Music festival row

Matisyahu silences protests with call for peace at Rototom gig

Jewish-American singer finally plays Spanish festival that had initially banned him

Singer Matisyahu during the concert.
Singer Matisyahu during the concert.BIEL ALINO / AFP

Jewish American reggae-rapper Matisyahu finally performed at the Rototom music festival in Benicàssim on Saturday night, following a week that had seen his scheduled appearance controversially canceled then reinstated after he had refused to issue a statement outlining his position on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

There were a few boos and shouts of “Freedom for Palestine” when the singer – real name Matthew Paul Miller – took to the stage, but the crowd soon settled down to enjoy his seven-song, 45-minute set, which closed to a standing ovation.

There were a few boos and shouts of “Freedom for Palestine,” but the crowd soon settled down

“Peace, peace, peace,” he repeatedly called out to the public, adding at one point: “Those of you bringing your heart as your flag, raise your hands!”

Matisyahu’s decision to play came after a week-long controversy following the decision of the reggae festival’s organizers to cancel his appearance under pressure from the local branch of the BDS [Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions against Israel] movement, which wanted the musician to publicly outline his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Matisyahu refused to make such a statement and Rototom called off his performance. Following criticism at home and abroad, festival organizers later reversed their decision and apologized.

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Grammy-nominated Matisyahu had planned a press conference before going on stage, but decided against it to avoid further inflaming the situation. There was heavy security at the concert, with police searching people’s bags as they entered.

Writing on his Facebook page, Matisyahu said last week: “The incredible outpouring of worldwide support from fans and organizations who rose up as one to protest the intrusion of politics into a borderless celebration of music has been humbling. My deepest thanks to the worldwide community for rallying to the cause of musical freedom.”

The decision to cancel Matisyahu’s performace was criticized by the Spanish government and most political parties, the Spanish media, the regional government of Valencia, as well as Jewish organizations in Spain, and the US and Israeli embassies.

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