Tonight, three legendary names in music were awarded the 2023 Polar Music Prize at a gala ceremony held in Stockholm, Sweden. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, one of the UK’s greatest independent record labels; Angélique Kidjo, five-time Grammy Award winning Beninese artist and songwriter, and Estonian Arvo Pärt, the world’s most performed living composer, were each presented with the prize by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Laureates receive prize money of 600,000 Swedish Kroner (approx. £47,681/US $57,384).
Chris Blackwell, on receiving the award, said: “There is nothing easy about the act of creating music… There is only one question – what is more important? To be heard, or to hear?
“When you listen to others, you find the space to understand their many possibilities. It allows you to bring forth what is already there…My hope is that we all continue to make music, to use music as a shared human endeavour that evokes joy and delight, and connects communities and generations together in a language of harmony. That I hope, is my legacy. With all those I have worked with, over the last 50 years.”
Angélique Kidjo said: “I started my career at the age of six when my dear mother shoved me on stage in front of a live audience. I was so scared that I could feel my whole skeleton shaking. But the audience started to laugh and clap. It made me feel good, it made me feel at home. Since that day I haven’t left the stage!”
On receiving the award in the same year as Chris Blackwell, who signed Angélique to Island Records in the eighties, Angélique said that her life “was changed overnight”. She added: “I had sent my music to every record company in Paris. No one was interested, no one cared. Then the African activist Mamadou Konté sent it to someone in Jamaica who showed true passion for my work, signed me right away and started me down the path to success. This person was Chris Blackwell. He has allowed me to build these bridges between all the beautiful music and peoples of the world, so that we can celebrate our common humanity.”
Michael Pärt, son of Arvo Pärt, collected the award on behalf of his father. He said “My father would like to express his heartfelt gratitude to the Polar Music Prize committee, as well as to all the musicians and listeners who have supported his music throughout the years. Arvo sends his love to all of you here tonight.
“My father's music is a reminder of our common humanity, of the things that unite us rather than divide us. It is a call to love, to empathy, and to understanding.”
Also in attendance at the 2023 ceremony was Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, two of the era-defining acts on Island Records, signed to the label by Chris Blackwell in the seventies.
The ceremony and banquet took place at The Grand Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden. It featured musical performances by Swedish artists, including Daniela Rathana singing “Pull Up To The Bumper” by Island Records artist Grace Jones, and Deportees covered U2’s “With Or Without You”. Benjamin Ingrosso sang “Wild World” with Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens watching on, while Anna Ternheim performed “Love Is The Drug” with Phil Manzanrera seated in the audience. Ysee gave a rendition of Angelique Kidjo’s “Agolo”, and the S:t Jacobs Camber Choir performed “The Deer’s Cry” by Arvo Pärt. The evening also saw a performance by one of France’s most popular jazz artists, Ibrahim Maalouf.
The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by the late Stig “Stikkan” Anderson, a legend in the history of Swedish music and publisher, lyricist and manager of ABBA, to celebrate excellence in music. Stig Anderson believed that music was equally as important to society as, for example, science, medicine and literature, and should have a prize to reflect this.
Previous recipients of the Polar Music Prize include Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Chuck Berry, Ennio Morricone, Led Zeppelin, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kronos Quartet, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Metallica, Iggy Pop, Ravi Shankar, Renée Fleming, Miriam Makeba, Wayne Shorter, Sofia Gubaidulina and many more.