UPDATE: High Times cancels Sizzla at 2019 Reggae on the River

Act known for lyrics that advocate violence against LGBTQ community

Controversial reggae artist Sizzla in part of the featured lineup for the 2019 Reggae on the River. His 2018 performance was canceled over concerns about lyrics that promote violence against the LGBTQ community. (Contributed)
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Update, May 24: The Times-Standard has confirmed today with High Times Productions that the company has canceled Sizzla’s performance. More on this story as it develops today.

The Reggae on the River lineup was announced Thursday and not all members of the community are happy about the invited artists.

The 2019 featured artists include Damien Marley, Toots and the Maytals and Sizzla.

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, including murder, 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.

High Times, in partnership with the Mateel Community Center, is putting on the show. Multiple efforts to reach High Times via email and phone on Thursday night were not returned before the publishing deadline.

As recently as 2018, a Sizzla performance scheduled at the Mateel was canceled after outcry and a vote by the board of directors.

“Some of us weren’t around for the past outcry when he played at reggae in 2016,” said Mateel board member Garth Epling in 2018 after the show was canceled. “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.”

Epling is no longer on the board of directors of the Mateel.

The Mateel Board of Directors released a statement Thursday evening stating they have no control over the acts selected for the Reggae on the River show.

“The Mateel Community Center has leased full control of Reggae on the River to High Times Productions as of 2018,” the statement said. “The Mateel has no control over artist selection for the event and all talent-related questions should be forwarded to mediateam@hightimes.com.”

There was no response to an email sent to that email address Thursday.

Sizzla was previously scheduled to perform at Reggae on the River in 2016.

The Mateel shared the Reggae lineup on its Facebook page Thursday with mixed responses from the community.

Benbow resident Noella Calderon, who has LGBTQ members in her family, wrote, “Can’t support if you invite homophobic artists.”

She told the Times-Standard, after years of attending the local festival, she’s “not going if they have him.”

Other community members expressed excitement about Marley being part of the lineup.

Queer Humboldt Founder Todd Larsen was not especially excited about the prospect of Sizzla returning. His organization fought allowing the style of reggae dancehall called “murder music” into Humboldt County over the past dozen years.

“I am really disappointed they would do this again,” he said Thursday night.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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