A humiliating and difficult visa process is stopping musicians from performing in UK.

Chris Smith, the director of this weekend’s Womad world music festival, stated that enlisting performers to this year’s festival was a tough job due to the impact the UK visa process is having on foreign musicians and that, for the first time, musicians had rejected invitations rather than face the “humiliation” of confronting Britain’s visa services.

Performers from 128 countries are scheduled to attend this year’s festival, but many were forced to withdraw from participation due to the difficulties linked to the visa process that seems to be getting tougher amid a rising tide of nationalism and post-Brexit paranoia.

Entering the UK has become so difficult and humiliating since the Brexit referendum that performers are giving up… The world has never needed events like Womad more than it does now. It stands for tolerance and understanding and learning and openness but that culture is being crushed as politicians lurch to the right.”

Artists have accepted our invitation and then looked into the visa process and told us, sorry we’re just not going to do this”, Smiths said, “that’s a situation we should be ashamed of.”

We’ve had situations where, say, an African artist has been due to come who plays a particularly rare instrument, and we’ll be asked: ‘Can’t you find someone in the UK who plays that instrument’, which is absurd.“

Moonchild Sanelly is an artist from South Africa. With her blue hair, an engaging personality and distinctive voice, she was referred to as “an emerging superstar” by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz). However, she will not be performing at Womad. Due to the British “hostile environment” on migration, she was forced to cancel three planned shows in UK after spending almost £500 for the visa application. Namely, she handed over all the required documents – a mix of checked bank statements and insurance details, but she could not get her visa due to a financial discrepancy mainly caused by fluctuating exchange rates.

And her case is not unique. Obtaining visas for non-European artists coming to Britain has long been a nightmare. In the past, the Womad organizers had to cancel one act after British officials put the wrong date in their visas and paid £15,000 on emergency visas for another artist last year. Another famous African group’s manager had to pay nearly £7,000 to obtain visas for his artists – with visas only lasting three months.

My fear is the situation is only going to get worse.” Yet, this is a time when divided communities need the soothing balm of art and unifying power of music reaching across borders more than ever.”

The Womad Festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance) was founded by Peter Gabriel, formerly of the band Genesis, in 1982.


Article by Valentina Guidi




George Millington