transitions from groove to upbeat groove. Toward the middle, you reach the song “10%,” whose hook has the Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis asking a question: “You keep on takin’ from me, but where’s my 10 percent?” Kaytranada layers Uchis’s voice so that there is a slight echo to her inquiry; it sounds as if she’s right next to the listener’s ear, cool but insistent, whispering while dancing. “10%” is a song about exploitation, presumably by some manager or business handler (“Run my money to me/Don’t act like you didn’t know”), but it is also a song about being weary of pretense. “You’re trying way too hard/Ego is not your friend,” Uchis sings, though she isn’t going to stop to deal with the offender; she’s got time.
The composition of the song itself seems to eschew showy effort, which is not the same as being uncomplicated. “10%” is a song whose disparate parts — steady conga drums, synthesized harps, jaunty violins — are all in service to a single purpose: movement. Most of Kaytranada’s dance songs have this propulsive quality, owing in large part to his unique use of funk-inflected drum sequences; they drive the rhythm forward as opposed to holding it in a steady, stultifying loop.
“10%” is a song you can dance to with your eyes closed. The lyrics provide texture, but it’s the rhythm itself that advises you on what to do, and you can do it as awkwardly or as expertly as you’re physically capable. Twirl, two-step or kind of roller-skate in place, sure. In this way, the song is selling what SoulCycle is ostensibly selling, what the forever-upbeat fitness coach on my workout app is selling. Looking good helps, maybe, but the real item for sale is feeling good. And whether or not you can find that dark dance floor full of strangers, “10%” is also selling the feeling of not being alone. All music has elements of emotional aspiration (we sing a love ballad and feel our own hearts swell), but dance music offers a particular, seductive aspiration — the possibility of being in physical and emotional communion with others, if only for three minutes.
I have yet to find a suitable club or bar. But I have listened to this song in the dark and imagined myself there, in the midst of a sweaty, rapturous crowd, with the only people looking at me being those within arm’s reach — and even then, only for a glimpse, before the music carries them elsewhere.
Angela Flournoy is the author of the novel “The Turner House.”
She wrote about Mariah Carey for the 2019 Music Issue.
Illustration by Denise Nestor.
Source photographs: Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock.