canadian comedians, comedians in Canada


For the remainder of 2022, going into 2023, the National Arts Centre is partnering with SHIFTER to spotlight Canadian women of colour in live performance with its first ever Innovators & Icons lists. As a part of this groundbreaking article series, every month the NAC and SHIFTER will be honouring Canadian women of colour who align with the NAC’s various disciplines―Popular Music & Variety, Dance, Indigenous Theatre, English Theatre, French Theatre, and NACO (the NAC Orchestra). These women are not only stellar live performers, representing the geographical and ethnic diversity of Canada, but they are pushing the envelope and breaking barriers in their craft, on the way to becoming Canada’s future stars. In our first Innovators and Icons piece, the National Arts Centre and SHIFTER profile seven women of colour blazing a trail as musicians and comedians in Canada.

To kick off the series, we are honouring women of colour in Popular Music & Variety. This month’s honourees include hip-hop artist Charmaine, Nunavut-born singer-songwriter and producer Angela Amarualik, Experimental Hip-hop duo Cartel Madras, Alternative R&B artist and producer Janette King, and comedians Hoodo Hersi and Janelle Niles. These women are all innovators in their own right, whether through their content, craft, or by causing little controversy.

Here are the NAC and SHIFTER’s Innovators & Icons in the Popular Music & Variety category.


CHARMAINE | Hip-hop artist | Toronto

City: Toronto/Nashville
Instagram: @__iamcharmaine
Previous work: “Bold”, “Woo”, “Friends With Benefits”

“Bold” isn’t just the name of Charmaine’s debut single which made her the first women to ever win the Juno Award for “Rap Single Of The Year”. It’s the energy she’s brought to the Toronto music scene since her arrival. Blending hard-hitting bars, unapologetic sex appeal, and high energy dance choreography, Canada has never seen anything like Charmaine before. But it’s not only Canada who is noticing. In a time when Canada has struggled to export its hip-hop talent, let alone a female artist, Charmaine has garnered over 11 million streams in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, and has been featured leading Canadian and American platforms like Fatman Scoop, Ebro Darden, Complex, MTV, Much Music, ET Canada, and CBC.

Among her creative influences are hip-hop legend Missy Elliott, as well as southern hip-hop acts like Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz, Ludacris, Ying Yang Twins. Although born in Zimbabwe, Africa, she grew up in Nashville, Tennessee which explains her high energy southern-infused sound.

More about Charmaine

What is your biggest professional achievement?

“My biggest professional achievement so far has been becoming the first woman in history to win “Rap Single of the Year” at the 2022 Juno Awards.”

What obstacles/challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

I think people seeing me come out signed to a major label out of nowhere, in their eyes, they believe that it was handed to me or it wasn’t genuine in some way….But I’ve been trying to make this happen for myself since I was 17 years old. I have a story… All you have to do is pay attention. I worked and earned my way to the place I’m in now. Believe me me when I say, there’s much more ahead for me.

What’s something people should know about you?

My goals supersede my professional music career. I am to build a legacy that makes a difference, especially for women in music. This is just the tip of my iceberg but the deeper you’ll dive into my world…the more you’ll see what’s below the surface.

Photo credit: Sierra Stone (@iamsierrastone)

CARTEL MADRAS | Experimental Hip-hop duo

City: Calgary/Tamil Nadu, India
Instagram: @cartel.madras
Previous work: “Pork And Leak”, “Goonda Gold”, “Drift”

Individually they’re Eboshi and Contra. Together they’re the bold, racy, and hard-hitting experimental hip-hop duo Cartel Madras. Raised in Calgary, the sisters were born in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, lending to the range and diversity of their sound.

While the two got started in music early, playing piano at 3 and 5 years old respectively, as well as taking dance lessons, it wasn’t until 2018 that they started performing. It was then that they released their debut mixtape Project Goonda Part 1: Trapistan. Since then they’ve wracked up some quite a few accomplishments, including being signed to the legendary Sub Pop records in 2019, having their single “Goonda Gold”​ featured in MTV, Vogue, NME and UFC 4, and their song “WORKING” being featured in the soundtrack for the final season of the Hulu series Shrill.

The stages they’re performing on are also getting bigger. In 2020, they went on a North American tour, and this year alone they performed at SXSW alongside label-mates CHAI, were one of the headlining acts in Berlin for POP-KULTUR 2022, and are touring the UK and Europe in this September.

Not only are they innovative with their sound which they call “Goonda Rap”, combining elements of the underground trap, queer, and punk scene, but they produce and direct most of their own music videos (an impressive feat if you’ve even seen a Cartel Madras music video).

More about Cartel Madras

What is your biggest professional achievement?

“We’ve had a lot of unique artistic milestones, and our creative achievements span a lot of different disciplines. On a larger level, being able to execute a project such as Cartel Madras from the prairies and now have it be known globally, is a dream. In the past couple years we have also been able to direct music videos, create films from our own screenplays, grow our collective into an arthouse – these achievements feel huge in our life, especially to be able to play in-between artistic disciplines and explore it with a sense of authenticity and vision.”

What obstacles/challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

“This is a strange question, as in retrospect everything feels both massive and small. There is an assorted platter of community, family, mental health, physical, and personal life challenges that punctuate our history – the hope is that we move with the current and are able to rise above it and through it with every passing year. Obviously, the entertainment industry itself has massive obstacles and restrictions for artists to exist and create authentically, we feel the push and pull of those forces too.”

What’s something people should know about you?

Eboshi: “I’m currently working on a play, a main focal point of it is the Canadian music industry. Can’t wait to spill some tea.”

Contra: “I’ve been secretly working on a novel for like three years, maybe I’ll finally finish it next year.”

