[UPDATE: Canceled] Controversial Musician, Sizzla, Whose Homophobic Lyrics Caused an Uproar When He Was Booked to Play the 2016 Reggae on the River Show, Set to Play the Mateel Hall This July
Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky in popular culture. Will it prove to be an unlucky day for the already beleaguered Mateel which has entered into an agreement to allow Sizzla, a controversial Reggae artist and well-known homophobe to play that day? Earshot Entertainment, a music production company based out of San Francisco is renting the Hall and putting on a concert by Sizzla. As yet it is unknown the specifics of the deal.
Sizzla Kalonji is a top-tier Reggae artist known for his high energy performances and also his homophobic lyrics–some of which advocate shooting gays. His 2004 hit, Pump Up, states “Shot battybwoy, my big gun boom” which roughly translates as “Shoot gay men, my big gun goes boom.” The song contains other lyrics which some believe advocate burning gay men–“fire fi di man dem weh go ride man behind.”
Sizzla and other Jamaican artists with similar lyrics faced a backlash. Critics began labeling their genre “Murder Music.”
Sizzla’s work permit was revoked in the United States in 2008 because of the controversy over his lyrics. Canada and the United Kingdom also didn’t allow Sizzla to do concerts and Germany canceled several. Then in 2016, Sizzla was permitted back into the US to play concerts and festivals. Reggae on the River signed him as their headliner.
In response, there was a community outcry on the North Coast. Because the festival is a Mateel production, Justin Crellin, then the Mateel’s General Manager, promised to “pull the plug on his performance” should the artist use any “derogatory speech.” Crellin also said the Mateel would use
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.
Todd Larson, one of the founders of Queer Humboldt, spoke out against this event this morning. He said, “To see the Mateel hosting this after working with them in 2016…I’m really disappointed…I’m shocked after all the entertainers they could bring, they chose that one…He has never denied it or apologized.”
In spite of the controversy, Earshot Entertainment booked the Mateel Hall for Sizzla to play this July 13. Board member Eryn Snodgrass told us in an email last night that Mateel is requiring the promoters to “get a respect values agreement for this show, a no hate speech tolerated principals statement.”
Sizzla performed under a similar agreement at the 2016 Reggae on the River festival and abided by the restrictions. We have not been able to confirm that the Mateel did donate that promised money to the NPO.
The Mateel has stated they will issue a press release this morning on the Sizzla concert.
UPDATE 5/31: The Mateel issued the following statement.
In response to an impassioned outcry of some of our diverse community, the Mateel has decided to cancel the July 13thSizzla concert at the hall. We have informed the promoters who are very understanding and cooperative.
The original decision to host this show came from the center’s need to continue paying down debt. We had planned to ensure that no hate speech or lyrics would have occurred – Sizzla’s 2016 Reggae on the River set went smoothly with an agreement with the artist management- but after further review, the potential earnings would not justify hosting this controversial artist.
The Mateel supports the arts, music, theater, and free expression as well as providing an inclusive and tolerant space for all to gather regardless of race, religion, creed, or sexual orientation.