Montreal jazz festival cancels Slav production over criticism

Betty Bonifassi performing in ParisImage copyright

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Singer Betty Bonifassi agreed to cancel the remaining Slav performances

The Montreal International Jazz Festival has cancelled performances of a controversial show heavily featuring African-American slave songs.

The festival announced cancellation of the show Slav on Wednesday over criticism of cultural appropriation.

The show features a white lead artist and a mostly white cast.

The decision came a day after one musician dropped out of the festival in protest.

In a statement, the festival said its “team has been shaken and strongly affected by all comments received”.

“We would like to apologise to those who were hurt. It was not our intention at all.”

Slav, described as “a theatrical odyssey based on slave songs” was created by performer Betty Bonifassi and stage director Robert Lepage, known for his collaborations with Cirque du Soleil and The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The festival said the decision to cancel the remaining performances was made with Ms Bonifassi.

The Quebec singer has been performing slave songs for some 15 years and had previously defended the production, which was billed as a “tribute to music as a tool for resilience and emancipation” through traditional African-American, Serbian, Bulgarian and Métis songs.

“People talk about whites taking black songs,” she told the Montreal Gazette before the musical-theatre show’s premiere.

“Uniting two colours is modern. We don’t talk about black and white in the show. We talk about human pain, experienced together. All cultures and ethnicities suffer the same.”

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Musician Moses Sumney dropped out of Montreal International Jazz Festival in protest over Slav

The sold-out production proved to be one of the festival’s most popular but faced wide criticism and a backlash that included protests outside the theatre.

Quebec hip hop artist Aly Ndiaye, who was consulted by Mr Lepage’s production company on the project, said the show was theatrically excellent but left him “deeply uncomfortable”.

“Like it or not, the question of race is at the very heart of the American slave system,” he wrote in an opinion piece.

“It was purged from the piece.”

On Tuesday, American musician Moses Sumney dropped out of the festival because of its endorsement of Slav.

“There’s nothing wrong with white people wanting to make work about slavery,” he said in an open letter to the festival.

“The way it is executed in this show, however, is appropriative, hegemonic, and neo-imperialistic.”

Launched in 1980 in Montreal, Canada, the annual jazz festival is marketed as the largest such festival in the world, and attracts thousands of artists each year.


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