Irish artists pull out of SXSW festival in solidarity with Palestine 

By Finn McKenna

On 10 March, Belfast Irish-language rap artists Kneecap announced that they would not be performing at this summer’s SXSW festival in Austin Texas. Within two days, all ten Irish acts scheduled to perform at the festival pulled out.

One of the bands, Soda Blonde, wrote in a statement explaining its decision that: “We have learned that the U.S. Army is a ‘super sponsor’ of SXSW 202, and Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of the defence contractor RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon), will be showcasing new defense technologies at the event. This information has prompted deep concern within out group, particularly in light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Palestine – a situation exacerbated by the U.S. government’s provision of arms to Israel.”

It continued: “Music is about unity, healing and the transcendent power of shared experience – not about endorsing or normalizing the machinery of war. The decision to involve entities directly linked to the global arms trade, and by extension the ongoing atrocities in Palestine, is not just tone-deaf; it’s morally reprehensible.”

Good, bad and ugly stances

This solidarity by other groups such as Sprints, Gavin James, Mick Flannery and Gurriers is significant, as SXSW is one of the key festivals for up-and-coming musicians to make their mark on American audiences. The bands are losing out financially, yet they have prioritised taking a stand against the genocidal war against the defenceless people of Gaza by an Israeli state that’s backed politically and militarily by US imperialism.

Moreover, the admirable stance of Irish artists stands in clear contrast with the pathetic actions of the Irish government. At the time of writing, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is touring the US, getting ready to perform the cringing act of offering shamrocks to commander-in-chief Joe Biden. Sinn Féin leaders will also shamefully participate in St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House.  

An example to follow

Incredibly, notwithstanding all Irish acts pulling out of the SXSW festival, Minister Catherine Martin has indicated that she still intends to visit the festival in her capacity as Minister for Culture and Arts. If there was ever a stark example of the disconnect that exists between Irish society and our out-of-step government on the question of Palestine this is it.

The past few days have once again driven home the point that our government has only the most hollow concern about the suffering of Palestinians, or the violation of democratic and human rights anywhere. Maintaining its supposedly ‘special’ relationship with war-mongering US regimes always takes precedent. As it’s Seachtain na Gaeilge, we say ‘maith sibh’ to all the artists who took this important stand, which will hopefully inspire others to follow suit.

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