After some local outcry this week, the Mateel Community Center said Wednesday that Sizzla will not be coming to perform at a show in July, a Mateel board member stated.
“The board decided to cancel the Sizzla concert,” board member and former president of the board Garth Epling said Wednesday afternoon.
He said the decision by the board was not unanimous.
“The majority of us decided that we should listen to our membership and our community,” he said. “We are in a struggling financial state. We see the potential for another money-making show but I don’t think it’s really worth it. And as a community center, we can’t stand behind that.”
Sizzla Kalonji, known often as simply Sizzla, is a Jamaican dancehall reggae music artist and a frequent subject of controversy for lyrics that advocate violence against the LGBTQ community. The artist is no stranger to canceled gigs and revoked passports as a result of his anti-gay sentiments in music.
“The original decision to host this show came from the center’s need to continue paying down debt,” a statement from the Mateel board of directors issued on Friday said. “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.”
Sizzla last performed in Humboldt County for the 2016 Reggae on the River, which resulted in outcry from local LGBTQ groups and calls for the event to be canceled.
“Some of us weren’t around for the past outcry when he played at reggae in 2016,” Epling said Wednesday. “I, for one, remember the vocal outcry by the LGBT community. Even though he didn’t sing any of his hate lyrics, I haven’t seen any sort of apology or change of heart go out from Sizzla.”
Queer Humboldt Founder Todd Larsen expressed disbelief when he first heard there was going to be another Sizzla performance.
“I’m really appreciative of the board of the Mateel for listening to the Humboldt local community,” said Todd Larsen, one of the founders of Queer Humboldt, on Wednesday after hearing about the cancelation.
He said the move fell in line with the community center’s mission and vision statements.
The Mateel’s vision statement says, “we envision the Mateel Community Center as a hub of a culturally diverse and inclusive community.”
Epling said the incident would be used as a learning experience.
“We did visit this issue in 2016 [and] went through a round of media interviews,” Epling said. “We are going to look at more closely who we book because this didn’t work out for community values.”
Larsen recognized not everyone would be happy with the move.
“There’ll be the pissed off people that are mad at the queers for shutting down free speech,” he said. “But that was a good move by [the Mateel].”
Epling said that those who bought tickets would be eligible for refunds or could be credited for later shows.
Jim Vargas, a managing partner for Earshot Entertainment, which schedules performances for Sizzla said he planned to send a statement to the Times-Standard on Wednesday, but it was not received before the publishing deadline. Tickets for the performance were still available through EventBrite on Wednesday evening.
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.