A British-Lebanese DJ says she has pulled out of the WOMADelaide music festival after being made aware that a Palestinian electronic dance group had its invitation revoked by the event’s organisers.

In a social media post, electronic music producer Saliah said it was “deeply disappointing” that she would not be performing at the hugely popular world music festival in Adelaide’s Botanic Park on Sunday.

But Saliah, who is known for her club-style remixes of Arabic music, said the decision was in response to the festival’s treatment of Palestinian electronic musicians 47Soul.

Late last week it was revealed that 47Soul — which previously performed at the festival in 2016 and 2018 — was invited to attend this year’s festival, before organisers told the group they wanted to defer the invitation until 2025.

47Soul was initially invited to perform, but that invitation was rescinded.(Instagram: 47soul)

WOMADelaide director Ian Scobie said on Thursday that the “degree of protest” and community division since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war were factors in that decision, telling ABC Radio Adelaide that “having them perform would really not add to an environment at the festival that we felt confident could see them be presented safely”.

In response, Saliah slammed the decision and accused organisers of resorting to “incomprehensible logic”, and said she would not be taking to the stage on Sunday.

Saliah had been scheduled to perform on Sunday.(WOMADelaide)

“It is deeply disappointing that I will no longer be performing at WOMADelaide festival after becoming aware that 47Soul were rescinded from WOMADelaide’s invitation to perform, due to the festival being unwilling to provide a ‘suitably safe environment’,” Saliah wrote on Instagram.

In the post, she wrote that “members of my family are currently suffering daily bombardment” in Lebanon by the Israeli military, and that “the festival’s incomprehensible logic surely means I also cannot be provided with a ‘suitably safe environment'”.

“I echo the message from my brothers in 47Soul, that this rhetoric from WOMADelaide is deeply problematic, as it refuses to provide a ‘safe’ platform for Palestinian artists and their allies,” she said.

On Sunday afternoon the festival issued an apology about the omission of 47Soul, conceding “we don’t always get it right”.

In a statement shared on its social media platforms, WOMADelaide said it “very much” hopes the group will “join us at the 2025 festival”.

“We strive to amplify the voices of all people, and WOMADelaide has a proud history of supporting Palestinian voices and presenting Palestinian artists,” it said.

“We extend our sympathy and apologies if this situation has caused any disappointment or hurt.

“WOMAD was created to present the world to the world and as idealists we continue to believe that artists have a right to be heard.”

Concerns had ‘nothing to do with the band’

The decision to leave 47Soul off the line-up has also angered other WOMADelaide artists, including Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu songwriter Jen Cloher.

“I was deeply disappointed to learn that Shamstep collective 47Soul had their offer retracted after the festival directors ‘formed the view that the situation unfolding in the Middle East and the associated climate of community protests, division, and uncertainty surrounding the conflict at that time, presented a real concern for the safety of all artists and audiences’,” Cloher wrote on Instagram.

“The question needs to be asked, ‘whose safety?’

“Silencing is a violence. It makes no-one safer.”

Jen Cloher condemned the festival’s response to the controversy over the omission of 47Soul.(Marcelle Bradbeer)

Saliah’s artist profile has been taken down from the WOMADelaide website.

When asked on Sunday about Saliah’s absence from the line-up, Scobie did not elaborate beyond saying “that was a decision for Saliah”.

But the festival director went into more detail when defending WOMADelaide’s decision-making regarding 47Soul.

He said while the group was never formally on the event’s line-up, it had responded positively to an initial invitation late last year, but subsequent community division prompted by the Middle East conflict had made WOMADelaide organisers rethink.

“Our concerns had nothing to do with the band. It was about wanting to ensure that the environment where we could present the band with all of the artists was the best possible for them and their audience to engage, and at that point we felt really we’re probably at a risk of inflaming the situation rather than helping it,” Scobie said.

“That’s what we went to 47Soul with — we said, ‘We’re really sorry but we think a more appropriate time is next year’.

“While the band weren’t happy with that … we understood that they’d accepted it, so they never were on the line-up, they never were programmed.”

Scobie said he was keen for 47Soul to return next year.

“We have no issue with an artist making a statement from the stage about the issues that are happening in the world. That is the point of this festival,” he said.

WOMADelaide deal extended

The South Australian government announced on Sunday it would be extending its three-decades-long partnership with WOMADelaide for another five years.

Premier Peter Malinauskas said the arrangement would ensure the international WOMAD festival’s Australian home would remain in Adelaide until at least 2029.

“For 32 years, WOMAD has called Adelaide home,” he said.

“Over the course of this weekend in Adelaide, our hotel occupancy is through the roof … and WOMAD is absolutely central to this endeavour.

“[It gives] other Australians an opportunity to experience South Australia in a really culturally progressive context.”

WOMADelaide attendees hold signs showing support for civilians in Gaza.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

Mr Malinauskas also defended WOMADelaide against criticism in the wake of the controversy over 47Soul.

“I don’t want to be engaging in cancel culture,” he said.

“It’s absolutely critical that political leaders provide artistic liberty for directors to be able to make their own choices around what is appropriate at festivals.

“In this current world, I think what we need more than anything else is the courage to be able to think about things from other people’s perspectives, and the arts gives us a format to be able to do that.”

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