Tag Archives: Jazz-Festival

What black people think of SLAV

It’s a Jazz Festival show in which white people sing black slave songs. What could possibly go wrong?

That’s an oversimplification, but it’s what’s at the core of criticism about SLAV, a musical theatre production directed by Robert Lepage and performed by Betty Bonifassi, which was the subject of protests last week claiming it was cultural appropriation.

Whether white people can do things is a popular topic of discussion among white people in the media, so this controversy sparked quite a bit of commentary. Unfortunately, because there aren’t a lot of dark-skinned opinion leaders in this country or this province, we didn’t get to hear much in the mainstream press from people whose personal experiences might give them more nuanced views about this topic.

We’re getting better, though, both because there are more media sources out there and because existing ones are starting to acknowledge their lack of diversity. So here I’ve compiled links to local black commentators who offer their opinions on the subject. And those opinions aren’t all the same.

  • Aly Ndiaye, aka Webster: “Like it or not, the question of race is at the very heart of the American slave system. It was purged from the piece. We cannot talk about slavery in the Americas without addressing this issue.”
  • Fabrice Vil, Le Devoir: “Il n’est pas question de censurer la démarche artistique. Mais comme l’a suggéré Nathalie Bondil, les artistes devraient éviter de pécher par arrogance ou indifférence. La voie qu’elle propose est celle de la conversation, ce à quoi les créateurs, ici, ferment la porte.”
  • Vanessa Destiné, Tabloïd: “J’étais beaucoup sur mes gardes en arrivant dans la salle, mais j’en suis sortie agréablement surprise. Je n’ai pas été émue, ni renversée, mais sachez que la souffrance des esclaves n’est pas minimisée, le rôle des Blancs n’est pas excusé et je n’ai pas non plus senti qu’on cherchait à s’approprier quoi que ce soit. Il y a des passages qui m’ont fait tiquer parce que l’équipe n’a pas su éviter le piège des clichés, mais bon, je vais survivre et vous aussi.”
  • Marilou Craft, Urbania: “À mes yeux, toute œuvre forme un discours qui s’inscrit dans un dialogue plus large : une œuvre reflète la société où elle s’inscrit autant qu’elle l’éclaire. L’analyser, ce n’est donc pas seulement mieux la comprendre, mais aussi mieux se comprendre.” (This post, published in December, proceeds to interview Bonifassi.)
  • Craft, again: “Il se trouve que j’ai vu le spectacle. Et non seulement mes questions initiales quant au processus de création demeurent-elles entières, mais elles se superposent maintenant à davantage de réserves quant à certains choix artistiques.”
  • Émilie Nicolas, Québec inclusif (via a Radio-Canada interview): “Certaines personnes décident de reproduire cette culture, sans donner de crédit ou de récompense financière aux gens qui l’ont créée. Ça reproduit les dynamiques de vol et de pillage qui font partie de la colonisation. Quand on parle d’appropriation culturelle, fondamentalement, c’est ancré dans des rapports de pouvoir inégalitaires dans une histoire très précise. C’est profondément blessant pour les gens de voir encore une fois ce qu’ils créent être pris, sans que rien leur reste en retour.”
  • Frédéric Pierre, actor: “L’appropriation académique de l’histoire des « Noirs » ou des « Peuples des premières nations » me préoccupe et je serai toujours le premier à militer pour que les livres d’histoire soient ré-écrits avec l’accord et la collaboration de ces dites communautés. Mais laissons les artistes tranquilles. Laissons des artistes « Blancs » être touchés et émus par cette histoire et ses chants qu’elle a générés…même si c’est une compréhension différente. Le fond demeure le même.”

Long bare arms and the long tail

The Gazette always covers the Jazz Festival pretty hard. This year, as they have for the past few, they send a bunch of people (some professional music critics, others who just like jazz) to various shows and have them blog their impressions on the Words and Music blog. It’s averaging between eight and 13 posts a day, which is a lot for any blog.

This week Jeff Heinrich, who just recently left the city department and moved into features (a.k.a. arts and life) wrote a not-so-nice review of Maria Schneider. The post has been “burning up the web” (and Twitter), leading to a staggering 56 103 comments so far, every single one of them insulting.

I’m left wondering: is it really that bad? Is Heinrich’s descriptions of “irritatingly stiff body-language” or “middle-aged women in the audience” really sexist and ill-informed? Or are these commenters (most of whom, to their credit, use what appear to be their full names) just a bunch of people who disagree with a bad review (and never saw the long feature piece previewing the show, because they’re Maria Schneider fans who were pointed to the post, not Gazette readers who came across it on their own)?

And do you need a degree in musicology to review a jazz show?


UPDATE: As more and more bloggers are linking to the post, and more hate-filled comments come in accusing Heinrich of not being nice (including one apparently from Maria Schneider herself), the author responds in a comment, in which he explains that he’s not a music critic and it wasn’t a review:

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Metro service extended for Stevie

The Montreal Jazz Fest kicks off Tuesday night with a giant free concert featuring Stevie Wonder at the new plaza across from Place des Arts. The concert, which starts at 9:30 p.m. with opening acts, is expected to run pretty late into the night, and the STM has decided to extend service on the green, orange and yellow metro lines by a half hour to accomodate traffic (in addition to adding more trains during the evening).

Final departures on the orange and green lines will be 1:05am instead of 12:35am, and final departures on the yellow line will be at 1:20am instead of 12:50am.

For those who haven’t taken the last metro before, the last trains of the orange and green lines wait for each other at Berri-UQAM and Lionel-Groulx to make sure people transferring don’t get stranded. The trains are scheduled so the last ones depart in all four directions from Berri-UQAM at 1:30am.

For those of you going to the concert, you’ll want to be on the platform at Place des Arts at 1:15am if you’re heading east, 1:25am if you’re heading west. If you’re taking the yellow line, try being there no later than 1am.

The STM also announced Monday a bunch of other stuff they’re doing with summer festivals, although most of it is in the form of cross-promotional discounts or free shuttles.

Newspapers still need to learn how to use blogs

The Gazette today launched a Jazz Festival blog called “Offbeat” (better than “beatoff” I guess) written by saxophonist Adam Kinner and freelance writer Natasha Aimée Hall.

The blog reads like a diary, which got me thinking about mainstream media outlets and their use of these curious creatures they still don’t quite understand. Some blogs make sense, like The Gazette’s wildly successful and very high-quality Habs Inside/Out blog, which gives the paper’s experienced hockey writers a place where they can share late-breaking behind-the-scenes rumours and other news directly with a niche audience.

Others, however, read more like personal blogs which catalog the hourly events of its authors but doesn’t provide anything interesting to anyone outside the immediate family of the blogger.

It’s not the fault of the bloggers, most of whom (including Hall) are very talented writers. The problem is a lack of direction from the media outlets that create them. They give them this platform, tell them to “go and blog” and don’t give them much else to work with. The bloggers are left with nothing else to write about than their own personal stories, as mundane as they may be.

Blogs by beat writers is one thing. It’s pretty clear what the blog is going to be about. But for anything beyond that, the media have to answer the question “what information would I go to this blog to learn?”

If the answer is “what someone did for a couple of weeks”, then I think it needs some rethinking.