US visa issues: Two orchestras forced to cancel their concerts



United Kingdom / USA:
Visa issues: Two orchestras forced to cancel their concerts

An American festival had to cancel two shows and two workshops by international artists due to visa problems and alleged embassy discrimination.

Alleged embassy discrimination forced Somali born singer Aar Maanta and his band to cancel a concert performance, as well as two community workshops, that were set to be the main act of this year’s Global Roots Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States.

Also a scheduled concert with the ensemble Staff Benda Bilili from D. R. Congo had to be cancelled for the same reason. In both cases, the artists were actually approved for visas after a difficult and lengthy process of vetting by U.S. Immigration, but the final piece which is handled by the local U.S. embassies in London and Kinshasa respectively were unreasonably delayed to beyond the scheduled U.S. flight dates.

After visas had been approved for the entire band, the US embassy in London unreasonably delayed processing Aar Maanta’s visa beyond their scheduled US flight dates, reported the festival organisers in Cedar Cultural Centre.

“Aar Maanta is a British citizen, he has no criminal record, and no history of problems of any kind. But he is the only member of the band who is a Muslim from Somalia. His middle name is Mohammed,” explained a press release from the cultural centre.

In 2010 Aar Maanta released a protest song about the mistreatment of Somalis by US and UK immigrations officials based on his own experiences.

In response to Aar’s treatment by the US embassy, Cedar Cultural Centre director Robert Simonds stated, “Something needs to change, because we’ve arrived at the point where aiming for greater security at all costs is actually shooting ourselves in the foot.”

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Aar Maanta

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Staff Benda Bilili

“Perhaps as part of the billions of dollars per year that this country commits to security, there should be a sizable share committed to identifying more positive, pro-active strategies, and specific individuals (artists, for example) who should actually be prioritized for travel to the United States? Or how about just improving the procedures, so that when community groups or cultural organizations apply for these kinds of visas, a more reasonable process can take place”

Cedar Cultural Centre director Robert Simonds 

More information

The Cedar – 18 September 2011:

‘Homeland Insecurity’

London: The News – 21 September 2011:

‘British-Muslim Singer Cancels US Shows Following Alleged Embassy Discrimination’

Manifesto Club – 2010-2011:

‘Visiting artists and Academics Campaign’

The Guardian – 27 June 2011:

‘How Britain persecutes visiting artists’

Freemuse – 21 January 2009:

Visa issues: Transparency and correct information is the key

‘Visas / the discordant note’

The white paper ‘Visas / the discordant note’ published by Freemuse in collaboration with ELMF and ECA is still used as a reference document.

The white paper is available here:

A large number of other organisations, groups and networks are involved in lobbying for improved visa handling, reporting violations and publishing practical tools, such as: Zone Franche, Irma, Serious, Alba Kultur, Pearl, Practics, Visa Hotline Project, ELMF, ECA, Artsrightsjustice, Tamizdat – just to mention a few.

Click to read more about the white paper 'Visas / The Discordant Note'
White paper

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