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Juno awards recognize artists in Christian music genre

By Jean Ko Din
The Catholic Register

For Canadians, the award season was not yet over last week.

After the Grammys, the Academy Awards and other high-profile American awards shows have come and gone, there is still the Juno Awards, which aired on CTV March 15 from Hamilton, Ont. The Junos honour Canadian musicians and recognizes their artistic and technical achievements in music over the past year.

The Junos are particularly special to musicians in the Contemporary Christian music genre that doesn’t get the media attention that secular musicians get. The Junos act as a platform for their music to be recognized by a broader audience. Here are the five nominees for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year.

Tim Neufeld and the Glory Boys are nominated again this year for their current album, The Joy.

“I call (the category) the Jesus Juno. It’s the only category kind of defined exclusively by the lyrics because any genre of music is allowed,” said Neufeld. “I’ve been nominated for the Junos now, I think, about seven times and every one of them is a different act that has beaten me, whether it be a mass choir or a singer/songwriter and it’s just funny.”

Last year, Neufeld and his band won in this category for the 2013 album, Trees. They were up against rock/dance artist Fraser Campbell, contemporary folk artist Jordan Raycroft, pop group The City Harmonic and bluegrass group The High Bar Gang.

Neufeld describes his band’s sound as “newgrass,” a modern take on bluegrass music. However, the new album moves more toward a classic bluegrass sound.

“I think (the current album) is a little more bluegrass-y than Trees . . . and it’s more specifically about chasing joy,” said Neufeld. “It comes out of a lack of joyful music experiences . . . There’s a seriousness tends to take over in our role as music leaders and joy is something that’s talked about throughout the whole Bible.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Manafest, whose real name is Christopher Greenwood, is a Christian hip-hop/rap artist who has been nominated for The Moment. The album is a mix of hip-hop, rap, rock and a few other musical influences.

“I think people are tired of the negative message a lot of hip-hop portrays. Not all of it, but there’s definitely a stereotype,” said Manafest, talking about the hybrid sound he tries to achieve with his music.

Manafest doesn’t necessarily identify himself as a Christian music artist and sometimes gets frustrated by the label.

“I don’t think I can necessarily get away from that label . . . and it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “But when you say the music is Christian, you leave a whole bunch of people who think that they can’t partake.”

Though he does not consider himself to be limited to the Christian music genre, he does consider his music to be a ministry. He performs in different venues and for various congregations, there is always an opportunity to share his testimony. He also extends this ministry through vlogs on his YouTube channel.

Manic Drive is a Christian band that primarily performs in the United States. Its fifth studio album, titled VIP, is gaining a lot of attention from Canadian radio. When the band found out it was nominated for its first Juno award, the members were ecstatic.

“Just to be recognized in your hometown is something really cool,” said Shawn Cavallo, lead vocals and drummer of Manic Drive. “We’re obviously huge fans of the Junos and love watching them . . . it hits you, but then it takes a while for it to sink in.”

Manic Drive has gone through quite an evolution since formed in 2004. The band went through several lineup changes, but more notably, the music has evolved from metal/punk rock to a more pop/dance sound.

Cavallo said there is a misconception about Christian music in that people automatically think the genre only consists of church music. But the genre is much more diverse than that.

“The Christian music stuff that we play is just having a musical extension of our faith,” he said. “Worship music is something different than faith-based music. There’s a lot of people in the general market that have their beliefs . . . (our faith is) just something that bleeds into our music and that we’re passionate about.”

Chelsea Amber closely identifies her music with her church roots. She said she had always had a desire to move in the direction of Christian music. It was at church music ministry where she learned to sing, play the guitar and be in a band.

“My faith has carried me through hard times and it’s given me a reason to sing,” she said. “The best part is having that sense of purpose. I know that when I go on the road, God has placed music in me and I’m meant to be a musician.”

Amber is nominated for her new album, Introducing Chelsea Amber. This is her third studio album, but her first under her new name. She found that people had trouble with her last name (Nisbet) and she now goes by her first and middle names.

“I really like my last name, but when I did some research about the amber stone, it coincided really well with the message that I wanted to put out through my music,” she said. “(Each stone) is totally unique because of its imperfections and I talk about that in my concerts, about how we all have imperfections and struggles that make us who we are.”

Drew Brown is unique in this category in that his musical roots began in secular music. Brown used to tour with different bands. Then, he began to work with worship leaders who wanted to incorporate some of these elements into their music.“It was just in that season where we were moving from Hosanna integrity stuff that was happening in the early ’90s and moving towards more of that rock band thing,” he said. “It just became cool in Canada.”

Brown found himself researching what was happening in modern worship music. He began experimenting and writing his own songs. He showed them to his friends, but he didn’t think he would ever want to release them.

“I had an encounter with God in which I felt he wanted me to play for him instead of myself,” he said. “But I was at a place where I don’t know what church is going to let me play guitar loud . . . I just try creating what I think would be the kind of church music I want to see in church.”

Five albums later, Brown is nominated for Analog Love in Digital Times. Brown said he does not consider this album to be a worship album because it’s very much about his personal experience of faith.

For now, Brown intends to enjoy the accomplishments of his current album and, like the other nominees, is excited to be part of one of the largest Canadian music awards, second only to the MuchMusic Video Awards.