Sweden: Concerts with Jamaican reggae singer Sizzla cancelled

In March 2012, the 35-year-old Jamaican reggae musician Sizzla Kalonji was stopped from performing in Sweden, second time around in the same month, because of his infamous homophobic lyrics.

Sizzla. PR photo

Sizzla was scheduled to perform in Slakthuset in Stockholm on 28 March 2012, but few hours before the concert, Slakthuset’s management announced that they had cancelled the concert:

“We thought his negative reputation was just history, so we had decided to allow him to play, provided that this was the case. We have, however, learned that this is not so,” it said on Slakthuset’s official Facebook page.

Originally, Sizzla had been scheduled to perform at Hornstull Strand in Stockholm on 28 March 2012, but that concert was also cancelled because of a public outcry. Members of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas och transpersoners rättigheter, RFSL) labeled his lyrics as advocating violence towards LGBT people and started a petition. The chairman of RFSL, Rickard Svahn, called for promoters to take a stand against the concert as it may tarnish the capital’s reputation of being gay friendly.

At a concert in Kingston, Jamaica, on 18 March 2012, Sizzla was reported to have called for homosexuals to be murdered.

Reggae Compassionate Act
In 2007 Sizzla signed the so-called ‘Reggae Compassionate Act’ in which he pledged not to perform LGBT-hostile lyrics. His European tour has sparked a wave of protests since he is reported to have breached this contract several times. Members of the Protect Reggae Coalition however claim that Sizzla censored his own material while on his last tour.

Last time Sizzla visited Sweden was in 2009. He performed in Malmö while gay-rights activists held a protest outside the concert hall.

Censorship debate in Sweden
The Sizzla incident raises the question of which music should be allowed to be played or performed in public, wrote Carl Cato in Dagens Nyheter who also mentions the recent ‘cake-gate’ controversy in Stockholm as examples which raise fundamental questions about where the boundaries are of what can or cannot be expressed in public.

Carl Cato talked with a number of Sweden’s largest distributors of music who all agree: they don’t know. Sweden’s biggest radio stations and concert promoters seem to agree on two things: the question is important, and there are no obvious answers.

On 19 August 2010, Cee Lo Green released the song ‘Fuck you’. The soul-sounding pop-song made it to second place on the U.S. single hit list’s and it topped the charts in several European countries. But many listeners did not hear the original chorus because in the radio edit of the song, the chorus had been changed to the much more digestible ‘Forget You’. In Sweden both versions were broadcasted on radio. SR, the Swedish public service radio, played the original version. Rix FM chose the ‘child-friendly’ version.

SR has a well-defined policy for the content of their broadcasts. The rules of the broadcaster state that the content of broadcasts may include content that is “contrary to democratic principles.” Yet there is plenty of room for interpretation.

SR’s music director Pia Kalischer mentions the thrash metal band Slayer as an example:

“At one point I was defending Slayer from a Christian interest group that called them Nazis because one of the band members is collecting Nazi objects. You can think what you will about that, and Slayer may not be in need of a defense lawyer. But free speech needs it,” she says.

Thor Nielsen is promoter at Live Nation and works with a number of the world’s greatest artists, such as the American rapper Eminem. He criticises Sizzla’s hateful lyrics about homosexuals:

“It must be up to each promoter to determine whether an artist is appropriate or not appropriate. I have no good answer to the limits, but I don’t think one should organise concerts with artists who violate groups of people because of their sexuality, religion or skin color.”

Sizzla denounces Swedish reports
According to the Jamaica Oberver, a statement from Sizzla’s company Kalonji Muzik accused international media of releasing ‘misinformation to the public about him’ to ‘malice and defame his character’. It said contrary to reports, Sizzla did not utter anti-gay lyrics during any of his most recent shows.

According to the statement, Sizzla is prepared to abide by laws in any country he is booked to perform. “It is his nature and character to respect all,” the statement read.

Sizzla’s concerts in Italy, France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and Spain are scheduled to go on. His European tour was scheduled to start on 26 March 2012 in Vienna, Austria, and is to close on 19 April in Tel Aviv, Israel.

20 years of clashes
The British gay rights group Outrage forced promoters of shows in Britain to cancel Sizzla concerts in the United Kingdom in 2004. Similar action took place in Toronto, Canada, the following year.

Sizzla is one of several reggae dancehall acts who have clashed with gay rights groups in Europe and North America for nearly 20 years. Reggae stars such as Buju Banton, Beenie Man and Capleton have also been targeted by gay rights advocates because they encourage violence against persons with alternative lifestyles.

Dagens Nyheter – 18 April 2012:
Populärkulturell gräns är svår att draDagens Nyheter – 28 March 2012:
Homofobisk reggaestjärna stoppasThe Local – 28 March 2012:
‘Gay-bashing’ reggae star gets his Swedish gigJamaica Observer – 27 March 2012:
Sizzla Kalonji denounces Swedish media reports

BBC News – 4 November 2004:
Ban threat aborts Sizzla UK tour


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