We Need to Talk About this *Super* Racist Show at the Montreal Jazz Festival


A crowd at a music festival

A crowd at the 2018 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal on July 3rd, 2018. (Photo: Getty)

The Montreal International Jazz Festival has cancelled the remaining presentations of a show that has been criticized because it features a white woman singing songs composed by Black slaves.

The festival said Wednesday it was apologizing to anyone who was hurt by the decision to put on the shows.

“Since the beginning of SLAV performances, the festival team has been shaken and strongly affected by all comments received,” it said in a statement.

“For the Festival international de Jazz de Montreal, inclusion and reconciliation between communities is essential. We made the decision with the artist Betty Bonifassi to cancel all performances of the show at the festival.”

Bonifassi, a Montreal-based singer known for her Oscar-nominated work on the soundtrack of “Les Triplettes de Belleville,” was the main performer.

The show, which was directed by renowned Quebec playwright Robert Lepage, has been mired in controversy since the get-go.

At the premiere last week, about 75 protesters staged a demonstration outside the theatre that was hosting the performance.

Police had to form a cordon to block protesters in order to allow people to enter.

And on Tuesday, U.S. musician Moses Sumney cancelled a gig at the jazz festival to protest the SLAV shows.

Both the jazz festival and Lepage’s public relations firm said there would be no interviews on the matter Wednesday.

“We understand the position of the Montreal International Jazz Festival,” Edouard Garneau, a spokesman for the PR firm, said in an email.

“Considering the current context, we do not wish to add any other comments for the time being.”

In a later statement, the company said Lepage would comment before the end of the week.

Black activist Vincent Mousseau, who spoke at the opening night protest, says the festival was forced to cancel SLAV because of pressure from artists who demonstrated against it and because of widespread media attention that included coverage in the New York Times.

“The Montreal International Jazz Festival is the largest jazz festival in the world and we found it very irresponsible for the festival to put on the show without listening to the voices of those concerned,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“What we saw here were Black communities and allies standing up and saying that we’re not OK with the ways in which Black culture has been co-opted and put on a pedestal by folks who are not us.”

Mousseau added he and Lucas Charlie Rose, a hip-hop artist who organized the protest, had received death threats.

“I think our priority right now is ensuring that this violence is not being propagated like this piece of theatre that is extremely ignorant and, unfortunately, is very harmful,” he said.

Rose says he’s relieved that SLAV has been cancelled — even though it took the festival a week to halt the shows, which were scheduled to run until July 14.

But he wasn’t satisfied with the festival’s brief apology.

“I don’t feel like it’s enough personally because they caused a lot of hurt, they caused a lot of harm,” Rose told The Canadian Press. “I’m waiting to see what else they have to say and if they’re actually serious about helping black communities in the future.”

The artist pointed out that when people found out he was a transsexual, online comments against him were “really violent, really intense.”

This isn’t the first controversy involving white people playing Black people in Quebec.

A white actor blacked his face to play former Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban in a sketch that was part of a year-end comedy show by Montreal’s Theatre du Rideau Vert in December 2014.


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