Band booted from Hampshire College Halloween show over Facebook flap to play at the Pub Friday

Laste modified: Wednesday, December 18, 2013
AMHERST — Skokazoba, the Valley Afrobeat band whose gig at Hampshire College was canceled last month due to a bitter Facebook fight over its musical style, will play at the Pub on East Pleasant Street Friday night.

That date materialized this week when a fellow musician who manages the Pub’s bookings offered the group a chance to play in Amherst after all, according to Shokazoba member Jason Moses.

“He thought it was a shame we were canceled and it would be nice to have some of the people over to the Pub who would have gone to the Halloween show at Hampshire,” said Moses.

The war of words that ended in the band being eliminated from Hampshire’s multi-band lineup began when one post on the event’s Facebook page criticized Shokazoba for being a collection of white musicians calling itself an Afrobeat band.

Moses said that post led to a flurry of messages in which people made insulting and inflammatory remarks about the group, presumably after seeing a picture of the musicians online. He said the band, whose lead singer is a light-skinned Afro-American woman, was accused of “appropriating” and “marginalizing” black culture.

“We were harassed, insulted and slandered,” he said.

Attempts by him and his brother, also a member of the band, to explain who they were and what they were trying to do led to further online vitriol and charges of racism from both sides, he said. The brothers’ appeal to people posting on Facebook was to “not make this a black and white issue,” said Moses. “Let the music speak for itself.”

However, as the postings became laced with expletives and increasing anger, the page was shut down, Moses said, and he received an email from the college saying his band’s performance was being canceled. He said a meeting with members of the committee organizing the event and a college dean ended in the musicians being told that Hampshire officials would fear for their students’ safety if the group appeared at the show. He said the musicians were barred from the event, though the band was paid.

A statement from Hampshire’s Office of Communications attributed the exclusion of Shokazoba to online remarks made after the band’s selection to play at the Halloween event was questioned by some students. It referred to comments from off campus that became “increasingly aggressive” moving from students voices to “rude, and at times unsettling remarks.”

Moses, who maintains the band was treated unfairly, said he is happy to be playing in town Friday. “It will go well, ” he said.

Carla Racine, a music promoter in the area, said she, too, feels Shokazoba got a raw deal and is glad they will have a chance to play in Amherst.

“I’m really outraged by the idea of censorship, period, over musical styling,” she said. “They’re a headlining band in the area. There not just a little band that’s trying to make their way.”

The group has been around for nearly a decade. “They’ve actually been called a community band which is really sweet and special,” she said.