Jamaican reggae star Beenie Man has accused Tony Newman and Croydon Council of stealing the concept of The Ends Festival, and of cultural appropriation.
The three-day Ends Festival was staged in Lloyd Park last weekend, having sold-out more than 40,000 tickets, and with Newman and his Labour council colleagues enjoying the £50 day-pass event.
The accusations were published this week in The Voice, which detailed allegations from a music promoter who had meetings with Newman and the council in 2016 and 2017 about staging a black cutlural event and music festival in Lloyd Park, and whose plans included performances by Beenie Man and Stormzy.
The Voice story appeared on the day that the council announced that it had managed to secure the loan of a photograph of Stormzy, the rapper from South Norwood, to exhibit in the Croydon Clocktower.
The promoter making the allegations, Shezal, also says that Newman wanted to change the name of her proposed festival, to avoid associations with the black community.
Croydon Council issued a statement to The Voice, in which they failed to deny that the meetings had taken place three years ago. Instead, the council sought to excuse itself by claiming that The End Festival was not its own event, but that of a private promoter.
In a two-minute-long video released on YouTube, Beenie Man said, “I don’t believe it’s a coincidence. I believe Croydon Council teef our festival.
“It’s no longer about celebrating black people and their achievements – now it’s about making money for themselves.”
Shezal, the founder of Slavery Remembrance, hosts other events, including Sankofa Day, which is being staged in Trafalgar Square in August.
Newman, the leader of the council, is Shezal’s ward councillor, and she says she approached him and presented a detailed proposal to host a black excellence charity music and culture festival in Lloyd Park.
She claims the purpose of the festival was to celebrate “black excellence”, help to tackle racism, and use all of the profits from the Croydon event to fund black businesses and to support Sankofa Day.
“In 2016, I was asked to do a charity festival in England. This festival was special to me because it was going to act as family reunion by joining our family which was separated by slavery and with artists from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and artists from the UK,” Beenie Man says in the video message.
“We were going to share one stage to celebrate black excellence through our art and culture, music and achievement and to support the national annual memorial in England for our ancestors.”
Beenie Man said that the organiser he was associated with – meaning Shezal – met the council “to see if they could hold it one of their parks”, but that the council “planned to keep their own festival in the same park with another company and the line-up was kind of the same thing – artists from Africa, the Caribbean, and whole heap more.”
Shezal has detailed her case online, stating, “The entire concept was laid out in my proposal and was further discussed in the several meetings which took place with my team and I, Tony Newman, councillor Hamida Ali and later on Paula Murray.”
Murray is Croydon Council’s “creative director”.
Shezal says: “I already had a key headline artist, Beenie Man, confirmed and committed to appear. Two other acts that I had discussed having was Stormzy and Fuse ODG, which would have brought together the Caribbean, Africa and the UK leaving only the Latin American element to fulfil.”
And it was a proposal which Newman and the council considered seriously enough to have more than one meeting with Shezal.
At a second meeting, Shezal says, “Tony wanted to change the name of the festival from Unity Splash with the acronym ‘Us’ to Urban Edge. I explained to Tony why the name was important and that black people didn’t tend to describe our music as ‘urban’ and that it was more a term used by others to describe black music in order to avoid using the word ‘black’.” Those are our italics.
“Skip to 2017, Croydon Council decided to enter the Mayor of London’s Borough of Culture Bid. This competition was open to all of the London boroughs, with the winning entry receiving £1million to put on cultural activities in their borough throughout 2019.
“Paula asked me to participate in this competition and partner with the Croydon Museum to help them creatively bring their archives to life. As a member of the Croydon Borough of Culture team, I was sent the programme summary of all the projects taking place as part of their bid.”
The council incorporated Shezal’s idea for the festival into its proposal – much to her surprise.
“Obviously I was excited to see Croydon Council had seen enough value in my idea that they chose to include it in their proposal.”
It was then that matters turned sour for Shezal. “I emailed Paula with excitement to tell her that we were looking forward to working on the event with them, only to be informed that they already had a partner for the event.
“I thought that perhaps maybe this was a different type of festival with a variety of music genres and a multicultural line-up, so I said nothing more.
“That was until I received the final programme summary which included the following: ‘Lloyd Park will also host Metropolis – a new music festival from Metropolis Music and Live Nation – featuring Fuse ODG, Damian Marley, Carlos Santana and Croydon’s own Stormzy…’
“They literally stole the festival we had proposed to them, stripped it of its entire ethos and integrity and repackaged it as a new cool ‘urban’ festival happening in Croydon,” writes Shezal.
“I was absolutely devastated, but what hurt me most of all is not that my intellectual property was stolen, but that they knew that this was a charity festival for the black community, with all profits going to support underfunded black businesses and entrepreneurs and the memorial for our ancestors.”
It is, of course, impossible to copyright something such as a music festival. But much of the detail of Shezal’s allegations do seem to suggest that a lot of her time, expertise and contacts had been relied on by the council before, without any notice, they turned to another promoter.
And Croydon Council has form in this respect. Inside Croydon is aware of at least one other instance in which a cultural event has been presented to the Labour group at the council, which has then partnered with another organisation and sponsored or subsidised he event’s staging.
In its formal response to The Voice about Shezal’s allegations over The Ends Festival, a Croydon Council spokesperson said: “We were delighted to welcome The Ends Festival, a Metropolis Music (Livenation) event, to Croydon this weekend as the latest new major music event to come to our borough.
“The Ends is not a Croydon council event; however as part of our Music City plans, we were proud to support the Future stage giving young local aspiring artists a platform.”
So that’s alright then. Trebles all-round!
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