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Edmonton Reggae Festival

Edmonton Reggae Festival organizers respond to criticism over controversial artists

By Fabian Mayer, July 9 2015 —

Edmonton Reggae Festival organizers are defending their headlining artists after it was revealed all three have incorporated homophobic remarks or lyrics into past performances.

Reggae artists Capleton and I Wayne both have songs encouraging violence against gay and lesbian people, while Queen Ifrica made comments criticized as homophobic at a 2013 performance.

Edmonton Reggae Festival Society president John Fortuna released a statement Wednesday July 8 saying the festival does not condone hate or discrimination against any groups, and that the artists have been briefed on the festival’s expectations.

“I feel like we didn’t do anything wrong. I kept the statement very short because we really had nothing to defend,” said Fortuna.

Fortuna said they were aware of the artists’ views before booking them. The festival has clauses in their contracts that forbid performing artists from making any sexual, political or religious statements. He argues the artists’ incident-free tours in recent years show there is no problem with them playing the Edmonton Reggae Festival.

“They are being aware of what they say. The times have changed,” Fortuna said. “They’re being careful how they portray themselves.”

According to the radio stations’ program director Troy Scott, both Hot 107 and Cruz 95.7 have paused their sponsorship of the event. TV station Global Edmonton has also suspended its sponsorship pending a meeting with the organizers.

Maurice Tomlinson is a Jamaican-Canadian LGBTQ rights activist who works with the Jamaican Association of Gays and Lesbians Abroad (JAGLA).

“I was shocked that the promoters would agree to have these three persons headline considering their reputations for homophobia,” Tomlinson said.

JAGLA was part of the successful push to cancel Queen Ifrica’s 2013 appearance at Toronto’s Rastafest after she made controversial comments glorifying heterosexual marriage and straight men just weeks before at a performance in Jamaica.

Tomlinson said there is a clear link between homophobic music like I Wayne’s anti-gay song “Burn Down Sodom” and widespread violence against the LGBTQ community in Jamaica.

“We are giving them money to go back to Jamaica to maintain and support a culture of anti-gay violence,” Tomlinson said.

Festival organizer Anne-Kay Brown thinks an artist’s personal views should not disqualify them from playing the festival.

“You have to deal with the fact that they have their own personal opinions,” Brown said. “How do we justify not having any type of artist based on their personal views?”

Brown believes that having these artists play events like the Edmonton Reggae Festival may help change their perceptions.

“I think with each festival and show that they perform people saying no you cannot sing these lyrics, I actually think it’s making them more conscious and more aware of the lyrics that they do write,” Brown said.

None of the three artists will be playing at Calgary Reggaefest. Edmonton Reggae Festival is scheduled for September 5.

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