In an interview last week, WOMAD Founder, Peter Gabriel said: “The right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted and often along racial and religious lines.”
He was talking in response to a series of visa problems musicians booked to perform at WOMAD have faced in the run up to the festival. A number of bands performing at the festival had been denied visas, despite going through months of conversations with the Home Office, while other artists made it to the festival, but not in time for their set.
Among the performers denied access was Tunisia’s Sabry Mosbah, Mozambique’s Wazimbo, and a number of members of Niger’s Tal National. Indian duo, Hashmat Sultana arriving 24 hours after their scheduled performance.
“It is alarming that our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country," said Gabriel, speaking to The Guardian, "[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.”
For the first time, Gabriel reports that they are finding it harder to work with "good people" at the Home Office, to help support visa applications for musicians at the festival.
But where does this leave us in the future - and is there a worrying trend to the denial in applications, with many musicians from the Global South facing more problems than European or American musicians.
“There is a travel ban in place in the UK. What I see constantly is that if you are from the global south, you will be refused almost invariably," said David Jones, Director of Live Music at tour company Serious, speaking to The Guardian.
Across this week, great reporting from The Guardian's Laura Snapes and Kate Hutchinson, has helped broaden the discussion. Musicians wanting to gain access to the UK are having to fork out £100’s pounds on fast-track visas, with their passports often being confiscated for indefinite periods.
Musicians looking to perform in the UK can do so currently as "experts" in their profession, getting a Permitted Paid Engagement visa, at the cost of £93. But despite this, many artists can face months of interrogation, with many having to supplement their applications with bank account statements checking their available income, checks that can feel intrusive and demoralising.
However, the Permitted Paid Engagement visa does not permit the holder to carry out paid work that is unrelated to his or her main job.
For musicians performing elsewhere, and even in the UK, music may not be their first profession. That was proved at WOMAD, multiple times with different musicians who play music as a sideline to other careers.
With tour expenses already huge for any touring artist, the additional difficulties and expense in putting together applications for UK visas, could see less and less artists from around the world touring the UK in the future.
Womad (World of Music Arts and Dance) was founded by Peter Gabriel and first took place in 1982.