While we all eagerly await the return of concerts and festivals, there’s a poignant moment in 5X Festival history that we wanted to unpack, because it layers on the far too common racial stereotyping of the South Asian community.
Sidhu Moose Wala, an incredibly popular South Asian musician was banned from performing at the 2019 5X Festival, hosted in Surrey, BC.
The reason given by Surrey RCMP for the removal order of Moose Wala from the festival line-up just a week before the festival, was that the artist’s previous shows were marked by a stabbing in one instance, and a shooting in another.
It was not only disappointing for the South Asian youth who wanted to see their favourite artist perform at the festival, but it was a huge matter of concern that one of the biggest artists in the world could be banned at a festival without much public pushback.
How could the RCMP make and enforce this decision on the basis of what had happened elsewhere? What about Moose Wala as an artist made him responsible for the actions of his fans, and what made him more inherently “violent” than any other artist?
Framing is also an important part of the conversation that was left out at the time.
Just a year prior, Global News, one of the largest news stations in B.C. did a segment on the “Rise of guns in South Asian gangsta rap,” using Moose Wala’s music videos as a talking point.
The segment and article suggested that the use of guns and allusions to violence in South Asian music perhaps had some bearing on what was and continues to go on in B.C. in the Lower Mainland gang conflict.
This is a narrow and reductive take, and it obscures the way that many in the South Asian community, including Moose Wala are often stereotyped and punished for factors quite literally out of their control.
Because South Asians have been historically stereotyped as being associated with gang violence and a dangerous group in general, Sidhu’s performance cancellation is an issue of race. It is pointing to assert the narrative of violence and particularly gang violence being a South Asian issue, more specifically a Surrey issue, which is where the festival took place.
The problem with this narrative is that it omits the fact that gang violence is a societal problem in general, and doesn’t just pertain to one race. When we keep attacking one race and stereotyping them, it leads to internalized racism, which is always unproductive and harmful to the psyche of a young individual who grows up as a part of that community.
It also allows the City of Surrey and the RCMP to feel justified in their actions, despite the clear racial profiling at play.
A mass public event or concert with any artist has the potential to get violent or out of hand.
Sidhu’s cancellation was purely fear-based and arrangements could’ve been made to deal with the issue and let the musician perform. But instead he was banned from performing, despite pleas and requests.
This was a significant cultural moment that could have allowed South Asian youth to come together to celebrate music and culture in one of the biggest South Asian diasporas in the country.
One-third population of The City of Surrey is composed of South Asians, and ignoring their voice is equivalent to telling the community that they don’t matter, or doesn’t matter as much.
Upon Moose Wala’s cancellation, the festival proceeded and an all day celebration of his tunes was held. But having that performance get cancelled a week before the festival was a moment that many won’t forget.
It might look like a simple act of safety, but upon a deeper look, it is exactly small acts like these that really help us see the way our community is looked at.
And it is because of this vision and narrative that we must either seek change, or continue to speak out so that this doesn’t happen again.
Our art deserves to be experienced and the voices of our community deserve to be heard.
Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analysing them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on Instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.