Montreal jazz festival cancels controversial show after criticism

MONTREAL — 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.

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