Moses Sumney Pulls Out Of Montreal Jazz Festival Performance Over Controversial Show About Slavery

American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney has released an open letter to explain why he pulled out of his Montreal International Jazz Festival performance on Tuesday night.

Sumney took to his Tumblr profile to post the lengthy message, in which he criticized the festival for supporting “SLAV”, which is a show about black slavery.

The production, which stars Betty Bonifassi and is directed by Robert Lepage, sparked protests in Montreal last week, with Sumney insisting it consitutes cultural appropriation.

The predominantly white cast in the musical are said to dress as cotton pickers and poor field workers while singing old slave songs.

Sumney explained: “I recently decided to pull out of the Montreal Jazz Festival because of their endorsement of a 16-night performance of a show called ‘SLAV’, in which white artist Betty Bonifassi, who has been touring the world performing African-American slave songs for years, leads a group of mostly-white performers, oft dressed as cotton pickers and field slaves.

“The show is meant to make some grand statement about oppression throughout time, and, I guess, the universality of struggle? When protests of the show were ignored, I decided to write a letter to the festival programmers explaining why I was pulling my performance. To their credit, they were very open to listening to my concerns, and eventually amended their position.”

His letter then continued, “To be told that Betty is ‘a friend to the community’ as a reason for the show being okay is even more condescending; it’s the equivalent of saying ‘I have a black friend so I can sing the *n* word’ or something. I can assure you that Betty is no friend of mine. Anybody who speaks (or in this case, sings) over people of colour instead of listening to them when they voice their hurt is not a friend.”

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Sumney went on: “There’s nothing wrong with white people wanting to make work about slavery. The way it is executed in this show, however, is appropriative, hegemonic, and neo-imperialistic. (At $60-$90 tickets… I much would have preferred seeing actual black Americans sing their own slave songs.)”

Read his full post here. The musical is scheduled to run until July 14.

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