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Image via Moses Sumney Facebook page

Moses Sumney Cancels Show At Montreal Jazz Festival After Organizers Defend "Racist" Musical

Following protests against the musical SLĀV, Moses Sumney said that he could not perform at the Montreal Jazz festival in "good conscience."

There is always a show claiming that white performers exploring black pain is a necessary artistic pursuit, and Moses Sumney has joined protestors fighting against this old narrative.

The musical SLĀV is a "theatrical odyssey based on slave songs." The Montreal Jazz Festival Site describes the show as "a remarkable interpretation of the songs, laments and lullabies that united these human beings dispossessed of everything," adding that the show offers "universal links between different known and less known—or deliberately forgotten—pages of history that have led humanity to enslave peoples."

The show, which features largely white performers singing African American slave songs, has recently been protested by artists and activists who described it as "extremely offensive." Artists like Pierre Kwenders pointed out another page of history that the festival was deliberately forgetting—the history of white people profiting off the stories of marginalized groups.

Sumney joined other artists who have critiqued the show, and he decided to cancel his set to host his own headline show tonight at La Sala Rossa.

Explaining the reasons for pulling out of the festival, Sumney said, "When I learned that the festival continued to defend this show publicly, even after adamant protests, —during which one of the show goers (the majority of which where, of course, white) slapped a woman of color protesting the show—I knew that I could not present my music at this same festival in good conscience"

Montreal Jazz Fest put out a statement saying, "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….[Jazz Fest is] synonymous with a global village where there is no race, no gender, no religion and all human beings are equal."

Sumney has decided to take his show elsewhere, and given the honest and complex ideas he explores in his recent album Aromanticism, a different stage might be the best move.


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6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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