Festival co-founder urges government to make it easier for international artists to perform in Britain
The musician Peter Gabriel has expressed alarm over UK foreign policy after a number of international artists were unable to perform at Womad world music festival after visa issues.
At least three acts scheduled to appear at the event in Wiltshire last weekend were unable to take part, according to the events director, Chris Smith.
Sabry Mosbah from Tunisia, Wazimbo from Mozambique and members of Nigers Tal National were prevented from entering the UK, Smith said. Indian sisters Hashmat Sultana, who also experienced difficulties entering the country, arrived 24 hours after their scheduled performance.
Gabriel, who co-founded Womad in 1980, said: The right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted and often along racial and religious lines.
It is alarming that our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country [many of whom] no longer want to come to the UK because of the difficulty, cost and delays with visas, along with the new fear that they will not be welcomed.
Smith said it was the latest example of the governments hostile environment policy affecting international acts scheduled to perform in the UK.
He said this year marked the first time artists declined invitations to perform at Womad, with many citing the difficulty of entering the country under the automated visa system that first created issues for the festival in 2017.
Whether their perceptions are real or inflamed, the reality is that artists are deciding that the hassle and cost of entering the UK are neither worth the return nor the exposure to rejection that the process might bring, Smith said. For now this is a trickle, but how do we prevent it becoming a flood?
Womad asked Home Office and Foreign Office contacts to intervene in individual cases, which led to some visa cancellations being overturned.
Sometimes this works but not consistently, said Smith. At Womad it is our intention to embark on urgent discussions with our contacts at the Home Office and our partners in the cultural sector to find a way to welcome international artists and ask them to continue their contribution to making the UK a tolerant and forward-thinking focal point of the global cultural community.