Saturday, May 29, 2010

Visa for Music

Robin Denselow looks at the new visa rules in Britain and how they can affect the World Music circuit.
The biggest of those problems is the UK's move to biometric passports. Once, musicians could send their agents across borders to get visas, but now they have to apply in person, every time they ask for a visa, so they can be photographed and fingerprinted. But in west Africa alone, there are no facilities to issue such visas in Mali, and the service in Senegal is slow, so applicants are advised to go to the Gambia, which is now the regional biometric processing centre (that is why Daara J were sent there). One popular alternative for those performing in Europe is to get a "Schengen" visa that covers the continent (but not the UK), and then apply for a UK visa in Paris – but again that can be a time-consuming and costly process, and it means musicians have to book their UK gigs and then hope they can get a visa when they reach Europe.

But does all this really matter to British music fans? Yes. The situation may have improved, but it's clearly still not fully understood by many musicians or their sponsors – in the case of Daara J, someone seems not to have realised that by not ticking the maintenance box, they were wrecking the band's chance of getting a visa. And now many African musicians have to travel to other countries to get visas, and then spend money waiting around in foreign cities, there's a danger that some will simply not bother to come here. Why go through the hassle and expense of getting a UK visa when it's easier to get a Schengen visa and play across mainland Europe? There are signs that is happening already. David Flowers points out: "Malian stars like the Rail Band now refuse to play in the UK because it's so complicated".

And despite the enthusiasm of some sponsors, there are concerns that the expense and bureaucracy involved might deter others. "Without maverick small operators, audiences will no longer get the chance to discover exciting unknown groups from the non-EU world," argues Page. Ashbridge agrees. "Would major African stars be here now if this system existed in the past?"

And as for Jah Wobble? "I had to do Chinese Dub myself," he says, "because no one else would touch it with a bargepole. This new system hits the small operator. I didn't become a bass player to be an unpaid civil servant."
Click to read the full article

No comments: