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Alessia Cara and The Weeknd, when Canadian immigrants become pop sensations

Alessia Cara and Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, are two of Canada's top-selling artists and both were born to immigrant parents
Written by Arman K.

Canada has just welcomed some of its first refugees fleeing crisis in the middle east. As they settle in and form part of our country's future, we look back at some of the biggest Canadian pop sensations who started out as immigrants: Alessia Cara and The Weeknd

Much of Canada's good reputation around the world is thanks to those whose families come from other parts of the world. Think climate activist David Suzuki, who was born to Japanese immigrants, or Keinan Warsame, aka K'naan, who came to Canada as a refugee fleeing war-torn Somalia and became an international star with his rap anthem "Wavin' Flag." Even now, Canadians born in other parts of the world are making huge waves on the pop stage. As new refugees get ready to become part of the Canadian family, we take a look at two artists representing the maple leaf on the billboard charts and awards ceremonies south of the border: Alessia Cara and Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd.

Alessia Cara started her career as a YouTube darling before label bigwigs noticed her shy on-camera covers and decided to make her into a star. Now she's making huge waves south of the border, performing live with Taylor Swift and having her first single "Here" from debut release, Know-It-All named Spotify's viral track of 2015. But few people know that Alessia Cara's real name is Alessia Caracciolo and the Brampton-born soul-pop singer is the child of Italian immigrants. As she revealed in an interview conducted by Taylor Swift just after the pair's duo in front of 55,000 people, "my mom came from Italy and she didn't really speak English," she recounts to Swift. "My parents got married when they came back to Canada and I'd hear my parents speaking in Italian to each other so it was a fluent thing." Speaking in a sperate interview with Complex magazine about how her Italian roots have shaped her music, she says, "My mom would play contemporary Italian music. To this day, I still know the big Italian artists because she was always playing them."

The Weeknd for his part is probably the breakout Canadian artist of the year. His sophomore album, 2015's Beauty Behind The Madness, is leading the Canadian field at the 58th Grammy Awards. But the Toronto-based R&B singer with an affinity for MJ vocals was actually born Abel Tesfaye to Ethiopian refugees fleeing the African nation's military coup. Although he's never visited the country of his descent, Ethiopia's music and culture courses through the veins and arteries of his musical style, with Amharic being the first language he spoke in his family's Scarborough home. "It’s such beautiful music," he tells Pitchfork, "but I didn’t realize how beautiful it was until I left that head space. That’s why I feel like my singing is not conventional. I mean, if you look at technique, I’m not a technical singer; I know I get bashed by R&B heads 24/7... But the feeling in my music and in my voice is very Ethiopian and very African and much more powerful than anything, technically." Can you think of other famous Canadians who have immigrant backgrounds?

Source: uk.complex.com / YouTube: @alealeluia - Media credit: YouTube: @AlessiaCaraVEVO, YouTube: @TheWeekndVEVO, melty
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