JANELLE NILES | Comedian | Nova Scotia/Ottawa

City: Sipekne’katik, Nova Scotia/Ottawa
Instagram: @janelle.niles
Previous work: New Wave of Standup Comedy (CBC Comedy)

Described as eccentric and captivating, Janelle Niles is a Black – Mi’kmaq comedian from Sipekne’katik, Nova Scotia. Drawing from life experience and politics of both her ethnicities, she launched her comedy career in January 2019 in Ottawa (where she now resides), after being encouraged to join the Ottawa Comedy Community on social media and honing her craft at open mics, including Swizzles Bar and Grill Monday comedy night where she continues to perform whenever she can.

Although she only ventured into comedy in her 30’s, her relationship with comedy started at a young age watching Just For Laughs and Comedy in order to heal through humour.

In her relatively short career she has achieved some impressive accolades. She will be making her Just For Laughs debut this September in Toronto, appeared on season two of CBC Gem’s New Wave Of Stand-up, performed at the Arctic Comedy Festival in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and appeared on APTN’s Indigenous Day Live 2022 on Lumi. But she has bigger goals on her radar, including performing at Just For Laughs in Montreal and one day touring Turtle Island.

She also started the Got Land? Indigenous Comedy Show, bringing Indigenous comedians together from across Canada.

More about Janelle Niles

What is your biggest professional achievement?

“Just for laughs! September 30th in Toronto. The biggest milestone of my career is happening soon! I was also featured on CBC GEM New Wave of Stand-up Season 2.”

What obstacles/challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

“My biggest obstacle is dismantling Canada’s preconceived notion that indigenous populations need to assimilate and this drives me to keep going and help others know we are still hear and regain our culture back.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“My big personality comes from a inherent need to be strong for my people and myself to tackle tough topics and face adversity. It gets me in trouble because I also have a big mouth!”

ANGELA AMARUALIK | Singer-songwriter | Igloolik, Nunavut/Laval, QC

City: Igloolik, Nunavut/Montreal
Instagram: @anulik_angela
Previous work: “Summa Tamaani”, “Angirrarviga”

Drawing inspiration from her Inuit roots and popular artists she grew up listening to, like Beatrice Deer and Hilary Duff, Igloolik, Nunavut born artist, Angela Amarualik combines Inuit melodies and throat-singing with contemporary elements.

The now Montreal-based singer-songwriter got her start in music playing the ukulele and writing Inuktitut songs in her bedroom closest. Like many who grew up in small Inuit communities, she was surrounded by a lot of social issues, but maintained a good attitude to be an example to others. Today, she offers musical workshops to Inuit youth.

In 2018, she released her self-titled debut album garnered three 2019 Indigenous Music Awards nominations for Best Producer, Best New Artist, and Best Indigenous Language Album which eventually she took home.

While her main inspiration is to inspire her people, she has global ambitions of sharing her culture and creating music that people around the world can enjoy.

HOODO HERSI | Comedian

City: Toronto/New York
Instagram: @hoodocomedy
Previous work: Late Night with Seth Meyers, The New Wave of Standup Season 2 (CBC Comedy)

Toronto native, Hoodo Hersi, is a New York-based comedian who is quickly making her mark across North America for her observational takes on race, politics and family.

Introduced to comedy by watching the David Chappelle Show, Hoodo is now 11 years deep in the game and counts making her late night television debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers, being selected as a New Face: Canada at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, one of CBC’s 15 Comics to Watch, an Audible New Voice at SF Sketchfest, and writing on A24/Amazon’s untitled Ramy Youssef animated show among her major accomplishments.

She has performed alongside current and rising comedy starts like Hasan Minhaj, Lil Rel Howery, Roy Wood Jr., Nicole Byer, and Maria Bamford, and was featured in Sephora’s national “Get Lippie” lipstick campaign in partnership with Fashion Magazine, where she was profiled as one of the three Female Comedians Taking Canada by Storm Right Now.

More about Hoodo Hersi

What is your biggest professional achievement?

“Doing Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

What obstacles/challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

“My immigrant mother’s judgment on my comedy career.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“Comedians are essentially sad clowns.”

(Photo credit: @bojangou)

JANETTE KING | Alternative R&B/pop artist and producer 

City: Montreal
Instagram: @janette.king
Previous work: “Ooh Yeah”What We Lost

Alternative R&B artist and producer, Janette King, is making a name for herself with the her soulful vocals and playing major events and venues across Canada, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Ottawa Bluesfest, and the National Arts Centre. For the Montreal native, her love affair with music started at a young age.

“I fell in love with music through dance and poetry. I was a dancer from the age of 13 unil about 18 and I really loved it. I would write poems when I was 11 and somehow they just morphed into songs eventually.”

She’s been a part of different bands as a professional musician and singer for 14 years, but decided to launch out as a solo act three years ago.

She release her debut album What We Lost on June 25, 2021, tackling the complexities of loss. The project was highly acclaimed, charting on North American radio and being placed on leading Spotify and Apple playlists. It also received nods from international media outlets Complex UK, Bandcamp Daily, Hypebeast, KEXP, and Consequence of Sound.

More about Janette King

What is your biggest professional achievement?

“I think my biggest professional achievements has been playing one of the main stages at Ottawa Blues Fest as well as Montreal Jazz Festival this summer and releasing my first album What We Lost.”

What obstacles/challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

“I’ve had a lot of rejection whether that be having grants decline to fund my projects or being turned down from big festivals. There are always blockages but you just have to persevere in the face of adversity.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“I don’t like chocolate and I love the ocean. haha”

Innovators & Icons is a presented by the National Arts Centre in partnership with SHIFTER

national arts centre innovators and icons