UPDATE: Humboldt Pride has called on Reggae on the River to cancel Sizzla’s performance and issue a public apology to the Humboldt queer community. If Reggae organizers do not comply, Pride will call for ticket holders to boycott the performance.
“It’s a slap in the face to the LGBT Community,” said Zakkary Zoah, Board Member of Humboldt Pride. “His anti-queer rhetoric is well-documented. Giving this man an opportunity to spew his hate isn’t the Humboldt way.”
The Reggae on the River festival has received “assurances” from controversial headliner Sizzla Kalonji’s management that “no derogatory speech will occur” during his performance, and staff is prepared to pull the plug on the show if the dancehall star does not follow through.
In an email to the Journal
and other media outlets this afternoon, Mateel Community Center General Manager and Talent Coordinator Justin Crellin responded to the controversy that has sparked up surrounding Sizzla’s headlining role at the four-day Southern Humboldt music festival and his history of lyrics targeting the LGBTQ community.
“Please note that Sizzla has been booked on the show since we first announced the line-up over 5 months ago — and we received no concerns about him being on the bill until very recently — despite a great deal of local publicity,” Crellin wrote in the email. “That said, we now recognize there are concerns within the community about his appearance on the show.”
Crellin then notes the assurances received from Sizzla’s management and staff’s having a protocol in place to “pull the plug on his performance should anything like this happen.” Crellin says the festival will also be posting a “values statement” at its merchandize booths and encouraging audience members to sign it in order to share it with Sizzla’s management “and send a message about where we stand as a community and to underscore what we expect from our artists — with the ultimate goal of fostering real dialogue on an issue that is sadly pervasive in Jamaican culture.”
As the Journal reported
yesterday, Sizzla has been outspoken in his condemnation of gay people, both in song and in interviews, and is a figure of international controversy, having had shows canceled in multiple countries in the face of large-scale protests from groups that have deemed his work “murder music” because it incites violence against LGBTQ communities.
It should also be noted that Sizzla has a track record
of making similar assurances to the one his management reportedly made Crellin, and then breaking them. In 2007, he signed the Reggae Compassionate Act, which asked artists to renounce homophobia and drop lyrics promoting violence against gay people from their music, only to continue playing and defending such songs. More recently, he took the stage at Sting — Jamaica’s largest reggae festival — in 2013, reportedly
after promising promoters he would not sing any anti-gay songs, only to launch into a lengthy homophobic verse that culminated with his jumping up and down and screaming “battyman,” the Jamaican slang equivalent to “faggot.”
"Sizzla was warned repeatedly before going onstage about not promoting hate music and he went up there and did it repeatedly," Sting's promoter, Isaiah Laing, told Jamaica's The Gleaner newspaper
Reggae on the River will be Sizzla’s first show in the United States since a tour in 2008, which saw a host of shows cancelled in the face of protests.
Crellin said the festival will donate funds from its 2016 Ambassador Program, which donates 10 percent of funds from the festival’s Ambassador Pass — an exclusive ticket for the event — sales to “charities related to reggae culture,” to a nonprofit working on gay rights issues in Jamaica.
emails to Mateel board members inquiring about what went into the organization's initial decision to book Sizzla to headline its largest annual fundraiser and concerns from the local LGBTQ community have gone unreturned. Crellin has also not replied to a Journal
follow up email asking if Mateel staff was aware of and discussed Sizzla's controversial lyrics prior to booking him and when staff received these "assurances" from the artist's management.
For more on Sizzla’s history — including video from his controversial 2013 performance in Jamaica — and local reaction to his headlining role at this weekend’s festival, see past Journal
Below, see Crellin’s email copied in its entirety:
Sorry for the delay in responding to your emails yesterday. We were having some internet issues and obviously we are in full swing with the production of the event, so we have a lot going on right now. Please note that Sizzla has been booked on the show since we first announced the line-up over 5 months ago- and we received no concerns about him being on the bill until very recently- despite a great deal of local publicity. That said, we now recognize there are concerns within the community about his appearance on the show. We have an assurance from management that no derogatory speech will occur and have protocol in place to pull the plug on his performance should anything like this happen. We will also be posting a values statement at our artist merchandise booth and will be talking from the stage (and in our press tent) encouraging our audience to sign this document with the intent to share it with his management and send a message about where we stand as a community and to underscore what we expect from our artists- with the ultimate goal of fostering real dialogue on an issue that is sadly pervasive in Jamaican culture. To this end, we will also be utilizing funds from our 2016 Ambassador Program- which funnels 10% of funds from our Ambassador ticket sales to global charities related to reggae culture- to directly support the work of an NPO in Jamaica that is working to combat this issue and foster tolerance and understanding regarding the LGBTQ community. I hope this helps answer some of your questions...