Moses Sumney, the experimental indie-soul singer, has been all over the summer festival circuit since the release of his debut album Aromanticism. He was scheduled for a Tuesday night set at the Montreal Jazz Festival, but announced that he was pulling out of the festival in light of the festival’s consistent defense of a controversial musical titled SLAV.
The Robert Lepage-directed musical is built around old slave spirituals, but the controversy lies therein: The cast is mainly white, and sometimes, they dress as field slaves and cotton pickers. SLAV describes itself as an “incursion into the world of slave songs.” The play has drawn protests calling the festival’s decision to keep the musical in the lineup racist.
Before canceling his set on Tuesday morning, Sumney called out the festival on Twitter last week. While he thanked the festival for “dialoguing” with him, he ultimately decided that “I knew that I could not present my music at this same festival in good conscience,” adding that it felt especially wrong because the set was sandwiched between Canada Day and Independence Day, “two bittersweet holidays that have long left black, brown, and indigenous voices out.”
Festival organizers defended SLAV’s placement in the lineup in a statement to CBC that read:
We are truly fortunate that artists as talented and recognized on the five continents as Betty Bonifassi and Robert Lepage—in his very first collaboration—have chosen the festival to present this show as a world premiere. Before subjecting them to trial by public opinion, we firmly believe that we must wait and witness the show they will present to us all.
Sumney will still perform in Montreal on Tuesday night—just not at the Jazz Festival. He’ll take the stage at La Sala Rossa with Un Blonde. Read his statement in full below.