OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney canceled his Tuesday night performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, protesting the event’s ties to a show on slavery performed by whites.
The black entertainer criticized the festival for supporting “SLAV,” a theatrical production on black slavery that he said constitutes cultural appropriation. Instead of performing at the festival, he played two back-to-back shows Tuesday night at a Montreal club venue.
“SLAV,” directed by Robert Lepage and starring Betty Bonifassi, sparked protests in Montreal last week, with its critics arguing it appropriates black culture. In the production, the predominantly white cast dresses as cotton pickers and poor field workers and sings old slave songs.
“Their songs are taken from them by white people and performed to rooms full of other white people for high ticket prices,” Sumney wrote in a letter to festival organizers that he also published on his Tumblr blog. “I much would have preferred seeing actual black Americans sing their own slave songs.”
Bonifassi told the Montreal Gazette last week that she didn’t “feel badly at all” about the production. “I don’t see color. To me, it doesn’t exist, physically or in music,” she said.
In his letter to the festival, Sumney criticized Bonifassi’s comments, saying that “the solution to racism is not to erase race altogether.”
He also compared “SLAV” to blackface minstrel shows. “The only thing missing is black paint,” he wrote.
When contacted by The Associated Press, the jazz festival’s media relations director, Greg Kitzler, said, “We respect his decision and hope Moses Sumney will perform at the festival in a near future.”
Kitzler declined to comment on whether the festival would continue supporting “SLAV,” but added that a press release planned for Wednesday would offer clarification.
The play is scheduled to run until July 14 as part of the festival’s 39th edition. Thousands of musical acts have performed at the fest over the years, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Diana Ross.