Controversial Jazz Festival Show SLĀV Cancelled

Festival Apologizes After Widespread Protest

  • The show premiered on June 26 at Theatre du Nouveau Monde. Photo Courtesy Elias Djemil-Matassov

After an open letter was sent out and scores of activists rose up to protest, the widely contentious theatre performance SLĀV has been cancelled.

This article has been updated.

The show premiered on June 26 at Theatre du Nouveau Monde, and was originally scheduled to run until July 14 as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

1,500 people signed a petition for it’s cancellation, including academics such as Balarama Holness, community organizers like Robyn Maynard, visual artists, writers, journalists and musicians.

“We have watched with astonishment and disgust as a theatrical production based on African-American slave songs was coordinated by a group of white people, performed by a cast of predominantly white people, and presented by the Festival International du Jazz de Montréal,” it read. “We are alarmed by the dismissal and silencing of Black voices in the creation, development, staging, and promotion of the show SLĀV.”

The Montreal International Jazz Festival reached the decision yesterday morning, noting that “Since the beginning of SLĀV performances, the Festival team has been shaken and strongly affected by all comments received.”

“We would like to apologize to those who were hurt. It was not our intention at all,” the statement continued.

The festival said decision to cancel the performances was made in collaboration with the main artist of SLĀV, Betty Bonifassi.

“We need to look at the culture of what made it possible for this show to be even developed and be allowed to be shown. What happened is unacceptable. It is only a small reflection of how the Black community is treated in Quebec and in Canada.”⎯ Sophia Sahrane

The protests began when musician, entrepreneur and community organizer Lucas Charlie Rose posted a call out on Facebook on June 25, the day before the show was performed, for people to show up and rally at the Theatre du Nouveau Monde. According to Rose, about 100 people showed up.

“We wanted Black people to be heard, and that’s what happened,” said activist and spokesperson for the slav resistance collective Sophia Sahrane.

Betty Bonifassi performing in “SLĀV”. Photo Courtesy Elias Djemil-Matassov

In engaging with showgoers she said they were even able to get one of the would be showgoers to join their protest. People made speeches, Rose performed a song he had written the night before, and the mic was open for anyone who wanted to speak, she said.

California-based singer and songwriter Moses Sumney announced he was pulling out of the festival on Tuesday, in protest of SLĀV. Instead, he played a show at La Sala Rossa and offered fans discounted tickets to it.

“I think that the fact that SLĀV was cancelled is a victory,” Rose told The Link. “It really gives me hope for the future of Black artists and diversity in the entertainment industry. Because in the end, this is about more than just this one show. It would be disappointing to see the conversation about cultural appropriation end there.”

Sahrane said the slav resistance collective is happy with the outcome but stressed that more needs to be done.

The collective hopes to see the festival acknowledge Roué-Doudou Boicel as the founder of the Montreal Jazz Festival in all of their publications and to acknowledge the death threats received by those speaking out against SLĀV. They also the two public funders of SLĀV, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) and the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) to allocate funding to BIPOC artists.

Sahrane said the slav resistance collective is happy with the outcome but stressed that more needs to be done. Photo Courtesy Elias Djemil-Matassov

“As a member of the slav resistance collective, we are really happy that it’s been cancelled, but we also would like to make sure that people know that our open letter has multiple demands. Cancelling the show was just one of the demands⎯only one of the parties were held responsible.”

“We need to look at the culture of what made it possible for this show to be even developed and be allowed to be shown,” continued Sahrane. “What happened is unacceptable. It is only a small reflection of how the Black community is treated in Quebec and in Canada.”

Ex Machina Productions, the production company belonging to the playwright of SLĀV Robert Lepage has yet to respond to comment.

Ticket holders can get a refund at the point of purchase, the box-office of Théâtre du Nouveau Monde.

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