BELCOURT A Belcourt musician might be the first American to win a Canadian award.
In the beginning of August, Ryan Keplin learned that he was nominated for Best Fiddle CD for the Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards.
The awards highlight the best music from the First Nations, Inuit, Metis, and Native American communities. Here, Keplin may rub elbows with the likes of singer Buffy Sainte Marie, who is nominated for best music video, as well as other musicians who are more well-known north of the 49th parallel and in Native American circles.
Ryan Keplin, a fiddler from Belcourt, was nominated for Best Fiddle CD in the 2010 Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards. Fans can vote for him online until October 6.
The nomination was made by Ness Michaels, CEO of Sunshine Records, Winnipeg, where Keplin has recorded for about 25 years.
"I think he's going to win," Michaels said. "He's really good and really creative with his styles. He has a good chance of winning."
According to Keplin, he had only a few weeks for the first round of voting. He credits his performances at MetisFest in late August, as well as Batoche, Sask., earlier that month, for getting the word out.
"From those festivals, people know me and my fiddle playing and, hopefully, I've built enough respect to earn their support in the voting process," Keplin said.
Keplin, indeed, made it past the first round, thanks to support from his home community, as well as the people he met at the Canadian festivals. Now, he has four other nominees Alex Lamoureux, Jacinthe Trudeau, JJ Lavallee and The Gaudry Boys, all Canadians to compete with before the voting deadline on Oct. 6. and the subsequent award ceremony on Nov. 5 in Winnipeg.
Keplin's victory would be a first for the awards an American winning in the fiddling category.
"They had that ruling in there several years back where they weren't accepting U.S. citizens to apply," Michaels said. "Now, they opened it up."
However, the stipulations were still tight, as Michaels had nominated Keplin for "Entertainer of the Year," however, he was disqualified as he wasn't a Canadian citizen, Michaels said.
Keplin said he feels the nomination is "a huge honor" and a sign of the respect they have for him as an entertainer and a fiddle player.
Keplin was a young lad of 12 when he started tinkering around with fiddling. He grew up listening to the sounds of fiddling greats like Andy DeJarlis and Reg Bouvette.
"My dad bought me a fiddle from a neighbor," Keplin said. "It was all broken up into pieces, but my dad was a handyman and he happened to put the fiddle back together for me."
That fiddle, a monument to his craft, is still in his possession. It's not in its original state, or even how it was after Keplin's father fixed it. Keplin has since had it reconditioned.
Fiddling was in his blood, Keplin said, describing how his grandfather John Keplin was well known in the Belcourt area as a champion fiddler. Unfortunately, Keplin had died in 1962, before his grandson was born. However, his grandfather's legend lived on through prior recordings.
"I heard a lot of my elders at the time talking about my grandfather and how good of a fiddle player he was," Keplin said. "He'd play at the bush dances, he'd play here, he'd play there. And I thought, I'd like to do the same thing."
Keplin, visualizing his grandfather at play, began to teach himself the art of fiddling. At the age of 14, Keplin won his first fiddling contest. The first place prize was recording time at Sunshine Records. His first album, titled "Fiddling Lefty," was pressed there, and the rest is history.
When Michaels met Keplin then, he saw that he was a lot different than other fiddlers.
"I was also intrigued how he fiddled with his left-hand, which you don't see too often. He's the only one I've seen so far," Michaels said.
That's how the nickname, Lefty, stuck, Keplin said.
Since then, Keplin has recorded three more albums, his latest, "Fiddling Lefty Twist," being the factor of nomination.
Other than this nomination, Keplin said that his accomplishments are more humble. Playing music and making people happy is "one thing I enjoy doing from it," he said.
Keplin also has some stars in his eyes, especially after receiving a phone call from John Arcand, the "Master of Metis Fiddle Players."
"'The Master of Metis Fiddle Players' called me and asked if he could record my composition," Keplin said. "I thought that was a really huge honor. I have other fiddle players playing my tunes."
The voting, which is conducted online at (www.aboriginalpeopleschoice.com), will continue over the next month, with an Oct. 6 deadline. A selection of clips from Keplin's music can also be heard on the Web site.
With a huge fiddle festival in Miami, Man., coming up, Keplin hopes to gain more support before the deadline.