United Kingdom: “Cultural censorship” threatens artistic endeavours

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United Kingdom:
“Cultural censorship” threatens artistic endeavours

Stringent immigration regulations and a seemingly insurmountable bureaucracy have led to several foreign artists being denied entry into the UK and are making it increasingly difficult to organise musical events featuring foreign artists

Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo was forced to cancel his concert at the Womad Festival in UK in the end of July 2006. ”It should have been a rare appearance by Zimbabwe’s best-known and most politically engaged musician, but, despite his high-profile billing at the world music festival, Mapfumo was refused a UK visa,” reports Arifa Akbar of The Independent.

He lists a number of international musicians who have been turned away from Britain this year because of visa regulations:

• A nine-strong Mozambique group, Djaaka, were deported from Gatwick airport on the way to an Italian festival in the end of July 2006 because they lacked transit visas.

• Four musicians from the Mauritanian singer Dimi Mint Abba’s group will not be present when she performs at The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on 4 August 2006, while an Edinburgh Fringe festival performer, Kieran Butler, has put a call out for a last-minute replacement violinist, after his partner, Michelle Wilson, was deported back to Australia. Immigration officials said she had worked in the UK without a permit.

Festivals such as WOMAD, known for its policy of booking international acts, has particularly suffered as a result of this situation. Experts in the festival industry fear this situation could lead to a form of “cultural censorship” in future years, where acts presenting visa difficulties are avoided by festival organisers.

‘Avoid certain acts’

According to The Independent, William Culver-Dodds, the chief executive of Harrogate International Festival, admits that when he chose the line-up of this year’s festival, he decided to avoid certain acts, including African performers who were most likely to face visa problems.

Mr Culver-Dodds said: “When engaging artists for the festival, it was in the back of my mind where they were coming from and whether we would actually have difficulties. This year, we have avoided some countries because of the issues we might have, and this is a growing worry for me. Last year, it took quite a while to get Senegalese Youssou N’Dour to the festival, and we are aware it will become increasingly difficult to arrange visas.

In an official press release the WOMAD festival explained the Thomas Mapfumo’s case like this: “Thomas Mapfumo has been refused a visa to enter the UK, despite having been issued with UK Work Permits. The reasons given for this are that he entered the US on a ‘P visa’ granted to musicians but then changed this by applying for political asylum. Based on this the entry clearance officer at the British Embassy is not satisfied that he intends to leave the UK.”



Thomas Mapfumo – denied entry in the UK

Sources:

The Independent – 1 August 2006:
‘African musicians refused entry to Britain’

Virtual Festivals – 2 August 2006:
‘Visas Send Festival Artists Packing’

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