American musician pulls out of Montreal jazz fest because of controversial show

The controversial show involving songs composed by slaves is at Montreal's jazz festival. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

American musician Moses Sumney has pulled out of the Montreal International Jazz Festival because of a controversial show that is directed by a white man and features a white woman singing songs composed by black slaves.

Sumney says he was disappointed by the festival’s decision to book a show “in which a majority-white group of singers, led by a white Quebecois director, sing African-American slave songs, sometimes dressed as field slaves and cotton pickers.”

READ MORE: Protesters denounce predominantly white show of songs by black slaves at Montreal Jazz Festival

The musician tweeted he could not present his music at the festival in good conscience after learning it continued to defend the show publicly “even after adamant protests — during which one of the show goers (the majority of which were of course, white) slapped a woman of colour protesting the show.”

Story continues below advertisement

Sumney, 28, noted his festival concert was scheduled for Tuesday — “a day sandwiched between Canada Day and Independence Day, two bittersweet holidays that have long left black, brown and Indigenous voices out.”

READ MORE: Protesters rally against ‘theatrical odyssey based on slave songs’ at Jazz Festival for second day

Sumney, who moved the already sold-out show with his band to another smaller venue, did not respond to a request by The Canadian Press for an interview.

A jazz fest spokeswoman offered only a brief statement about Sumney’s decision to pull out of “SLAV,” which is directed by renowned Quebec playwright Robert Lepage.

“The festival respects the decision that he made and we hope that he’ll come back in the future,” said Jessica Alcide.

Many Twitter replies supported Sumney’s move, calling it inspiring and admirable. One wrote she was in love with his voice and artistry and that now she was also in love with his integrity.

But one person replied the show is about the history of slavery and how terrible it is.

“To object because of the skin colour of who is singing that message seems awfully counterproductive to me,” that person wrote.

“SLAV” is one of the most popular events at the jazz fest and the downtown theatre added an extra 11 shows after the first five were sold out.

Story continues below advertisement

The presentation has been criticized as “a racist appropriation of black culture.”

At the show’s premier last Tuesday, about 75 protesters staged a demonstration outside the theatre that was hosting the performance.

READ MORE: Montreal Jazz Festival cancels 2 showings of controversial show after singer breaks ankle

Police had to form a cordon to block protesters in order to allow people to enter.

Betty Bonifassi, a Montreal-based singer known for her Oscar-nominated work on the soundtrack of “Les Triplettes de Belleville,” is the main performer.

Lepage and Bonifassi earlier released a joint statement on Facebook in which they said, “Yes, the history of slavery, in all its various forms, belongs first and foremost to those who have been oppressed and to the descendants of those people.”

“Diversity and its artistic potential are at the heart of SLAV as much as the legacy of slavery. Do we have the right to tell these stories? Audience members will have the opportunity to decide after having seen the show.”

Sponsored content