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Jazz Festival Erupts After ‘Slave Songs’ Sang By Whites Spark Protests

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ROBERT KRAYCHIK

Protests over “cultural appropriation” prompted the Montreal International Jazz Festival to cancel a series of performances, in which white artists sang “slave songs.”

Lucas Charlie Rose, a self-described “multidisciplinary hip hop artist” and “leader” of a global “black trans community,” organized protests against the festival’s slate of shows.

Entitled SLĀV, the series of shows is billed as a “tribute to music as a tool for resilience and emancipation” that brings together “traditional Afro-American songs, from cotton fields to construction sites, railroads, from slave songs to prison songs.”

Rose accused SLĀV’s producers of profiteering off of “black pain” and “slavery” as whites, and “co-opting our pain, co-opting our suffering, co-opting our history — for $60-$90 a ticket”.

Rose added:

I don’t believe the descendants of the people who wrote these songs are going to see this show. It’s something we see a lot in the entertainment industry — the taking of these stories of black pain and stories of slavery by white people in order to make a profit. That’s what we are against.

Rose also criticized SLĀV on Facebook:

As a descendant of black slaves it is my duty to ensure that their legacy is respected. These songs were not written so that non-black folks could charge other non-black folks 60 to 90$ to watch them perform these testimonies of pain and trauma.

Lucky for us there is nothing more powerful than black people’s resilience. They will not get away with this.

Slave songs weren’t written for white people to profit off of.

Several black artists scheduled to perform at the jazz festival criticized SLĀV for being organized and staffed by whites:

Betty Bonifassi, the lead performer of SLĀV, is white. She and the show’s director Robert Lepage issued a joint statement:

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.

Global News reported that SLĀV was one of the jazz festival’s most popular shows. After its premiere last Tuesday, the theater added an extra eleven shows after the first five were sold out.

“Since the beginning of SLĀV performances, the festival team has been shaken and strongly affected by all the comments received,” Festival organizers said in a statement on Wednesday. “We would like to apologize to those who were hurt. It was not our intention at all. For the Montreal International Jazz Festival, inclusion and reconciliation between communities are essential.”

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