WOMAD and visas

As per Clive’s recommendation, I’m off to WOMAD this weekend. Unfortunately, its started with a disappointment. I was supposed to be interviewing the Zimbabwean virtuoso Thomas Mapfumo, but I’ve just discovered that has had to cancel his performance… because he couldn’t get a visa!
Nothing positive can come of this decision. This is the flip-side of the immigration debate. No porus borders here. By keeping people out, we risk isolating ourselves from outside influence, and our culture is all the poorer for it.


The visa problems were not an admin error. According to WOMAD and Mapfumo’s label, Real World Records, the British Embassy have said that they are “not satisfied that he intends to leave the UK” after the festival. This is strange, since the notoriously paranoid US Department of Homeland Security have issued Mapfumo with documents allowing him to leave, and re-enter the United States, where he is seeking political asylum.
Other WOMAD acts have had similar problems. Nine members of the Mozambique mariba outfit Djaaka were refused entry into the UK earlier this week. They were actually in transit through Gatwick airport, en route to a gig in Italy, but ended up being deported back to Mozambique. Mauritainian diva Dimi Mint Abba has asked her family and manager to support her act, afer her band were denied travel visas on the basis that they could not prove they earned a sufficent income in Mauritania.
Let us hope these artists pen a song or two about these experiences. It would be great if all this red tape inspired, rather than stifled creativity.

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