A group of black artists and musicians wants to see more diversity in Quebec’s cultural milieu after the controversial play SLAV was cancelled by the Montreal International Jazz Festival but continues its run across the province.
“Our work is not over,” said Mikayla Harris. “There is still performances of SLAV scheduled throughout Quebec.”
The show, directed by award-winning playwright Robert Lepage, features a predominantly white cast performing songs composed by black slaves.
Following widespread criticism, the play was accused of cultural appropriation and after the cancellation of a festival appearance by American musician Moses Sumney, the Montreal jazz festival abruptly pulled the show from its lineup and issued an apology.
The decision to cancel the show’s multi-night run was met with both support and criticism. When Lepage broke his silence, he said he would leave it to others to debate cultural appropriation but called the cancellation a “direct blow to artistic freedom.”
“To me, what is most appalling is the intolerant discourse heard both on the street and in some media,” Lepage said.
The SLAV Resistance Collective is now asking that the conversation surrounding race, cultural appropriation and white privilege continue.
Musician Ricardo Lamour said members met late last week with L’Equipe Spectra, which organizes the jazz festival, but that the four-hour meeting didn’t include any firm commitments aside from a plan to continue dialogue.
“We’re normal human beings just standing up for what we believe is right in a context that is very hostile to these types of conversations,” he said.
The group said it is also championing an increased presence of black people in the province’s cultural milieu as well as diversity as a whole.
Lucas Charlie Rose, a hip-hop artist, said black artists and musicians are often left out of the cultural scene. He said the goal of the collective was to remind playwrights like Lepage that black artists exist.
“This conversation is bigger than SLAV. It’s bigger than one show,” he said. “It’s happening to us every day.”
SLAV will continue its run in early 2019. Tickets can still be purchased for dates in Sherbrooke, Drummondville and Saguenay.
— with files from the Canadian Press