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Searchlight 2018 winner: aquakultre

Grant Lawrence

Listen to Aquakultre's winning song here.

"What? No! Ahhhhhhh!" That's just a snippet of the reaction our producers received when we phoned aquakultre at his home in Halifax to let him know that he has won Searchlight 2018.

When we announced our annual hunt for Canada's best undiscovered musical talent back in January, we were flooded with more than 2,000 original Canadian songs, entered from every province and territory. With your voting help, we took that huge list of songs down to a top 100, then a top 10. Then our celebrity judges took over.

Aquakultre was announced as the Searchlight 2018 winner Monday, March 19, on q with Tom Power, as the judge's ultimate choice. Lance Sampson, a.k.a. aquakultre, performed his winning song live on the show. Listen to the reveal, the interview, and the stirring performance of "Sure" here.

Aquakultre visits the q studio in Toronto for a live performance of his winning Searchlight song.

For winning Searchlight 2018, Sampson gets a prestigious placement in the Allan Slaight Juno Master Class, a week-long recording residency at Studio Bell (home of the National Music Centre in Calgary), a performance at JunoFest at the 2019 Juno Awards in London, Ont., and a live set at the CBC Music Festival on May 26, 2018, in Toronto.

Sampson has an incredible story: five years ago at age 19, he was convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to five years at Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia. While there, he took advantage of a guitar-rental service and taught himself how to play, with the help of some inmates who showed him some chords. Sampson was released after 19 months for good behaviour. He wrote "Sure" in prison, which is the song that has vaulted him to victory in Searchlight 2018.

Here's what the judges had to say:

"Aquakultre brings us a very unique sound based on his very unique experiences. I can’t wait to hear more."

— Ian Campeau, public speaker and former member of A Tribe Called Red

"It's all about being unique and standing out from the crowd. As soon as we first heard Aquakultre and the combination of hip-hop, acoustic guitar, and his soulful voice, we knew it was something special."

— Allan Reid, president and CEO, CARAS/the Juno Awards and MusiCounts

“Aquakultre’s stirring voice blends uniquely with the acoustic instrumentals and hip-hop beats to produce a powerful song with a modern vibe.”

— Kristen Burke, Universal Music Canada

We managed to catch up with aquakultre before his q performance to ask him a few questions on his whirlwind winning day.

How does it feel to win Searchlight 2018?

It's pretty hectic! I suddenly have all kinds of stuff I need to take care of. I was not prepared for this at all!

What is your song "Sure" about?

My song was basically a representation of my feelings at the time. When I wrote "Sure" I was incarcerated in prison, getting pretty close to the release date of my sentence. Jail was lonely, and I tend to write my best when I'm isolated. "Sure" was inspired by that loneliness, and was the second song I wrote once I started getting the hang of the chords on the guitar.

You were in prison just a few years ago. Did you ever imagine receiving national recognition like this, or was it all part of your plan?

I wasn't expecting to get national recognition. I'll ride the wave while I can. Thanks y'all!

How did you decide upon the name aquakultre?

Aquakultre came from my career choice as a plumber, and how I wanted to take my artistry further. Water embodies everything, and "kultre" is a reference to music in general. So: aquakultre

You've won all sorts of prizes, a total of five trips around the country. Which one are you looking forward to the most?

I'm really excited for the being at the Junos in 2019

Aquakultre will next be seen as part of the CBC Music Festival on Saturday May 26, 2018.

Aquakultre, a hip hop singer-songwriter, has won Searchlight 2018.

More to explore:

Listen to the rest of the Searchlight 2018 top ten finalists here

Searchlight 2018: meet the judges who chose aquakultre

Searchlight 2018: the prizes that aquakultre has won

Check out twelve standout outsider underground artists from Searchlight 2018

Former Searchlight artists nominated for 2018 Juno Awards

aquakultre first came to our attention back in 2017

CBC Music’s annual hunt for Canada’s next undiscovered talent is back for 2018.